Carbon Counter: How Does Tesla Stack Up Against Other Clean Cars?

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Posted on EVANNEX on November 24, 2021, by Charles Morris

Savvy car buyers examine the efficiency figures listed on fueleconomy.gov, to see how much green they’re getting for their green. However, these stats don’t tell the whole story by any means. The greenness and the true cost of any vehicle—EV, PHEV, hybrid or dinosaur-burner—depend on many factors, including the efficiency of a particular model, the region in which it operates, and the type of driving it’s used for.

The clever folks at MIT have devised the ingenious Carbon Counter, an online tool that allows you to compare the lifetime emissions and total cost of ownership of a selection of the most popular cars and light trucks sold in the US, and to plug in figures that reflect your personal situation. 

Car models are plotted on a graph with emissions as the vertical axis and lifetime cost as the horizontal axis, so you can see just how much “green for the buck” a particular model offers (alternatively, you can choose other variables, such as horsepower).

Click on the Customize tab to adjust for different gas prices, different electricity prices, different state and federal incentives, different driving styles, etc.

The figures for greenhouse gas emissions account for the entire vehicle lifecycle, including vehicle production, battery production, supply chains and raw materials. The figures for cost include purchase price, fuel and maintenance. (The terms “cheap” or “expensive” as we use them in this article refer to these lifetime costs, without including any federal or state incentives.)

The resulting chart shows a scatter plot representing each vehicle as a colored dot, each color corresponding to a particular powertrain type. Looking at the chart as a whole shows several broad trends, and clicking on an individual dot reveals details for a particular model. (By default, the chart omits vehicles with sticker prices over about $70,000, and it does not include every possible variant of every model, but you can add these models individually. Also note that much of the data is for 2020 models.)

Some of the trends revealed are not surprising. Plug-in vehicles are generally greener than legacy fossil-only models, and pure EVs are always greener. Regardless of what you may read in the “EVs’ dirty little secret” articles that continue to appear on a daily basis, numerous studies done over the past decade have found that an EV produces lower lifetime emissions than a comparable fossil-burner, even if said EV is powered by dirty electricity. Even the biggest and brownest EVs are (at least slightly) cleaner than the smallest and greenest ICE models. The emissions of the dirtiest EV (the Porsche Taycan) are equivalent to those of the cleanest ICE vehicle (the Mitsubishi Mirage).


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