The oil industry is spreading a lot of disinformation about electric vehicles. Through coordinated efforts to plant op-eds in both Conservative and Beltway media, and through other broad public-facing misinformation campaigns, they are echoing variations of the same anti-EV talking points. The problem is, these talking points are myths.
Those who benefit most from unconstrained consumption of oil and gas claim that EVs are a niche product for the rich, that they don’t really reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and that government shouldn’t be “picking winners.” Without exception, the Big Oil-fueled campaign’s assault on EVs relies on cherry-picked data and arguments that are one-sided, misleading, or just plain wrong.
Fortunately, we have facts to counter Big Oil’s EV myths. Click through for more information on each EV fact.
The Economics of Electric Vehicles
- The EV tax credit benefits drivers of all income levels.
- We spend many times more on tax breaks to the oil and gas industry than on EV incentives.
- Electric cars are cheaper to own and operate than comparable gas-powered cars.
- Many EV models available today are cheaper than the average cost of a new car.
The Electric Car Driving Experience
- Electric car ranges are practical for most American households.
- Most EV charging is done at home and public chargers are rapidly spreading.
Environmental Attributes of Electric Vehicles
- Electric cars are better for the climate, no matter how they are charged.
- Over the full life cycle of the vehicle, electric cars are greener.
- Electric car batteries don’t use rare earth metals, but do use the same materials as most consumer electronics…and gas-powered cars.
- Electric car batteries can be recycled.
The EV tax credit benefits drivers of all income levels
Fact: The electric car tax credit benefits drivers of all income levels.
Myth: Electric vehicle (EV) incentives only benefit the rich.
Explanation: The federal electric car tax credit (or EV tax credit) can be used by buyers or electric cars, or alternatively, can be used by the car dealer to lower the base price for a lease. This effectively lowers monthly lease payments into ranges that are comparable—or even lower than—comparable gas-powered vehicles.
Unfortunately, by cherry picking data and ignoring leases entirely, EV antagonists try to portray the EV tax credit as a handout only to wealthy car buyers. This is a favorite argument of the Koch network and oil industry, and was featured prominently in a Koch Industries’ full page advertorial in The Hill: “Or the tax credits (up to $7,500) the government offers to consumers who purchase hybrid and electric vehicles. Such credits may seem enticing to the general public, but the reality is that 90 percent of the beneficiaries come from the top income bracket.”
This is deceptive and inaccurate framing that has been widely used in anti-EV arguments. To support the point, some cite a study by the Congressional Research Service (though most make the claim without any reference), which describes how in 2016, 57,066 individual taxpayers claimed $375 million in plug-in vehicle tax credits. Of these 57,066, 78% have an adjusted gross income of $100,000 or more.
Others cite older data from 2014 IRS filings that was promoted in a recent Pacific Research Institute study.
Both references ignore the significant role leases play in the EV market. Through 2017, the vast majority of EVs were leased—a full 80% of non-Tesla EVs and still well more than half of all EVs including Tesla, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. In 2016, while 57,066 individuals claimed the EV tax credit, 158,614 plug-in vehicles were newly registered, meaning that more than 100,000 (nearly two-thirds) were leased. After a dealer claims the $7,500 tax credit, it is applied as a rebate at the point of sale and reduces the monthly lease payments, making EVs more affordable.
- InsideEVs, on why leases can’t be ignored and how they make EVs affordable to all income classes: “The Hill Contributor Claims Electric Car Tax Credits Benefit The ‘Elite’“
- National Center for Sustainable Transportation, on how the average income of households that purchase any new vehicle—plug-in or gasoline powered—is in the top income bracket, and the relative affordability of EVs: “The Dynamics of Plug-in Electric Vehicles in the Secondary Market and Their Implications for Vehicle Demand, Durability, and Emissions” (2018)
We spend many times more on tax breaks to the oil and gas industry than on EV incentives
Fact: Tax breaks to the oil and gas industry are at least five times greater than consumer incentives for electric vehicles.
Myth: The federal government is picking winners and only subsidizing cars that few drive.
