A Fact-based Analysis
How green is your electric car?
Few recent innovations are as potentially world-changing as the electric car. However, although hailed by most as an environment-saving invention, some others criticize them as a false hope. Fortunately, the electric car has also attracted a wealth of scientific research, and it’s in this research that we discover just how green it truly is.
All major commodities produce manufacturing emissions as part of their creation, and it’s known that electric vehicle manufacturing emissions are higher than those of gasoline-powered cars. They can be anywhere from 15 to 68 percent higher and account for almost half of electric cars’ lifetime emissions. Most of these emissions are a result of manufacturing the large lithium-ion batteries that electric vehicles require.
At first glance, this seems to condemn the energy efficiency of electric vehicles, but a study conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) definitively proves this is not the case. The UCS study states that the manufacturing emissions of an electric vehicle are offset very early in its driving life: within about 4,900 miles for a midsize electric car and 19,000 miles for a full-size.
This means that within as little as a few months, the reduced emissions from an electric car completely offset those produced during manufacturing. Furthermore, even with their manufacturing emissions taken into account, electric vehicles produce dramatically fewer total lifetime emissions than gasoline-powered or even hybrid cars. This offers hope that electric cars are the answer to the problem of increasing carbon emissions.
Batteries are part of the problem, but can be a solution
A large part of the manufacturing emissions associated with producing electric vehicle batteries can be attributed to the environmental toll of mining lithium and other rare metals. And there’s also the question of waste; because these batteries lose their ability to retain a charge over time, manufacturers are tasked with the challenge of how to efficiently and affordably recycle them.
The answer to both problems is to get more electric cars on the road. Like with any recyclable waste, battery-recycling efficiency will improve when there are lots of batteries to recycle. And a lithium-ion battery’s life isn’t over just because it can’t charge an electric vehicle anymore. Scientists say used batteries contain about 75 percent of their original energy capacity. These batteries can thus be used to store energy in the production of renewable electricity, whether on the residential level or as part of a larger electrical grid.
So far we’ve mainly discussed the environmental costs of manufacturing electric vehicles, but it’s also important to mention the emissions associated with driving and charging an electric car. Its energy efficiency, and thus how green an electric car is, ultimately depends on how the electricity used to charge it was generated. Unfortunately, some electric cars are charged by energy from coal-fired power plants, which are a source of heavy emissions.
As an example, consider an electric car charged in California versus one driven in the U.S. Midwest. The car in California would produce the emissions equivalent to a gasoline-powered vehicle
Find out where those electrons come from
with 87 MPG, while the Midwest electric car would be rated around 35 MPG. This difference is based purely on how these regions generate electricity.
The UCS estimates that an electric car charged by natural gas-generated electricity will result in about half the pollution-related health problems of gasoline-powered cars. Powering up a vehicle from a renewable energy source drops that figure to about one quarter. They go on to state that, even with less efficient energy sources, overall emissions from an electric vehicle driven anywhere in the country are less than those of the average new gasoline-powered car.
All of this means that the efficiency of electric vehicles is intricately linked to the future of energy production. As the world continues to adopt renewable sources of electricity and retire increasing numbers of coal-fired plants, the already positive impact of the electric car can only improve. In fact, the UCS estimates that electric vehicle emissions could decrease by more than 25 percent with a transition to an 80 percent renewable energy grid.
Electric Cars are Part of the Solution
With all of the data available, it’s clear that electric cars are a tangible solution to the problems of global warming emissions, declining air quality and even noise pollution. And most scientists agree that drivers of electric cars should be rewarded; when you purchase an electric vehicle, you’re propelling the course of technology forward and making a positive impact on the environment. Electric cars are capable of delivering us not only to our destinations but also to a cleaner and more efficient future.
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Going green and saving green with your eco-car
Your green car can help your car insurance
With the rising awareness of environmental issues and the need to sustainably manage the planet’s resources, reducing your carbon footprint is now a lifestyle choice. After all, nearly 30% of the US global warming emissions come from the transportation sector; a staggering statistic. As a result, fuel efficient vehicles, such as hybrid and electric cars and trucks, are gaining popularity. They are fast becoming a mainstream reality, since they help reduce greenhouse gas emissions while being more affordable at the same time. They can also reduce your car insurance costs.
