Electric Cars Need To Be Driven Further, Owned Longer To Offset Embedded Carbon: Report

Illustration for article titled Electric Cars Need To Be Driven Further, Owned Longer To Offset Embedded Carbon: Report
Photo: JASPER JACOBS/BELGA MAG/AFP (Getty Images)

There has been a fairly consistent back-and-forth when it comes to the relative eco-friendliness of electric vehicles. While it’s obvious that they don’t emit carbon due to burning gasoline, other academics argue that EVs are still a detriment to the environment because carbon emissions are created when building or even powering them (since some electricity is generated through the burning of fossil fuels). Now, Jefferies’ Simon Powell is saying those latter claims hold merit, so it’s imperative that EV owners own their cars longer and drive them further to make it worthwhile.

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Here’s what Powell told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia”:

To gain the environmental dividend that governments are looking for, users are going to have to keep them longer, drive them further than they may have done with a conventional internal combustion energy vehicle.

When they leave the factory, these (electric vehicles) are at a disadvantage. They contain more steel. The brakes are bigger. The battery packs are certainly heavier.

That leaves us with two options. First, we can drive our EVs further and own them longer than we might have done with an ICE, as he mentions. That means car companies are going to need to develop vehicles with longer ranges, or the government is going to have to develop a more comprehensive charging infrastructure, since EVs still can’t go as far as an ICE can on a charge versus a tank of gas.

That’s not always an appealing option. People who opt for EVs are generally more affluent, and they often live outside of directly downtown, urban areas but who live within a quick jaunt to the city center where there’s more space for street parking and, therefore, more space for chargers. And people still aren’t taking their EVs for long-haul road trips, nor do we have enough data to see how long they’ll own an EV as compared to an ICE car. There’s a whole slew of difficult factors coming into play here.

So, that’s where Powell’s second option comes in: greening the steel industry. The production of steel creates a ton of emissions if done the traditional way; a more eco-friendly steel production process is costlier and takes more time. It would take a hell of a long time for the steel industry to go green, though, and would cost a lot of money to do so. It’s one of those “invest now so the next generation can reap the benefits” scenarios.

In the meantime, though, we’ll still have to aim for squeezing every last bit of use out of our electric vehicles.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

DISCUSSION

daveassist
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I’m going to cast side-eyes at the messenger, CNBC, in the same way that I do MSNBC and ABC.

The reason being is that they seem to be more prone to take more of a pro-corporate stance on various things, and that can include slanting the news in favor of certain industries.

They’re just more chill about it than say, Faux News or its secret sister, The Wall Street Journal.

With this message, I’d ask about the statistics themselves. Do they really make sure that they compare apples to apples? The Street Signs Asia article does not present that.

Statements such as

a “huge amount” of carbon is emitted when materials such as steel, aluminum and glass are created and put together to manufacture vehicles. He said the problem is compounded for electric vehicles, which currently tend to be heavier on average than their gasoline-powered counterparts.

“When they leave the factory, these (electric vehicles) are at a disadvantage,” he said. “They contain more steel. The brakes are bigger. The battery packs are certainly heavier.””

make me want the actual apples to apples comparison more.

Does the EV use twice as much steel, aluminum and glass or only 20% more? Does the battery pack use so much more material than an engine and transmission system for an ICE, and do the materials processes for each emit significantly different pollutant and greenhouse gas streams?

It’s Ars Technica territory, probably, but I’ve gotten spoiled by being able to see such detail.

Car Science!