Jason Lomberg, North American Editor, PSD
I guess turnabout is fair play…even when it comes to a 9,000-pound vehicular juggernaut.
Back in 2007, a report from the Oregon-based CNW Market Research famously claimed that the Hummer — the poster child for gas guzzlers — was more energy efficient than the Toyota Prius hybrid.
15 years later, a new report states the GMC Hummer EV emits more pollutants than a gas-powered Chevy Malibu.
That’s…a whole lot to unpack.
2007’s “Dust to Dust: The Energy Cost of New Vehicles from Concept to Disposal” argued that fuel efficiency isn’t the only pertinent metric for the total environmental cost of a vehicle.
You also need to consider the energy is takes to assemble and dispose of said vehicle.
The report discusses the hidden energy costs involved in offloading manufacturing energy requirements to suppliers — allowing automakers to hide those requirements and claim a higher efficiency figure.
To arrive at a more accurate energy cost per mile driven, CNW Market Research considered such minutia as “plant to dealer fuel costs, employee driving distances, electricity usage per pound of material used in each vehicle and literally hundreds of other variables.”
By those calculations, the Hummer H3 was about $1.949 per mile, while all currently available hybrids (including the Prius) were $2.42 per mile.
As Art Spinella, president of CNW Marketing Research, Inc., stated at the time, “if the concern is the broader issues such as environmental impact of energy usage, some high-mileage vehicles actually cost society more than conventional or even larger models over their lifetime.”
Countless studies since then have refuted the controversial conclusions of “Dust to Dust,” but the study was a red-hot talking point for awhile.
And now, right as one of the least energy efficient vehicles on the planet is getting electrified, a new report is claiming the resultant EV is more detrimental to the environment than numerous gas-powered vehicles.
How is that possible?
For one, there’s EVs’ not-so-hidden dirty secret — that the source of their energy is often, well, dirty.
In the report of the hour by the non-profit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), the authors state that “in the United States, about 60% of electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels.”
They call these environmental costs “upstream emissions,” though frankly, it’s hardly news to suggest that EVs draw their electricity from coal-burning power plants.
But that’s not it. The Hummer EV’s 2,900-pound battery contains refined rare earth materials like nickel, cobalt, manganese and aluminum, and as the ACEEE notes, “Mining the minerals used for batteries has a significant impact on the environment,” (to say nothing of the human rights abuses involved in cobalt).
According to ACEEE’s report, once you factor in the emissions from the electric grid and the total environmental cost, the Hummer EV emits 341 grams of CO2 per mile, while the gas-powered Chevy Malibu only causes about 320 grams per mile.
Of course, at some point, we’re comparing apples to oranges, since this is a 9,000-pound SUV (electric or not) vs. a 3,000+ lb mid-size car, and weight dramatically affects energy efficiency.
But at the end of the day, and as ACEEE points out, “behemoth EVs can still be worse for the environment than smaller, conventional vehicles.”