Explanation: The cost of the electric car tax credit (EV tax credit) is a tiny fraction of the lost tax revenue that results from permanent tax breaks to the oil and gas industry. In his 2018 study for the Manhattan Institute, Jonathan Lesser argues that the EV tax credit is costing the U.S. treasury hundreds of millions. To be precise, in 2017, this total was $670 million. However, according to the treasury’s own figures, fossil fuel subsidies and tax credits cost $4.7 billion annually, with the oil and gas industries claiming at least three-quarters of that total.
If Congress repealed just nine tax breaks commonly used by oil and gas companies, as the Center for American Progress has calculated, the U.S. Treasury would save an average of $3.7 billion every year.
- Center for American Progress: “It Is Time to Phase Out 9 Unnecessary Oil and Gas Tax Breaks“
- Wall Street Journal: “Does the Oil and Gas Industry Still Need Tax Breaks?”
Electric cars are cheaper to own and operate than comparable gas-powered cars
Fact: Taking into account fuel and maintenance savings, the total cost of ownership of an EV is less than an internal combustion vehicle.
Myth: Electric cars are expensive “toys for millionaires.”
Explanation: While EVs tend to have higher upfront costs to purchase, that premium is more than offset by savings on fuel and maintenance. A study published in the journal Applied Energy in 2018 compared the total cost of ownership (TCO) of conventional gas-powered vehicles, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and all electric vehicles in Texas, California, the United Kingdom, and Japan.
Using model year 2015 vehicles of comparable classes, over a project 5-year span, all electric vehicles were the cheapest to own and operate in all regions.
Fuel costs represent the largest operating costs of driving a vehicle, and the relative savings of switching from gasoline to electricity are considerable. Even when comparing gas prices in the low $2 range and above average electricity rates, the cost per mile for fueling an EV is considerably cheaper than fueling a gas-powered vehicle, according to analysis by the Idaho National Laboratory.
- Applied Energy: “Total cost of ownership and market share for hybrid and electric vehicles in the UK, US and Japan” (2018)
- Guardian: “Electric cars are already cheaper to own and run, says study” (2019)
- Idaho National Laboratory: “Comparing Energy Costs per Mile for Electric and Gasoline-Fueled Vehicles“
Many EV models available today are cheaper than the average cost of a new car
Fact: Many EV models available today are cheaper than the average cost of a new car
Myth: Electric cars are only luxury vehicles.
Explanation: American car buyers can currently (as of February 2019) find at least 23 plug-in models that cost less than the average cost of a new car sold in the United States.
According to the Kelley Blue Book, as of September 2018, the average cost of a new car (or light vehicle) sold in the United States was $35,742. After the full value of the EV tax credit is applied, ten all electric vehicles and 13 plug-in hybrids are currently available in the U.S. for less than that cost, including SUVs, a minivan, crossovers, hatchbacks, and the Tesla Model 3.
On the used car markets, sellers have to “price in” the savings offered by the federal electric vehicle tax credit. Meanwhile, as the vast majority of EVs are leased, an increasing number of leased plug-ins hit the used car market every year, typically at prices well below their gas-powered counterparts.
As Consumer Reports stated in 2018, “For car shoppers who are interested in trying out electric-vehicle technology but who don’t have Tesla money to spend, now is a great time to buy an emissions-free car for less than $15,000.”
- PlugInCars.com: “Compare Electric Cars and Plug-in Hybrids By Features, Price, Range“
- Consumer Reports: “It’s a Great Time to Buy a Used Electric Vehicle“
Electric car ranges are practical for most American households
FACT: THE TYPICAL ELECTRIC CAR RANGE IS PRACTICAL FOR MOST AMERICAN HOUSEHOLDS
Myth: Electric vehicles are impractical, and the average driver can’t rely on them.
Explanation: A full 69% of American drivers travel less than 60 miles on weekdays, which is well within the typical electric car range. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a car in a one vehicle household is driven roughly 30 miles per day; in two- and three-car households, the most-used car is driven approximately 43 miles per day.
The Union of Concerned Scientists and Consumers Union conducted a study in 2013 and factored access to charging, hauling needs, and passenger capacity — and found that 42% of American households could rely on an EV as their only vehicle. In the six years since, average EV ranges have expanded significantly, meaning even more households could rely dependably on a plug-in car. When you consider that an American household averages two cars, it’s clear that replacing one with an EV is more than practical.
