New Research Shows Electric Cars 50 Percent Cleaner Compared to Gasoline Over Their Lifetime

Published Nov 11, 2015

Washington, D.C. (November 12, 2015)—Do battery electric vehicles really reduce global warming emissions compared to gasoline cars? The answer is a clear yes, according to a new study from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Over their entire lifetimes—from manufacturing to driving to disposal—battery electric cars produce half the global warming emissions, on average, of comparably-sized gasoline cars. In addition, driving a battery electric vehicle is cleaner than the average gasoline vehicle on global warming emissions everywhere in the country, and has been improving over the last 3 years.

The new report, "Cleaner Cars from Cradle to Grave," looks at two battery-electric car models—a mid-size 84-mile range model and a full-size 265-mile range model. (These models are based on the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla S, the two most popular battery electric vehicles on the market.) The report examines the emissions from building, driving, and disposing of these vehicles. While making an electric car can have higher manufacturing emissions than building a gasoline car (mostly due to battery production), those emissions are canceled out quickly by the big advantage electric vehicles offer on the road – on average, within 6 months for a 84-mile range EV and 16 months for the 265-mile range model.

"Electric cars cut emissions and oil use, period," said Rachael Nealer, a Kendall Science Fellow at UCS and the lead author of the report. "It's really impressive how much cleaner electric cars have gotten in just the past three years, and that's going to keep improving."

An up-to-date regional analysis shows that even in the dirtiest grid regions, driving the average electric vehicle results in lower emissions than the average new gasoline car. Two-thirds of Americans live in regions where driving on electricity is cleaner than driving a 50 mpg car—an increase from 45 percent in 2012. As electric vehicle technology improves and more regions invest in renewable electricity generation and decrease their use of coal, emissions from electric vehicles will continue to fall.

"This research shows how quickly both electric vehicles and the U.S. electric grid are improving," said Don Anair, Research and Deputy Director for the UCS Clean Vehicles program. "Electric vehicles have big potential to help us cut our oil use in half over the next 20 years and are critical to cutting carbon emissions. Incentives that get more electric vehicles on the road are a good idea—policymakers need to continue and expand these efforts. And automakers need to offer consumers more ways to drive electric."