Clean energy journalism for a cooler tomorrow

Chart: Is that electric truck greener than a gas-powered compact car?

A new analysis compares the total life-cycle emissions of electric vehicles, hybrids and gas-powered cars. How does your ride stack up?
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Canary Media’s chart of the week translates crucial data about the clean energy transition into a visual format.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a nonprofit research organization, has a green score for your vehicle — and you may not love the news.

The ACEEE distills a constellation of fuel economy, pollution and emissions data into one green score to rule them all. This life-cycle analysis aims to estimate the vehicle’s environmental impacts and costs to human health from cradle to grave,” taking into account greenhouse gas emissions and other kinds of pollutants from vehicle manufacturing, from the production and distribution of fuel, and from vehicle tailpipes, as well as the end-of-life impacts of disposal and recycling.

So is your big electric pickup truck greener than a gas-powered economy car? Maybe not.

Not all electric vehicles are created equal. Inefficient and heavy EVs have lower environmental impacts than similarly sized gasoline-fueled cars, but they underperform more efficient EVs,” said Peter Huether, senior transportation research analyst with ACEEE, in a press release. And large electric trucks can even underperform efficient gas-powered cars.

As the chart shows, ACEEE compared three vehicles that are available in both electric and gasoline-fueled versions: the Mini Cooper Hardtop, the Volvo XC40 Recharge Twin and the Ford F-150 truck.

While the electric versions cause significantly less environmental damage than their gasoline-burning counterparts, heavier and less efficient vehicles cause more environmental damage, regardless of power source. The all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning still has a higher environmental impact than the gas-powered Mini Cooper Hardtop despite being powered by batteries and not fossil fuels.

A chart comparing the environmental damage cause by three pairs of EVs and gas-powered cars made by Mini, Volvo and Ford

To reduce pollution from automobiles, we need policies that both support more electric vehicles and encourage automakers to improve efficiency among all types of vehicles through a variety of strategies, including reducing vehicle weight,” said Huether.

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Maria Virginia Olano is chief of staff at Canary Media.

Eric Wesoff is the executive director at Canary Media.