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Hybrids are finally selling a little better with high gasoline prices. In March, 20 per cent of Toyota’s U.S. sales were hybrids yet they’re still less than 2 per cent of the total fleet. It would seem a stretch to count on 10 per cent being all-electric by 2020. But at least now people are getting the information they need to make an informed choice. (Nuno André/Photos.com)
Hybrids are finally selling a little better with high gasoline prices. In March, 20 per cent of Toyota’s U.S. sales were hybrids yet they’re still less than 2 per cent of the total fleet. It would seem a stretch to count on 10 per cent being all-electric by 2020. But at least now people are getting the information they need to make an informed choice. (Nuno André/Photos.com)

The Green Highway

Buying a new car? Think of the bigger picture Add to ...

The big arguments against electric cars are: 1) if you plug them into a dirty grid you aren't helping the environment and 2) you'll never save enough money on gas to make them pay. The Union of Concerned Scientists based in Cambridge, Mass., says otherwise.

“This report shows drivers should feel confident that owning an electric vehicle is a good choice for reducing global warming pollution, cutting fuel costs and slashing oil consumption,” said Don Anair, the report's author and senior engineer for UCS's Clean Vehicles Program.

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The study runs all sorts of scenarios and highlights this one: with gasoline at $3.50 a gallon ($1.30 Canadian/litre) drivers who plug in instead of buying gasoline would save $750 to $1,200 over a new car that gets 27 miles (43 kilometres) per gallon when driving 11,000 miles a year.

“While in this early electric vehicle market these products have higher up-front costs, knowing how much one can save by using electricity instead of gasoline is an important factor for consumers,” said the study.

The USC says the study tracked total energy use on a wells-to-wheels basis. It measured the energy used to pump and refine oil and the energy used and pollution created to mine coal. Even in regions heavily dependent on coal to generate electricity, the UCS report says battery vehicles retain a significant advantage over the most modern gasoline engine.

“No matter where you live in the United States, electric vehicles are good choice for reducing global warming emissions and saving money on fueling up,” said Anair.

You'll note he did not say that you'll get the extra money you pay for an electric back any time soon. Electric cars are averaging about $15,000 a copy more than a gasoline-powered equivalent. Even if you're saving $1,000 a year at the pumps – well, you get the picture. The reason to buy one is to be good to the environment and to show people you are being good to the environment. Plus, of course, the silent, smoothness of electric drive.

On the environmental question, take a look at the 17th annual U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It shows overall emissions in 2010 increased by 3.2 per cent from the previous year. As the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion increased at an average annual rate of 0.7 per cent from 1990 to 2010. Similarly, a study by the University of Cambridge, Stanford University and MIT concludes it will be almost impossible to meet European goals for greenhouse gas emissions reductions by 2050.

It certainly appears that most consumers won't change their behavior much or at all to fight global warming. The “energy independence” argument gets more support in the United States and that might help push more customers to electric cars. Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan-Renault, is the greatest champion of electric cars believing that 10 per cent of new-car sales will be electrics by 2020.

Hybrids are finally selling a little better with high gasoline prices. In March, 20 per cent of Toyota's U.S. sales were hybrids yet they're still less than 2 per cent of the total fleet. It would seem a stretch to count on 10 per cent being all-electric by 2020. But at least now people are getting the information they need to make an informed choice.

The USC report concludes, “Those in the market for a new car may have been uncertain how the global warming emissions and fuel costs of EVs stack up to gasoline-powered vehicles. Now, drivers can for the first time see just how much driving an electric vehicle in their hometown will lower global warming emissions and save them money on fuel costs.”

mvaughan@globeandmail.com

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