There are many green options out there, so you’ll find it easy to choose the one that suits you best, whether that’s a hybrid or an electric vehicle, or even a clean diesel car, which a highly fuel efficient technology that lowers vehicle CO2.
Hybrid cars, such as the Toyota Prius, combine a fuel-powered source with an electric motor; electric vehicles, such as the Tesla Model S (which was also the top selling electric car in the US in 2015), have a limited range but also emit zero greenhouse gases if the electricity comes from renewable sources.
The right car choice can lower your car insurance
Choosing green vehicles can also offer another benefit besides helping the environment: they can lower the cost of your insurance. You’ll be doing your part for the planet while enjoying savings
Choices are out there to help green your world
from driving an eco-friendly vehicle, as some providers will offer lower premiums because green cars are often smaller and less powerful. This makes them highly attractive for many people, be it individual drivers or fleet managers.
Another reason why car insurance rates are cheaper for eco-friendly vehicles is that the odds of being injured in an accident are 25 percent lower, the addition of a battery making cars 10 percent heavier; a fact established back in 2011.
Whether you own a personal vehicle or a fleet, and require personal, chauffeur or taxi insurance, the truth is that most providers are willing to offer some kind of discounted rate if you drive an eco-friendly vehicle. For example, hybrid drivers can have lower insurance rates due to the unique battery charging technology in their cars, which can encourage them to improve their driving habits. This is because hybrids achieve better fuel economy at low, constant speeds, and the batteries can also have a longer lifespan as a result.
Cars with tools to save you money
Your insurance rates may reflect your driving
Because hybrids use a regenerative braking system, they can capture and store kinetic energy when the brakes are engaged. As such, gradual braking becomes necessary to save fuel – and can be considered essential for keeping a clean driving record. In turn, that can prevent sudden braking, which can lead to accidents. This further helps drivers achieve lower car insurance rates.
Drivers with a DUI citation can see their insurance rates rise by an average of 92 percent, while reckless driving can increase rates by 83 percent; further proof that simply maintaining a spotless record can help you tremendously with regard to your insurance premium.
All this means that opting to drive a green vehicle can actually help you save money, both at the moment of purchase and in the long run. This is true specifically when it’s time to have it insured and fueled.
The importance of going green is becoming widely recognized, with governments even going as far as offering incentives for drivers to choose hybrid and electric cars. So not only do they offer better tax credits and a discount in car insurance rates, they have the added benefit of being kinder to the environment.
The beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?
Fiat 500e – Sold Out or Sell Out?
Cut-throat price wars are common enough in the auto industry, but ones that include green cars are pretty rare. Remember, these are the cars that several auto makers have been quick to say they would lose money on and, on top of that, were not sure consumers would buy at any price.
Maybe it’s a function of the expansion of the market; as noted earlier, there are now 10 different pure electric models for sale from major manufacturers. That kind of competition in an admittedly early market doesn’t bode well for margins.
So the headlines have quickly turned from “Who will buy these electric cars?” to “Electric cars are sold out.” Automakers generally (Nissan and Chevrolet are the exceptions) not committed to produce large volumes of these vehicles for the reasons they are quick to enumerate–the market is uncertain, the vehicles’ retail cost is high and production cost even higher and the functionality of the cars is significantly less than a typical gas or diesel-powered alternative.
The flip side of those arguments made by EV-advocates is a mirror image–there is a large pent-up demand for alternatives to the internal combustion engine, early versions of new technology may lose money but the volumes will increase and profits will come, and the functionality of a typical electric car serves the majority of uses most people use their cars for on a daily basis (and alternatives are readily available for the exceptions).
The truth lies somewhere in between these two extremes. Nissan and Chevrolet, along with BMW, appear to be strongly committed to electric mobility, though all three are taking different paths. Nissan is aggressively pricing its Leaf electrics, increasing local production to lower costs, adding battery capacity and features to new models. The Leaf and the extended range electric Chevy Volt have been trading the top spot in sales during the past year with the latest clash echoing the way auto companies typically respond to a marketplace challenge–match your competition’s pricing.
