Aston Martin Says Electric Cars Aren't Green Enough

A new report says it takes 50,000 miles until they are cleaner than gas. It's wrong.

Sean Connery with Aston Martin
In the good old days for Aston Martin.

Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

A new report has been released in the United Kingdom that claims that because of the higher embodied carbon involved in building electric cars and their batteries, it takes 50,000 miles of driving before the total emissions of an electric vehicle (EV) are lower than those of a gasoline-powered car. The report (which you can read as a PDF via Google Drive) is being used by many conservative newspapers to debunk electric cars, on the basis that it takes so long for them to do much good; the average British driver covers 10,000 miles per year, and five years is a long payback period.

Readers may remember an embarrassing post on Treehugger titled "Why Electric Cars Won't Save Us: It Takes Years to Pay Off the Upfront Carbon Emissions" – it was based on a report from Volkswagen that said it took about five years to pay back the increased embodied carbon from making the batteries. The post was updated after the report was thoroughly debunked by Auke Hoekstra of the Eindhoven University of Technology. It appears that makers of gasoline-powered cars do not want to make electric cars look too good, even if they are building them.

Daily mail electric shock
Screen Capture/ Daily Mail

The new report, sponsored by carmakers Aston Martin, Honda, McLaren, and a few other disinterested parties, also claims that the manufacture of an electric vehicle generates 63% more carbon dioxide compared to a conventional internal combustion engine vehicle, getting this information from an analysis of the Polestar electric version of a Volvo. That's one car that possibly hasn't been optimized for batteries; the CO2 is about twice as much as we have seen in studies of the Nissan Leaf or the Tesla Model 3, but makes for great headlines in the likes of the Daily Mail.

Auke Hoekstra got on the case again and came to a completely different conclusion in a marvelous Twitter thread, noting that the report underestimated the CO2 emissions from gasoline cars, using laboratory data that was debunked back in the Volkswagen Dieselgate days, instead of current real-world data. He also notes that they do not count the upstream emissions from making the gasoline, although very few people do. But even the cleanest gasoline has well-to-wheel emissions that are 30% higher than what comes out of the tailpipe; dirty gas like what you get boiled out of the Alberta Oil Sands could be 60% greater. Oh, and the report also apparently overstates the amount of carbon emitted generating the electricity. In the end, Hoekstra calculates that it only takes about 16,000 miles of driving before the electric car is lower carbon than the gasoline car.

So much depends on where you measure and the cleanliness of the grid, but in the real world, electricity is getting cleaner every year, and the carbon emissions per kWh of battery are going down. The audience for this report is in Britain, where the companies sponsoring the report are facing a government that plans to ban gasoline and diesel car production in 2030.

Who is Behind This? Apparently, Aston Martin and a Sock Puppet

Screen Capture/ Sponsors

Analyst Michael Liebreich did some deeper digging into the report (which was prepared by Clarendon Communications for the sponsors) and hilarity ensued. Before he starts he notes, like we do, that EVs are not "superior to every other form of transport. Even the best EV will always have a carbon footprint, a material supply chain, and will cause particulate pollution. Active travel – walking, cycling, scooting and so on – should always be our first choice. With that said, let's get stuck in!"

And wow, does he get stuck in, noting that this is much more than "an industry-sponsored report using dodgy assumptions to paint a pessimistic view of the potential of EVs in the fight against climate change." It is way weirder than that. In fact, he "uncovered evidence that the report was written by a sock-puppet PR company run from an address owned by Aston Martin's Director of Global Government and Corporate Affairs." He explains why this report is so popular:

"Finally, there is a reason why the '50,000-miles-to-emissions-breakeven' story (and all the others like it) was taken up so gleefully by the UK press. The traditionalist wing of the Conservative Party is deeply unhappy with the leadership's lurch towards Net Zero and the Green Industrial Revolution – it rubs their libertarian and corporatist tendencies the wrong way in equal measure."

I have been following Michael Liebreich for some time; he is a great resource in the fight against hydrogen hype. He would also make a great detective.

And Once Again...

Electric cars are not zero-emission vehicles, but they have much lower life-cycle carbon emissions than conventional vehicles, as Hoekstra's data show, which is why it is so important that we get rid of gasoline-powered cars and replace them with something. While I have written many posts about how electric cars won't save us or they are sucking up all the air in the room, my objection to them has less to do with carbon emissions and more to do with the fact that they are still cars. If there's going to be one blocking the bike lane, I would rather it be electric.