- Union of Concerned Scientists: “Infographic: Millions of Americans Could Use an Electric Vehicle“
Most EV charging is done at home and public chargers are rapidly spreading
FACT: MOST EV CHARGING IS DONE AT HOME AND PUBLIC CHARGERS ARE RAPIDLY SPREADING
Myth: Electric cars take too long to charge for them to be practical.
Explanation: According to the Department of Energy, more than 80% of all EV charging is done at home. Another study by the Center for Automotive Research found that in 2018, “about 90% of U.S. EV owners charge at-home overnight.” Thus, the typical EV driver starts every day with a “full tank” and won’t need to worry about “filling up” at public electric car charging stations.
There were 61,190 public charging points in more than 21,000 locations throughout the United States as of February 2019. Increasingly, DC fast charging stations—which can add 100 miles of range in barely more time than it would take to fill a gas tank—are coming online for the rare occasions that an EV driver does need to fuel up fast away from home or work.
- FleetCarma: “DC Fast Charging Guide“
Electric cars are better for the climate, no matter how they are charged
FACT: ELECTRIC CARS ARE BETTER FOR THE CLIMATE, NO MATTER HOW THEY ARE CHARGED
Myth: EVs are charged on fossil fuels, so there’s no climate benefit.
Explanation: For all Americans, plugging in anywhere in the United States, the average new EV produces far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the average new gasoline car. Convention internal combustion engines produce more greenhouse gases in all regions than electric car emissions released by power generating resources to charge the vehicles.
Conclusive research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) found that in 2018, carbon dioxide emissions from battery-powered vehicles were about 40 percent lower than for internal combustion engines last year. Even in regions with electric grids most reliant on coal, such as China, EVs were responsible for fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Furthermore, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, who conducted a landmark “well-to-wheel” life cycle analysis of electric vehicles, EVs are always more climate-friendly, even while factoring in manufacturing, operation, and disposal.
A 2018 well-to-wheel analysis by Wood Mackenzie confirmed the UCS research, finding that typical a mid-size EV will generate up to 67% lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than a gasoline internal combustion engine. Even with existing electricity generation mix in developing economies such as China and India, “an EV will displace up to half the GHG emissions of an ICE gasoline car.”
It’s true that the emissions from charging an EV will vary considerably depending on where you plug in. But as this UCS map shows, charging an EV off of the dirtiest grids in the country (in and around Colorado and Kansas) yield global warming pollution equivalent to driving a 35 mile-per-gallon gasoline-powered car.
In California, where over 40% of the nation’s EVs have been sold, driving an EV produces emissions equal to a gasoline car that achieves 87 mpg.
- Bloomberg: “Electric Cars Are Cleaner Even When Powered by Coal“
- UCS: “How Clean Is Your Electric Vehicle?“
- Wood Mackenzie: “EVs up to 67% less emissions intensive than ICE cars“
- Department of Energy: “Reducing Pollution with Electric Vehicles“
Over the full life cycle of the vehicle, electric cars are greener
FACT: OVER THE FULL LIFE CYCLE OF THE VEHICLE, ELECTRIC CARS ARE CLEANER AND GREENER
Myth: Producing EVs is worse for the climate than producing cars with internal combustion engines.
Explanation: When looking at the full life cycle of the vehicle, electric cars are cleaner and greener than their conventional gasoline-burning counterparts. While true that building an electric car produces more emissions than a conventional car, mostly because of battery production, these emissions are dwarfed by those saved over the driving life of the EV. In fact, they are offset in most cases in the first year of driving by emissions reductions from normal operation and use of the vehicle.
For proof, we turn to the Union of Concerned Scientists’s life cycle analysis: “the average EV in the U.S. produces less global warming emissions than the average gasoline vehicle. The peer-reviewed literature largely agrees: EVs produce more pollution than gas vehicles in the production of the vehicle, but then save emissions while driving which results in a net savings within the first couple years of driving.”
Electric car batteries don’t use rare earth metals, but do use the same materials as most consumer electronics…and gas-powered cars
FACT: ELECTRIC CAR BATTERIES DON’T USE MUCH RARE EARTH MATERIALS, BUT DO USE THE SAME BATTERY MATERIALS AS MOST CONSUMER ELECTRONICS…AND GAS-POWERED CARS.