Tesla the exception
Only Tesla with its high-end Model S appears to be immune from the down-and-dirty of retail selling, but they are still in the mode of producing cars to fill existing orders and are in the process of expanding to overseas markets.
So, back in the showrooms, Honda’s Fit EV and Chevy Volt both announced new, lower lease rates. Nissan lowered the Leaf retail price. The Ford Focus Electric, Chevy Spark EV and Fiat 500e already had lease rates as low as
Honda Fit EV – Popular Now
many conventional cars. The result: reports that the Fit EV and 500e were “sold out.” For electric car advocates, it was vindication of their faith in the market. Automakers shrugged, however, as both Honda and Fiat said they would not increase production on a car on which they were losing money ($10,000 per vehicle according to Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne). Toyota with its RAV4 EV and BMW with its Active-E model similarly have limited production, but don’t appear to be concerned about sales and have stayed out of the retail price wars.
Mitsubishi i-MiEV volume low
The odd man out here appears to be the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. Sales of the small electric car have been quite low, averaging a little less than 150 per month during the first half of the year. They are also running special offers and recently closed a deal to send 50 units to cities in Santa Clara County in Northern California.
Of course, another driver in these price wars is knowledge that further competition is coming. Next year the BMW i3, Mercedes B-Class E-Cell and Golf-E are due to hit the market. Along with that several new plug-in hybrids should be for sale, so consumer choice is only going to expand. The electric car market doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. So, it appears the thought by automakers is to lock in as many consumers now as early as possible. The good news is the competition has created some real bargains and the potential to lower the up-front cost to the point where an electric car suddenly makes economic as well as environmental sense.
Additional stories on the subject you might like:
The Top 10 Electric Cars You Can Buy Now!
Ford Focus Electric-First Drive
Fiat 500e road test
The ACEEE (American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy) has been singling out the greenest vehicles for a decade and a half, so their list is eagerly awaited for those focused on fuel efficiency and low pollutant emissions. The 2013 list has some familiar models, but has more new vehicles than any previous list, which shows the rapid shift the market has taken to high-efficiency vehicles.
Here’s the list:
1. Toyota Prius c Hybrid
2. Honda Fit EV
3. Toyota Prius Hybrid
4. Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid
5. Honda Civic Hybrid
6. Honda Insight Hybrid
7. Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid
8. Smart fortwo convertible/coupe
9. Scion iQ
10. Ford Focus EV
High-scoring cars like the Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt are not on the above list of 2013 model years, because ACEEE has only scored the 2012 models.
Rigorous Evaluation on Paper
Compared with some of the vehicle awards, such as those from enthusiast magazines or even Consumer Reports, the ACEEE awards are based on information submitted by the manufacturers rather than physical testing of the vehicles. The group weighs tailpipe emissions of criteria pollutants, fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions (or conversely, fuel efficiency). This year the organization also factored in emissions related to manufacturing, upstream fuel emissions for gasoline, diesel and natural gas as well as the environmental impact of electricity production for electric and plug-in vehicles. Though the ACEEE scale theoretically goes to 100, the best vehicles generally are only slightly above the mid-point. This year, the best 10 were only seven points apart, ranging from 51 to 58, an indicator of both the advances of technology and relative greenness of many vehicles today.
Of course the downside of using submitted information is that real world performance, such as recent complaints about hybrid fuel economy falling short of official EPA numbers, does not show up. On the other hand, ACEEE brings a wealth of data beyond what appears on a vehicle’s Monroney label in their evaluation. The group also takes into account different classes of vehicles and notes the greenest of each category as well as the overall top models highlighted above. And it did update its scores on 2011 and 2012 Hyundai/Kia models when that manufacturer admitted it had submitted inflated fuel economy numbers for several of its cars.
