A Modest Suggestion for Fuel Mileage

September 21, 2019


ANDREW WHEELER, administrator of the EPA, criticizing electric cars: It’s “a product … which most families cannot approach.” — remarks Thursday.
THE FACTS: His argument that electric cars are too expensive for most Americans is overstated.
In a speech earlier this week, Wheeler cited a McKinsey & Co. analysis from March 2019 that found electric cars cost about $12,000 more per vehicle to manufacture than a comparable gasoline-powered car.
But for a new electric car, that price gap is often largely offset by the lower operating and maintenance costs over time. Tesla is the top-selling electric brand in the nation.
Federal tax credits of up to $7,500 are available for vehicle purchases depending on the model and battery capacity, though the credits are being phased out on General Motors and Tesla vehicles. Many states also offer additional incentives for EV purchasers, from tax rebates for the car and home charging equipment to the free use of commuter toll lanes. 
EV drivers also don’t have to fill up at the gas pump, pay for oil changes or replace timing belts or spark plugs. A 2018 study from the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute found that electric vehicles cost less than half as much to operate as gas-powered cars — $485 per year for EVs compared to $1,117 for gasoline-powered models. So over 10 years, an EV driver will save another $6,320.
Wheeler, a former fossil fuels lobbyist, has also suggested it’s mostly wealthy people who buy new electric cars, citing 2016 figures showing that of the roughly 57,000 households that received the EV tax credit, nearly 80% had at least a six-figure income.
Setting aside that wealthier households are generally more likely to buy new cars than poorer families, in 2016 the top-selling EV was the Tesla Model S, a luxury sedan with a more than $71,000 sticker price. But in recent years, several more economical models have come on the market, and the prices of the batteries that power EVs have fallen. For 2018, the best-selling EV was the less-expensive Tesla Model 3, which currently has a base sticker price of about $37,000. That’s below the $39,500 average U.S. sticker price of new vehicles cited by Wheeler.
The range of electric cars is growing to where many will be able to travel more than 300 miles on a single charge. McKinsey, the management consulting firm, predicts that battery and other costs will fall to about the same as gasoline engines in three to five years.

WHEELER, on electric cars: It’s “a product that has minimal impact on the environment.” — remarks Thursday.
THE FACTS: Not so. Wheeler’s argument that electric vehicles provide little environmental benefit appears rooted in that EVs make up less than 2% new vehicle sales. But when comparing car to car, EVs on average have a far smaller carbon footprint than a gas-powered car, even for households where their electricity primarily comes from dirtier coal-fired power plants.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a gas-powered passenger vehicle emits on average about 11,435 pounds of planet warming carbon dioxide per year. EVs produce zero tailpipe emissions, so their carbon footprint comes from how the electricity charging them is sourced.
So, if the power is coming from sources such as hydroelectric dams, wind turbines or solar panels, the carbon footprint is much lower than for electricity generated by burning fossil fuels. Nationally, according to DOE estimates, that averages out to about 4,352 pounds of CO2 equivalent per year — less than half the average for gasoline vehicles.
And that gap is expected to become wider as U.S. utilities continue the market trend of shutting down coal-fired plants in favor of greener, more cost-efficient sources of electricity.
Asked for data to back up Wheeler’s claim, EPA’s press office on Thursday provided a federal environmental impact statement from 2012 — produced as the first mass-produced electric vehicles were just coming onto the market.
“He’s letting his political ideology get in the way of the facts,” Jeff Alson, a former EPA senior environmental engineer and policy adviser who retired last year after four decades at the agency, said of Wheeler, his former boss. “The advantage of EVs are becoming more and more stark over time.”
TRUMP, on revoking California’s authority: “We’ll be able to produce an automobile for substantially less money which is substantially safer.” — remarks to reporters Wednesday.
ELAINE CHAO, secretary of transportation: “Those rules were making cars more expensive and impeding safety because consumers were being priced out of newer, safer vehicles.” — remarks Thursday.
WHITE HOUSE: “The Trump administration is taking action to make America’s highways safer and our cars more affordable.” — news release Thursday.
THE FACTS: Trump and his officials are inflating the projected savings to consumers under his plan and may be exaggerating the safety benefits.
His own administration, in documents proposing to freeze the standards, puts the cost of meeting Obama-era requirements at around $2,700 per vehicle. It claims buyers would save that much by 2025, over standards in place in 2016. But that number is disputed by environmental groups and is more than double the estimates from the Obama administration.
They are also ignoring money that consumers would save at the gas pump if cars get better mileage. A study released Aug. 7 by Consumer Reports found that the owner of a 2026 vehicle will pay over $3,300 more for gasoline during the life of a vehicle if the standards are frozen at 2021 levels. The administration’s proposed freeze would hold the average fuel economy for the new-vehicle fleet at 29.1 mpg in real-world driving, while the Obama-era standards would raise it to 37.5 mpg by 2026, according to Consumer Reports.
Trump’s assertion that cars would be substantially safer also is in dispute. His administration argues that lower-cost vehicles would allow more people to buy new ones that are safer, cutting roadway deaths by 12,700 lives through the 2029 model year. But Consumer Reports says any safety impact from changes in gas mileage standards are small and won’t vary much from zero.

