When ‘Zero Emission Vehicles’ Aren’t

The growing popularity of large, heavy SUVS—and the energy needed to produce and operate them—could limit the environmental gains made by electric vehicles.

2 minute read

April 11, 2023, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Experts are warning that the larger size of personal vehicles—even electric ones—poses a risk to the environment, in addition to being more dangerous to pedestrians, writes Kea Wilson in Streetsblog. The warning comes from a European watchdog group, which Wilson points out is notable because cars sold in Europe are generally smaller than U.S. vehicles.

A report called the Green Car Assessment Program rates vehicles on their environmental impact, from manufacturing to tailpipe emissions and charging. “The researchers also controlled for the number of kilometers that vehicle was likely to be driven each year, and offered a free tool for motorists to estimate their cars' unique stats if they drive less than their countries' annual average, or if their vehicles weren't chosen for deeper analysis in this year's rankings.”

When taking into account all the ways a vehicle uses energy, ‘zero emission vehicles’ are, according to the study, “anything but — and large ones, especially, can have fewer environmental benefits than their green marketing campaigns might suggest. Overall, the electric vehicles in this year's dataset only cut between 40 and 50 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional petrol cars, rather than the 100 percent that the famous ZEV label implies.”

As Wilson explains, “any electric car on the road will be roughly 33 percent heavier than its gas-powered equivalent thanks to its heavy battery.” However, “the researchers stressed that Europe's nine percent increase in average vehicle weights on newly sold vehicles over the last ten years was also driven by another factor: the exploding popularity of large SUVs, whose sales increased sevenfold over that period.”

Ultimately, the researchers conclude that “the heavier the vehicle, the more harm it does to the environment and the extra energy required to drive the car.”

Monday, April 3, 2023 in Streetsblog USA

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