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Are EVs Actually Environmentally Friendly?

Much depends on what part of the electric car’s life cycle we’re talking about.

Car and Driver

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Daisy with EV charger for center and stem

Jenny Risher/Car and Driver

If we only built cars and never drove them, Camaros, not Model 3s, might be the darlings of the environmental movement. EV batteries are energy-intensive to manufacture, and there are humanitarian costs associated with mining the metals they rely on. Though EVs don’t emit greenhouse gases, the electricity they pull from the grid often does.

But EVs are absolved of their original sin pretty quickly once the rubber hits the road. According to a model devised by the automotive consulting firm FEV, the life-cycle emissions of a small gas car will surpass those of a small EV after roughly 27,000 miles of driving. Electric crossovers and trucks are less efficient than small EVs, and FEV’s model assumes they’ll have larger batteries, so it’ll take more mileage to overcome the emissions associated with manufacturing and recycling them. But even the largest EVs should pull even with their gas counterparts by 60,000 miles.

These calculations assume an EV is being charged on a grid powered 50 percent by renewable energy and 50 percent by nonrenewables. Overall, about 20 percent of the electricity generated in the United States last year came from renewable sources, but some states far exceed that, with Washington State (78 percent) and Vermont (100) leading the way. The amount of electricity from renewable sources is increasing. Michigan utility company Consumers Energy plans to add enough solar capacity by 2040 to cover its average summer demand. So an EV you buy today will only become earth-friendlier. We can’t say the same for a Camaro.


Annie White has been writing and editing for Car and Driver since 2016. She has owned two Chevrolet HHRs. It was a mistake both times.

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This post originally appeared on Car and Driver and was published July 7, 2021. This article is republished here with permission.

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