The Hybrid, Plug-In Hybrid, Electric Car Debate Rages On

The debate about what is better for the environment — a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or battery-electric car — continues to rage. In the latest installment of this on-going discussion, Peter Coy, the author of an op-ed piece for the New York Times, treats his readers to remarks made by Akio Toyoda, one of the most committed anti-EV advocates in the world. Although Toyoda has stepped aside from his role as CEO of the company founded by his grandfather — which happens to be the largest automaker in the world in terms of the number of cars sold each year — he is still a powerful voice in the industry.

Coy writes about a claim made by Toyota the company — no doubt influenced by Toyoda, the man behind the company. It goes like this. Imagine you have some wheelbarrows filled with rocks. The rocks contain lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel, graphite, and the other materials needed to manufacture lithium-ion batteries.

As Dumb As A Box Of Rocks

By Toyota’s calculation, the amount of rocks needed for one long range electric vehicle would be enough for either six plug-in hybrids or 90 conventional hybrid cars — the ones Toyota used to call “self-charging electric cars” in one of the most blatantly misleading lines in the history of marketing. “The overall carbon reduction of those 90 hybrids over their lifetimes is 37 times as much as a single battery-electric vehicle,” Toyota argues.

The company doesn’t just promote hybrids, it smashes people over the head with them and paints people who buy something else as idiots. Coy quotes from a Wall Street Journal article from last December when Akio Toyoda told reporters during a trip to Thailand, “People involved in the auto industry are largely a silent majority. That silent majority is wondering whether EVs are really OK to have as a single option. But they think it’s the trend, so they can’t speak out loudly.” No worries. Toyoda-san is speaking loud enough for all of them.

Is Toyota Correct About Electric Car Emissions?


Coy didn’t just accept that assertion by Toyota at face value. He got in touch with Ashley Nunes, senior research associate at Harvard Law School and the director for federal policy, climate, and energy at the Breakthrough Institute, a think tank. He testified on the topic in April before the House Subcommittee on Environment, Manufacturing and Critical Materials.

“Toyota’s claim is accurate. We’ve crunched the numbers on this,” Nunes said. He added that an electric car often has a huge battery — electric pickup trucks on sale today can have a 200 kWh battery — which requires lots of raw materials to produce. Consumers demand big batteries to assuage their concerns about range anxiety, even though the vast majority travel less than 35 miles a day. Bigger batteries mean higher sticker prices, which mean many people can’t afford a new EV so they soldier along with their old, highly polluting conventional car, spewing copious quantities of carbon emissions in their wake. If only they were smart enough to buy a Prius, we would all be a lot better off.

68,000 Miles To Net Zero

Nunes testified that an electric car has to travel between 28,000 and 68,000 miles before it has an emissions advantage over similarly sized and equipped conventional cars. Do you think the committee members on the Red Team knew what Nunes was going to say when they invited them to come testify? Oh, you betcha.

For readers who want to dig a little deeper, the Breakthrough Institute was started by Michael Shellenburger and Ted Nordhaus. According to Wikipedia, Shcllenberger is a self-described ecomodernist who believes economic growth can continue without negative environmental impacts through technological research and development, usually through a combination of nuclear power and urbanization.

He disagrees with most environmentalists over the impacts of environmental threats and policies for addressing them. He accepts that global warming is occurring, but argues that “it’s not the end of the world.” His positions and writings on climate change and environmentalism have received criticism from environmental scientists and academics, who have called his arguments “bad science” and “inaccurate.”

Not to get too carried away here, but Harvard has attracted some fairly negative press itself for cozying up to Charles Koch and his nearly inexhaustible supply of oil-soaked money. Whether any of this information affects your opinion about the worth of Peter Coy’s op-ed for the NY Times, it should make you question how he decided who to contact for input to his article.

A Word From The Association of Mature American Citizens

2027 electric car

Expect to see more carparks full of electric cars. Photo courtesy Majella Waterworth

Whilst hopscotching the world for headlines today, I chanced upon this little gem of a headline from an organization called the Association of Mature American Citizens — Electric Cars Are A Scam. Being a (mostly) mature American citizen myself, I just had to read the article, which informed me that there is no real “emerging market” for EVs in the United States as much as there is an industrial policy in place that props up EVs with government purchases, propaganda, state subsidies, cronyism, taxpayer backed loans, and edicts. The green “revolution” is nothing more than an elite driven, top-down technocratic project, the author of that article says.

“Without massive state help, EVs are a niche market for rich virtue signalers… A recent University of California at Berkeley study found that 90% of tax credits for EVs go to people in the top income strata. Most EVs are bought by high earners who like the look and feel of a Tesla. And that’s fine. I don’t want to stop anyone from owning the car they prefer. I just don’t want to help pay for it,” the author says.

“Really, why would a middle class family shun a perfectly good gas powered car that can be fueled (most of the time) cheaply and driven virtually any distance, in any environment, and any time of the year? We don’t need lithium. We have the most efficient, affordable, portable and useful form of energy. We have centuries’ worth of it waiting in the ground (emphasis added),” he states.

“And the fact is that if EVs were more efficient and saved us money, as enviros and politicians claim, consumers wouldn’t have to be compelled into using them and companies wouldn’t have to be bribed into producing them.” That’s actually a good point. So what if the average daily global temperatures are the highest ever known in human history? Who cares if the Gulf of Mexico is 90º F? Drill, baby, drill.

For a little background on AMAC, I turned to Wikipedia again. It says AMAC “describes itself as ‘vigorously conservative’ and gained support from talk show host Glenn Beck and other conservative figures. AMAC strongly opposes the Affordable Care Act and has pushed for its repeal. AMAC supports the oil and gas industry, claiming that they “are safer for the environment than ever before.”

The Takeaway

Figures lie and liars figure. Not everyone agrees that an electric car has to be driven 68,000 miles before it breaks even on emissions. That figure often is based on an assumption that all the electricity that powers a car comes from a coal generating station. Likewise, not everyone agrees that a plug-in hybrid is a good middle course. The problem is that many drivers skip plugging their PHEV in. It is just so much more convenient to let the gasoline engine do all the work.

What we have in the two articles cited above is a situation where people choose what they want to hear and then go find someone who will confirm their preconceived notion. Where that leaves those of us who are EV advocates is knowing that misrepresentations (and lies) are being spread about electric cars. It is our duty to be informed about the FUD that surrounds the electric car world and be prepared to counter it when needed.

The thing that makes FUD powerful is that there usually is some small kernel of truth buried within the misrepresentations. It is true that range anxiety makes people demand larger batteries than they need for normal driving, which does drive up the price of new EVs. The answer is more and better chargers so that on those rare occasions when you need few extra electrons, they are available.

When someone bangs you over the head with anti-EV tripe, check the source of their information. Dollars to donuts you will find someone who has an agenda and very often that agenda will be paid for by fossil fuel money. Informed customers are our best defense against scurrilous attacks on the electric car revolution.


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