For comparison, the EPA on its FuelEconomy.gov website shows its Top 10 as electric cars since it ranks emissions only by greenhouse gas emissions including CO2, nitrous oxide, and methane. ACEEE 2013 ranks are based on 70% CO2 and 30% criteria pollutants, and appears to consider added lifecycle emissions. When they split up the top fuel economy winners by type of vehicle they end up with a mixture of EVs, plug-in hybrids and hybrids.
This Year’s Winners
The crop of Best 10 winners this year includes five hybrids, three plug-in vehicles (one hybrid and two EVs) and two small conventional gasoline internal combustion engine models. Half of the vehicles on the Top 10 list are new models evaluated for the first time. ACEEE noted that the number of models scoring 45 points or above (considered an above-average score for the 1000+ configurations that they evaluate) is at a record level this year with 150 models hitting that mark. Included in the larger group are additional hybrids, plug-in hybrids and EVs, clean diesels, a CNG model and additional internal combustion engine models. The proliferation of different technologies all hitting the mark for “greenness” is a sign of how far the auto industry has come already toward meeting future targets for fuel efficiency and reduced emissions of both greenhouse gases and criteria pollutants.
As the ACEEE says, the “greener choices” are multiplying and are not the province of any one manufacturer or even manufacturers from one country. The group noted that half of their Top 12 picks were from domestic manufacturers as an example. ACEEE also offers a tool on the subscription portion of its website where consumers and configure and compare different models as part of their shopping process.
Picking winners and losers in the “green” space is always fraught with difficulty, but in reality no more than any award process. There are always those who will agree or disagree with the picks and many more who will nit-pick the selection criteria or perceived bias. In ACEEE’s case it should be noted that several highly efficient vehicles didn’t make their Best 10 list because the organization set a minimum threshold of 1,000 units of sale to be considered, which took the Mitsubishi iMiEV and Tesla Model S out of consideration. For us, we believe more is better and any contest that highlights fuel efficient vehicles, as ACEEE definitely does, is to be encouraged.
Published – Jan. 17, 2013
John Addison test drives the MINI Cooper Convertible
By John Addison (4/24/09).
This is my first time to drive on a race track and I’m wondering if these are my final moments on planet earth. Here at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca I take the Andretti Hairpin and learn to accelerate in successive turns. After accelerating uphill, I enter “The Corkscrew” where I cannot see the sharp downhill turn to the left until I am in the middle of it. As I get into this sharp turn, I need to prepare for the sequence of curves that immediately follow. Yes, it’s a corkscrew.
I try to remember the coaching that I received. Hold the steering wheel with something less than a death grip. Breathe. Look ahead – but looking ahead at the top of the Corkscrew I only see blue sky. Looking ahead to my future, I only see darkness.
The 2009 BMW 335d that I am driving handles beautifully, offers more turbodiesel acceleration than I care to try, and I guarantee you that the brakes work.
After three laps, I exit the track, park the BMW, remove my helmet as I leave the car, and resist kissing the ground in front of real drivers. I have been invited to test drive new vehicles with the Western Automotive Journalists, even though I write about green cars and clean transportation. I long for yesterday.
Yesterday, I tested cars with good fuel economy on streets with posted speed limits. Drives included three cars that made the list of Top 10 Low Carbon Footprint Cars. Yesterday, the 20 mile test drives were along the ocean in Monterey and on beautiful tree lined roads where I could easily see the next turn.
I had the most fun behind the wheel of the MINI Cooper Convertible. I couldn’t stop smiling with the top down, the sun shining, and the panoramic ocean views. The car was tight enough in handling that I had the experience of being connected with the road, rather than being insulated.
If you want to enjoy driving, consider the MINI. If you need to seat more than two adults, be aware that the backseat practically touches the front. Cargo space is minimal. If your household has two or more cars, the MINI would be a fun second car with great fuel economy. The MINI is small enough to allow city drivers parking spaces that most cars pass by. If you want more leg room and cargo, then the MINI Clubman is a better choice by being 9.5 inches longer.
The Mini Cooper and Clubman have a loyal following that enjoy good gas mileage with a combined 32 mpg. Base MSRP for the MINI Cooper is $19,200; $24,550 for the convertible.
