The Transition to Greener Cars….will (NOT) begin with fleets?

Well that could be the inference drawn by the above….which seems to show (a) the overall number of US cars held in fleets has declined significantly over the years 1995-2010 and (b) there is no significant increase in public vehicle fleets.
That is a pity because one popular idea advanced by theorists of ecological transitions such as Whitmarsh (2012), is that in the case of electric and hydrogen fueled vehicles we might hope that the state would lead they way and simply purchase huge quantities of such vehicles which would then its vaguely assumed ‘trickle down’ to the rest of the car driving/buying population.

Given the retreat of the state in many contemporary western liberal democracies over the last decades, most tangible in the widespread privatization of formerly public utilities, one has to wonder how many large public vehicle fleets are actually left anymore in many countries? The data above is admittedly only for the USA, but it suggest public vehicles fleets are really very small as a proportion of total vehicles in use…..so this idea of getting public vehicles fleets to champion greener cars is in many ways a very niche strategy rather than a broadly based one.

Whether in fact the ability and capacity of the state is more constrained and limited is contested, both empirically in an objective sense of capacity, and normatively in the sense that state capacity remains potentially significant but may have been deliberately downplayed for ideological reasons. Yet If  state agency is in fact today much diminished, and with it those public vehicle fleets, this suggests that the scope for large-scale transitions to say electric vehicles may therefore be even more limited than Whitmarsh suggests. Normatively it also points to either making the case for a much greater state role and building up of state capacities, or alternatively a transition strategy that builds itself around a weaker state capacity and a diminished public sphere.

In fact the obvious state role here would be as a regulatory state to effect a massive and thorough going regulation of any large vehicle fleets, whether private or publically owned, which could take the form of setting mandatory targets for employment of electric or other type vehicles. However, even here that data above is pessimistic given that it suggests BOTH public and private car fleets in the US are in decline. Moreover, that sort of intervention may rather offend the view that it is not the business of the state or governments to pick technology winners, a subject for another post another day perhaps.

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