Green Vehicle Showdown

I recently posted about a former Prius exec’s comments on hybrid vs. electric vehicles and why I thought hybrids could only be a stepping stone on the way to all electric vehicles (EVs). And, that post got me wanting to know more about both hybrid and electric cars – what are their capabilities? How practical are they? How affordable are they? And, how much do they really cut down on emissions? Well, I did some digging, and here is what I found out:

Let’s compare the Tesla (most popular EV) with the Prius (most popular hybrid).

Range 265 miles max. 595 miles max.
Refueling time (assuming 40 miles/day) 1 hour 22 minutes in 240V outlet – daily Five minutes at any gas station – every 2 weeks
Refueling locations Electric charging stations

  • 8,642 public charging stations nationwide
  • 21,415 public charging outlets nationwide
Gas stations

Annual refueling cost (assuming 40 miles/day) $480 (using $0.11/kwh national average) $926 (using $3.086/gallon national average)
Annual CO2 emissions (assuming 40 miles/day) 5,077 pounds CO2 (using AZ energy matrix, which most closely mimics national matrix) 7,329 pounds CO2
CO2 difference between average gas-powered sedan (emits approx. 12,702 lbs. CO2/year when driving 40 miles per day) 7,625 pounds CO2 saved/year 5,373 pounds CO2 saved/year
Price $63,500 (after tax incentives) $30,000 (for Prius Five)

At first glance, the hybrid seems like the most reasonable choice. The hybrid goes farther and is easier to fuel, plus it costs significantly less to purchase upfront. The EV costs much less to refuel on an annual basis, but the upfront cost of the car would require 75 years of those savings to balance out overall spending. The EV emits fewer carbon emissions, but both vehicles offer a significant reduction from the standard gas-powered vehicle.

Yet, this chart doesn’t display the whole picture of this comparison because it doesn’t factor in driving habits here in the U.S. Do we really need to travel 595 miles before refueling? Turns out, most of us don’t!

  • According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the average vehicle trip length is 9.72 miles, and the average trip length to work is 13.36 miles.
  • According to the Federal Highway Administration, the average annual miles driven in the U.S. is 13,476 miles, which works out to a daily average of 36.92 miles (let’s call it 40 miles per day to make the math more straightforward).

So, if we’re only driving an average of 40 miles per day, the 265 mile range offered by the Tesla should be more than enough for most of us. We could plug in at home every night and be fully charged again with plenty of time for our next day’s travels. And, with charging stations popping up all over the country, traveling out of town is becoming easier as well. Tesla has over 100 “Supercharger” stations nationwide already, which can provide 170 miles of range in less than 30 minutes.

Plus, the EV will steadily grow more environmentally friendly. As the electric grid transitions toward more renewables, the carbon footprint of electricity will drop, while the carbon footprint of gasoline will remain constant. Already in states with more renewables, estimates indicate a tremendous CO2 savings with EVs:

  • Virginia (38% nuclear, 29% natural gas, 27% coal, 4% biomass, 2% hydroelectric) – EVs going 40 miles/day emit only 4,183 pounds of CO2/year
  • Washington State (69% hydroelectric, 10% natural gas, 7% nuclear, 6% coal, 6% wind, 2% biomass) – EVs going 40 miles/day emit only 1,142 pounds of CO2/year
  • See how your state compares! (multiply pounds per day by 365)

And, admittedly, hybrid CO2 footprints will drop as engines become more fuel efficient, but there is no chance a hybrid could reach zero emissions – while that is a distinct (albeit somewhat distant) possibility for EVs.

When it comes to reducing CO2 emissions, which is what’s necessary for climate change mitigation, there is no question in my mind that all-electric cars are the way to go. When you consider that day-to-day vehicle use for the average person falls well within the range of an electric car, the only factor becomes cost. But, EV prices are becoming more competitive. Teslas remain at luxury prices for now, but the Nissan LEAF (which has an 80 mile range) is only $29,000 – on par with the Prius. Plus, now that Tesla has opened up its patents to the public, the cost of EVs is likely to go down as their technology becomes more widely available and increased interest spurs on innovation. And, as assigning a price to carbon becomes a reality (and it is likely in at least some way, shape, or form, even if it’s not a direct tax, per se), electric vehicles are going to grow increasingly less expensive relative to hybrid and conventionally-fueled cars.

So, the more I look at the facts, the more I’m convinced that electric cars represent a reasonable – and necessary – transition.


3 responses to “Green Vehicle Showdown

  1. Anna I share your passion for saving the planet and my quest is to build and sell cars that are 100% energy sustainable using only sunshine hitting the path of the cars. Also because the technology can move water, slightly different little electric cars can move water from the Mississippi River across the Southwest to Los Angeles . No hybrid would be affordable to do that job only pure EVs well designed and aircraft type construction. Ford will be the last to come on board after the competition beats them to all the first customers. Our wind tunnel tests measured a Cd of .07 while on elevated guideway. Tesla is not a pure EV because it was made by a Toyota factory set up to build steel gas cars. A pure EV will be far more advanced than even the Tesla as nice as they are they are still too conventional. Thus the cost and shorter range than the Prius. Once EVs emerge using advanced engineering and when they add instant battery swap all your negatives disappear off the pure EV side and only negatives will be on the hybrid side. Sadly the majority of us old white guys are fine with polluting your planet before we go. The Hummer went down and so will polluting Prius hybrids et al. I drove them through three body styles but my next car won’t have an exhaust pipe nor will it use ANY grid electricity. If you study the customer base of EVs you will find they tend to buy EV Panels so they can dump the monopoly grid that will continue to pollute till the adults in the room tell them no. shows the concept. WaterBeads to move 52 million gallons per day across the contiguous 48 states is being promoted with Texas legislature and the US senate. It does not have a public web page but I can supply information if you are interested in making a huge impact on world pollution. One car can’t save the planet but new-tech scaled across all cars will.

    Jerry Roane

  2. When PM2.5 problem annoys everyone, people will know carbon emission is so serious that we have no choice but to do something ourselves not to wait others to better the environment we live in. We are a company develop new energy, we have developed a PHEV conversion kit for Toyota Prius, which can increase its mileage by 40-80 miles. We also develop Battery Management System to ensure the safety of battery for EV and enhance its life cycle. Let’s work togther to make EV a better traveling tool for everyone.
    Eric Dong from Shanghai Acrel Ms Co.,ltd Our web

  3. Pingback: What if everyone in the U.S. stopped driving for one day? |·

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