By contrast the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid easily seats five, has plenty of trunk storage, and actually delivers better mileage than the MINI due to Ford’s impressive hybrid drive system. The new Ford midsized sedan that I drove has an EPA certified 41 mpg rating in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. The base suggested price is $27,995.
While the MINI invites you to go out and play, the Fusion Hybrid invites you to efficiently drive from point A to point B while consuming as little gasoline as possible. This car will not be popular in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, or Venezuela. It may prove to be popular with anyone considering the Toyota Camry Hybrid; Ford delivers equal room, safety, and comfort with better rated mileage. Although the Fusion Hybrid has a better mileage rating than the Camry Hybrid, that advantage is not always delivered in real world driving. Edmonds Test Drive
In theory, the Ford Fusion Hybrid can travel up to 47 miles per hour in electric mode; I could only sustain the engine-off mode when gliding downhill. Even on flat roads driving 25 mph, the engine would engage.
Ford does a nice job of encouraging drivers to get better fuel economy. The SmartGage had a display section that filled with green leaves as I drove with a light touch that reduced demands on the 2.5L engine. The Ford Fusion Hybrid delivered the smoothest driving experience of any hybrid which I have driven. I did not notice the transitions from gas to electric mode. The transitions were seamless.
Even better mileage was delivered by the 2010 Honda Insight EX which I drove in Monterey. It is rated 43 mpg highway and 40 mpg city. The Insight’s combined EPA rating of 41 contrasts with the 2010 Prius expected rating of at least 50 mpg. The Honda Insight has an aerodynamic body similar to the Prius. Although the two five-door hatchbacks look similar, the Prius is a longer midsized car. In theory, the Honda Insight pricing starts at $19,800 which has pressured Toyota to offer a Prius with a base price only $2,000 higher. The 2010 Insight that I drove included upgrades such as a navigation system and six speaker audio system. The vehicle price, including pre-delivery service, was $23,770.
I started the Insight, and then touched the ECO button. Even in that mode, I had enough acceleration to get on any freeway in a hurry. The ECO mode helped me minimize demands on the 1.3L gasoline engine as I navigated the roads hugging Monterey’s dramatic coast. Like the Ford Fusion Hybrid, I was rewarded with a display of green leaves for my eco-driving behavior. Handling was smooth and a bit sporty. Similar to the Prius, the view through the rear view mirror was constrained.
The mirror is one reason that my mother prefers her Honda Civic Hybrid which also delivers slightly better mileage than the Insight. Drivers who want a conventional looking sedan will pay more for the Honda Civic Hybrid.
Driving the Honda Insight was smooth and quiet even when I went up a sustained 16 percent grade, demonstrating that its electric motor is quite effective in blending power with the 98 hp engine.
Price will definitely be a factor in buyers deciding between the Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius. In some markets, such as California, another factor may be the ability to get an HOV sticker with the Insight. For my money, if I could get a larger more fuel efficient Prius for only $2,000 more, then I would get the Prius. On the other hand, if there was a $5,000 price differential at the dealer, then I would go with the Insight. All in all, both are wonderful cars.
I valued the test drive experiences. Now, I am glad to be away from the track and at the computer composing this post. Race track driving can be dangerous for the neophytes. Every now and then I do something dangerous – ski double black diamond runs at Park City, bodysurf Bonsai Pipeline when 12 foot waves are breaking on the outer coral reef, or most daring of all, argue about politics on a crowded New York subway. Perhaps the danger is induced by too much testosterone for the day, or too much caffeine, or by a longing for my lost youth. Most days, if I want an exciting ride then I get on my bicycle or the city bus or the Prius that I share with my wife.
Speaking of youthful enthusiasm for racing, if you are concerned that your teenager may drive like a racetrack driver, take a look at Ford’s MyKey. When teenagers use their personal key, the will be constrained to the maximum speeds programmed by their parents.
If you want great fuel economy, few compromises, and driving pleasure, test drive the latest hybrids from automakers like Toyota, Honda, and Ford. The intensified competition between them is bringing better performance and safety and economy.
John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and is the author of Save Gas, Save the Planet.