On November 26, the British newspaper The Times published an article that claimed electric cars were only greener than ICE vehicles after 50,000 miles. Other newspapers followed suit only to face the fact that the information was flawed in an epic way. Auke Hoekstra, an electric car researcher at TU Eindhoven, showed all the failures it had on a Twitter thread, and that was only the beginning of the “study’s” demise.
The point which The Times used to claim EVs have to drive 50,000 miles before breaking even with combustion-engined cars was not even something the “study” discovered. It was part of Polestar 2’s LCA (Life Cycle Assessment).
Commissioned by Aston Martin, Bosch, Honda, and McLaren, among other entities, the report –called "Decarbonising Road Transport: There Is No Silver Bullet" – said this:
“As an example, Polestar have recently conducted a study comparing their Polestar 2 vehicle against a Volvo XC40, with the former producing 24 tonnes of CO2 through its manufacture compared to 14 tonnes for the Volvo. This differential is offset over the lifetime of the vehicle with Polestar stating that you would have to drive 78,000 km (EU power mix) in a Polestar 2 before its carbon footprint becomes smaller than a Volvo XC40. Similar results have been shown by studies conducted by Volkswagen comparing the eGolf against the diesel Golf.”
Polestar's document stresses this:
“When considering the materials production and refining phase and comparing the result of the Polestar 2 to the results of the XC40 ICE, the Polestar 2 has a higher Carbon Footprint. This is mainly due to the addition of the Li-Ion battery. This increase in emissions is compensated by a lower carbon footprint in the use phase, resulting in a lower total Carbon Footprint. Further improvements in the materials production and refining phase will result in an even further reduced total Carbon Footprint.
BEV driveline technology is still young compared to the ICE driveline, implying a relatively higher potential of improvements. Recent studies have shown a general decrease in carbon footprint of battery production over recent years, and it is a probable expectation that it will continue decreasing in the future.”
This is not mentioned in the report backed by the legacy companies. Polestar was not very happy with this – we bet having its car being called a “Volvo Polestar 2” by The Times was too much – and tweeted this:
Polestar did not limit its response to tweets. Thomas Ingelath, the company’s CEO, wrote a text at LinkedIn asking his competitors for more transparency and less talk, especially because the report brings no information on the carbon footprint of the companies that funded it.
Hoekstra found even more inconsistencies. Sadly, some of them on Polestar’s numbers. The EV researcher said that the LCA was comparing the numbers of the XC40 made in Belgium with the Polestar 2, which is made exclusively in China. That would have led to a distortion, according to the researcher.
There’s a 10-ton difference between producing the XC40 and the Polestar 2. Hoekstra states that battery pack manufacturing emits 7 tons of CO2. That said, the additional 3 tons to make a Polestar 2 body would not make sense. Apart from the powertrain, both the XC40 and the EV have the same structures and even the same platform, called CMA. The researcher believes the comparison should be between vehicles made in the same country, subject to the same production conditions and regulations.
Apart from that, Hoekstra disputes the fact that legacy automakers insist on counting the carbon footprint of generating electric energy but conveniently forget to do the same with fossil or even renewable fuels. If that is taken into account, emissions for ICE vehicles increase drastically.
Start doing that and the calculations Polestar made will be underestimated by a large margin. For the company, admitting that this is right implies that it agrees with the emission numbers presented by Hoekstra, something Volvo would not be happy about: 295 g/km instead of 195 g/km is concerning, even if it is for all companies that still sell vehicles with engines alike.
These legacy automakers will claim they have played by the rules. Indeed, but if they can consider the carbon emitted by power plants when generating electricity, why do they oversee the CO2 generated by drilling, refining, and transporting gas, diesel, etc.? That’s a very valid questioning from Hoekstra.
Calculate everything as the researcher thinks that it would be fair and a Polestar 2 charged by renewable electricity would break even with ICE vehicles after 25,000 km (16,000 miles). If the EU electricity mix was considered, break-even would happen by 27,000 km (almost 17,000 miles), not 78,000 km (49,000 miles) as the report and Polestar said.
The global electricity mix – the worst one – would make EV and ICE CO2 numbers equivalent at around 30,000 km (a little more than 18,600 miles). From that point on, the Polestar 2 beats the XC40 with an engine without mercy. While the Volvo would reach 60 tons of CO2 after a little more than 140,000 km (close to 87,000 miles), the Polestar 2 charged in the UK would only reach half of that much carbon dioxide (30 tons of CO2) by 200,000 km (124,000 miles).
As if the data doubts were not enough, Michael Liebreich, founder of BloombergNEF, added an interesting finding about the report funded by the legacy companies. When you check the document, you get the impression that it was elaborated by Clarendon Communications, which has Rebecca Caroline Stephens as one of its directors. The Guardian discovered that the part-time NHS nurse is the wife of Aston Martin’s government affairs director, James Stephens.
To The Guardian, she said the report was compiled by the companies that ordered the “study” and that Clarendon Communications was hired by Bosch to provide PR for the report. If you try to check the company's website, the page is not online. People are now referring to the story as “Astongate” or “Boschgate.”
This is not the first and will probably not be the last “study” trying to frame electric cars as machines that can be dirtier than combustion-engined vehicles. In February, UCS addressed these attempts one more time. The report’s main goal was to promote clean engines instead of electric cars to cut carbon emissions. By the way, Bosch makes good money selling exhaust-gas treatment systems.
Luckily, researchers such as Hoekstra and even companies like Polestar are not willing to let such "studies" spread without proper technical discussions and investigations on the reasons for them to be published. If there is any criticism electric cars deserve, let’s make sure it is constructive – and fair.