5 Responses to “A Modest Suggestion for Fuel Mileage”

  1. Dave Finnigan Says:

    Why buy new a new electric vehicle when you can lease or buy used? We leased a 2016 Nissan Leaf in early 2017, only paid $195 per month because it ONLY got 135 miles on a charge. We refilled it with electrons for free almost every day because the Nissan dealer gave us an EZ Charge card good for free charging for 2 years. Then we purchased the car for $12,000 at the end of the lease. So our total to own a new car was $16,800, less than half the sticker price of a new one. It’s now got almost 40,000 miles on it and we have spent $0.00 for service and maintenance.

    The myth of range anxiety is just that, a myth. There are charge points everywhere. Just make sure you get the quick charge port on your vehicle. Or pull into your local Nissan dealer, spend 30 minutes to get a full free charge, use their wifi and drink their coffee and the rest room. If you want to go a long distance, rent a car and let someone else take the depreciation.

    Honestly, everyone should be in an electric car by now.

  2. doldrom Says:

    Because of the low maintenance on electric cars and the lack of wear and tear on most of the parts as well as the use of more and more composite material, I expect the real problem with EV’s for car manufacturing companies is a business model that is still profitable if people hang on to their cars for 2½ as long as they did with ICE vehicles. This problem might even get worse if you can get significantly better battery packs in the future as upgrades.

    • Earl Mardle Says:

      That is the key, we are betting that a) the car will last at least as long as our last ICE, 23 years, probably 30 if the wear is so much less on the drive train and b) that replacement batteries will be affordable and probably carry a better charge, faster recharge and be lighter. Even if we are wrong on all of those, my wife is commuting 90km round trip every day and we are paying 25% of what it used to cost her with a small Opel Corsa ICE.

  3. Jim Hunt Says:

    My perspective is from the other side of the pond. North Cornwall in the once Great Britain to be precise.

    As has been pointed out above, if you’re commuting 50 km each way every day a “pre-loved” BEV is an extremely cost effective solution. My business is vehicle-to-grid capable charging stations. Recently we had a very unusual specification:

    A “cheap as chips” 30 kWh Nissan LEAF for use in our V2G testing program. With one bar missing from the battery health indicator!

    eco-cars.net based in Orkney (the opposite corner of the once United Kingdom from us) “delivered” Lisa the LEAF within a few days:


    P.S. How do you embed images here? Hopefully this works:

  4. Gingerbaker Says:

    “of the roughly 57,000 households that received the EV tax credit, nearly 80% had at least a six-figure income.”

    That is not a problem with RVs – it’s a problem with the tax credit. Make it a point of sale rebate. And double it, for heaven’s sake. And then you won’t have to use income envy to denigrate EV cars.

    “electric cars cost about $12,000 more per vehicle to manufacture than a comparable gasoline-powered car.”

    Really? So, this car would cost (-) $3000.00 to manufacture if it had a gas engine? Now, *that* is the kind of profit margin I like – $3000.00 profit before you even sell it!


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