While not having a car has even larger climate benefits, many peoples’ ability to go car-free is limited by their circumstances and the availability of alternatives.
EV sales are growing fast, accounting for one in every seven cars sold globally in 2022 – up from one-in-70 just five years earlier.
Here, Carbon Brief factchecks 21 of the most common – and persistent – myths about EVs.
(The Driven editor’s note: We have included the first fact-checked claim below, but when you click on the rest of these myths, you will be taken to the relevant section on the Carbon Brief web site).
- FALSE: ‘An EV has to travel 50,000+ miles to break even’
- FALSE: ‘VW’s e-Golf becomes more environmentally friendly only after 77,000 miles’
- FALSE: The ‘electric Volvo C40 needs to be driven around 68,400 miles to cut carbon’
- FALSE: ‘Electric vehicles have little or no CO2 advantage over the car you already drive’
- FALSE: ‘Climate change is accelerating because of the ban on combustion-engines’
- FALSE: ‘Old bangers are the green motorist’s choice’
- FALSE: ‘EVs simply displace carbon emissions from roads to distant power stations’
- MOSTLY FALSE: ‘Electric cars are not green machines’
- INCOMPLETE: ‘Electric vehicles alone can’t solve climate change’
- FALSE: ‘EVs are [low-mileage] runabouts…[that] take a long time to pay off their carbon debt’
- FALSE: ‘Synthetic petrol could displace electric vehicles’
- FALSE: ‘Hydrogen cars are more sustainable than EVs’
- FALSE: ‘Sales of electric vehicles appear to be slowing’
- FALSE: ‘Electric cars could soon be more expensive to drive than their petrol equivalents’
- FALSE: ‘There are insufficient raw materials…for all vehicles to be EVs’
- FALSE: The lifetime of EV batteries is ‘horribly uncertain’
- FALSE: ‘Electric vehicles can explode – petrol ones only do it in movies’
- FALSE: ‘Under Biden’s electric vehicle mandate, 40% of US auto jobs will disappear’
- FALSE: ‘Electric car revolution at crisis point’ due to ‘charging point shortage’
- FALSE: ‘Britain’s creaking power grid cannot cope with charging electric cars’
- FALSE: ‘How your super heavy EV produces MORE pollution than petrol and diesel cars’
FALSE: ‘An EV has to travel 50,000+ miles to break even’
One of the most common false claims made against EVs is that they offer little or no climate benefit over conventional cars, due to the emissions associated with making their battery.
“An EV has to travel 50,000+ miles to break even with an ICE [internal combustion engine] car. That number is growing, not shrinking.”
This is doubly false. As Carbon Brief showed in its 2019 factcheck, it takes less than two years for a typical EV to pay off the “carbon debt” from its battery. Over the full vehicle lifecycle, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from an EV are around three times lower than an average petrol car.
Moreover, the lifecycle benefits of EVs are increasing over time as electricity grids get cleaner.
In a 2021 lifecycle analysis, the ICCT found that an EV bought in Europe would cut emissions by 66-69%, relative to a conventional car. By 2030, this emissions saving would rise to 74-77%, the ICCT said, “as the electricity mix continues to decarbonise”.
New Carbon Brief analysis shows that a Tesla Model Y, the world’s best-selling EV, would pay off its “carbon debt” after around 13,000 miles in the UK (21,000km), as shown in the figure below.
This would take less than two years for the average UK driver.
Typically, claims to the contrary argue that the higher emissions created during production of an EV are only very slowly paid off, or perhaps not at all, during the vehicles’ full lifecycle.
Yet these claims almost always make the same three key mistakes, which serve to underplay the emissions from combustion-engine cars and overestimate those from EVs.
First, these claims routinely overstate the emissions associated with manufacturing EV batteries, often cherrypicking older studies with the highest estimates.
(Combustion-engine car test cycles were the subject of deliberate manipulation exposed by the “dieselgate” scandal. While real-world EV mileage is also lower than in test cycles and some electricity is lost during charging, this only adds around 19% to energy use, according to the ICCT.)
Taking these together, the ICCT concludes that combustion-engine cars have lifecycle emissions that are “twice as high as official tailpipe CO2 values”.
Article first published at Carbon Brief. Clicks on the myth will take readers to the original publication.