The Auto Industry Does Its Bit

I recently leased a 2017 Chevy Volt.   It’s a nice mid-range car with good interior space, a lot of zip, and is really quiet.   It’s even rather stylish:


And it gets 75 miles per gallon in terms of CO2 emissions, 3X the US new vehicle average.  That is, it gets 40 mpg when running on gas, and the equivalent of  90 mpg when running on electricity at 2.7 miles per kilowatt-hour.   A kilowatt-hour is about what a small air conditioner consumes every two hours.   I drive on electricity about 85% of the time, so that averages out to 75.

The number is so high because Massachusetts has pretty clean power.  The EPA tracks this here: EPA Power Profiler.    It says that MA burns about 50% natural gas with the rest as nuclear (30%), hydro (6%), wind (4%), coal (3%), landfill gas (2%), and some solar photovoltaic and biomass.  The US as a whole averages about 55 mpg because they burn a lot more coal.   This data is all from 2012, though, and coal is way down since then.  MA has dropped its emissions from electricity by almost a factor of 2 between a peak in 2007 and 2013, according to the the state tracking site here: MA GHG Emission Trends.

Electric car sales are growing fast.   About 160,000 battery-electric and plug-in hybrids were sold in the US in 2016, a 37% increase over 2015.  That’s still only 2% of overall US car sales of ~7M, and only 1% of car and truck sales of ~17M, but it’s a lot.  At $50K per car, about $8B of electric cars were sold last year, which is only a little smaller than the movie industry.   The breakdown by model is:


It’s nice that the top 4 models are American, and that the Volt and Fusion Energi are  union-made.   These were record years for the Teslas and Volts.

The common rule is that greenhouse gas emission have to drop by 80% by 2050 compared to 2005 levels in order to keep global warming under 2 degrees C.  The average new car and truck in 2005 got about 20 mpg, or 5 gallons per 100 miles, and this car does about 1.3 gallons/100 miles,  a 75% drop.   It’s almost there already!  The EU currently has a limit for new cars of 130 gm CO2 per km (42 mpg), and is going to 95 gm/km in 2021.  This car does about 62 gm/km, and will get cleaner still as the the power system de-carbonizes.

So don’t blame the auto industry for climate change going forward.  They’re offering mid-priced, comfortably appointed, well-driving cars that are way ahead of government regulations and about up to future requirements.  This car even feels much better when it’s running on the battery.   It’s smoother, quieter, and has more acceleration.   When the gas engine comes on, I’m reminded of what 20th century cars felt like.   It feels like phones that had to be wired to the wall, TVs that only played shows when it wanted to, and information that you had to go to the library to find.  This feels like a 21st century car.


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