May 27, 2023 - Economy

Electric vehicles have an efficiency problem

Illustration of car with batteries on top

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Car batteries are like wine fridges: They're never big enough. That's a real problem for anybody who hopes that electric vehicles will help decarbonize the planet and reduce pollution.

Why it matters: EVs are extraordinarily heavy, and the larger their batteries, the heavier they become. That makes them more dangerous, increases pollution, minimizes decarbonization, and locks in a geopolitically fraught reliance on China.

The big picture: Hybrid vehicles that are electric most of the time but can fall back to an internal-combustion engine when needed are a much more efficient use of battery resources.

  • By the numbers: Toyota has what it calls the 1:6:90 rule. Its scientists have calculated that the amount of raw material needed to make a long-range EV could instead be used to make six plug-in electric hybrid vehicles or 90 hybrid vehicles.
  • "The overall carbon reduction of those 90 hybrids over their lifetimes is 37 times as much as as single battery EV," they write.

Between the lines: Heavy EVs might not have tailpipe emissions, but they still cause pollution, from eroding tires, road dust and brakes.

  • They're also significantly more lethal when they collide with pedestrians or cyclists.

The bottom line: "Government policy should match a limited battery supply to where it can have the maximum impact for consumers and the environment," writes auto journalist Edward Niedermeyer. That means a lot more hybrids and e-bikes — and a lot fewer EVs with 500-mile ranges.

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