Myth: EV batteries are dirty and dangerous and full of rare earth metals.
Explanation: Many EV critics will portray the electric battery as toxic and dependent on a number of rare earth metals mined from conflict regions. It is true that cobalt and lithium are widely used in many EV batteries; however, neither are rare earth metals.
This isn’t to say they aren’t problematic — cobalt mining in particular is plagued by some very serious environmental and labor problems, as documented in in-depth reports by Amnesty International and the Washington Post. But these problems are economy-wide. Cobalt is used widely in the lithium-ion batteries that power most cell phones and laptops. There’s no question that lithium-ion battery manufacturers have to clean up their supply chains, but that’s something that Apple and Panasonic and Samsung are as responsible for as Tesla and Ford and General Motors.
Finally, some critics will claim that EVs are dependent on cerium, most of which comes from China. In reality, only some hybrids use cerium in their nickel metal hydride batteries, but it is also dusted onto every catalytic converter fitted into any internal combustion vehicle.
Traditional internal combustion engine vehicles—those that run on gas and diesel—actually rely on rare earths more than EVs, both in the vehicles themselves, and through the very production of the gasoline and diesel that power them.
According to the Chemical Economics Handbook published by IHS Markit, the largest market for rare earths are for magnets, mostly using the so-called “technology metals,” which are used in everything from electric motors to lasers to cancer treatment to nuclear reactors to commercial lighting.
The second largest market by volume for rare earth minerals is for cerium oxide compounds used in polishing powders for steel production. It’s also dusted onto every catalytic converter fitted into an internal combustion vehicle. In other words, every gas-powered vehicle relies on cerium, one of the rare earths singled out by anti-EV forces as being a “dirty” feature of electric vehicles.
The next largest use of rare earth minerals is for a product used in petroleum refining, known as “fluid cracking catalysts (FCC).” According to researchers with Grace Davison Refining Technologies, “rare earth metals are a key component in fluid cracking catalyst,” a chemical process that was pioneered by Socony Mobil Oil in the 1960s. In fact, roughly 11 percent of all rare earth materials produced are used in oil refining processes, according to the Rare Earth Tech Alliance.
The refining of crude oil into gasoline and diesel requires the rare earth lanthanum.
- HybridCars.com: “Oil Lobbyist’s Video Takes Cheap Shots At Electric Cars“
- DeSmog: “Koch-funded Group, Fueling US Forward, Echoes America Rising Squared in Misleading Attack on Electric Cars“
- DeSmog: “America Rising Squared Report Bashes EVs for Using Same Rare Earth Metals as Gas-Powered Cars”
Electric car batteries can be recycled
FACT: ELECTRIC VEHICLE BATTERIES CAN BE RECYCLED AND REPURPOSED
Myth: EV batteries are a toxic environmental nightmare waiting to happen.
Explanation: The electric car battery recycling market is growing, and as it does it will create even better economics for electric vehicles (EVs) and has potential to provide valuable services to the electric grid. Even though lithium-ion batteries, the most common EV battery, are designated landfill-safe, there’s no good reason that they ever have to wind up there. EV batteries can and should be recycled, the lithium — currently in very high demand for laptops and phones and countless electronics — extracted for re-use.
Even more promising is the concept of reusing the batteries themselves for other applications. A battery considered to be too degraded for electric vehicle use still has about 75-80% of its capacity, and can be used for home energy storage or for grid storage applications.
A 2019 analysis by McKinsey Center for Future Mobility found that reused electric car batteries could replace more expensive gas-powered turbines, allowing utilities more flexibility in how they sell their power.
Elsewhere, Hyundai is developing a 1-megawatt-hour energy storage system that is made of used battery packs from its electric cars. BMW is recycling electric car batteries to connect to the UK National Grid.
These pilot projects for electric car battery recycling are proving the value of the EV battery packs after their useful lives on the road. By repurposing electric car batteries for grid, industrial, and home storage, these batteries can continue to support the integration of intermittent solar and wind generating resources, while making the electric grid more efficient and making energy more affordable for all customers.