Electric cars need to be driven 50,000 miles before carbon footprint is better than petrol model, new report suggests

Emma Gatten
·2-min read
electric car - Andrew Crowley
electric car - Andrew Crowley

An electric car could need to be driven 50,000 miles before its carbon footprint is better than a petrol model because of the CO2 involved in its manufacture, a new report has said. 

The report, commissioned by several car manufacturers, says the Polestar 2 electric car produces 24 tonnes of CO2 to make, compared to 14 tonnes in the Volvo XC40. 

When used on a European electricity mix, it is estimated that it would take 48,000 miles before the carbon footprints of the two cars are equal. 

The report, commissioned by Honda, McLaren, Aston Martin and Bosch, called for greater transparency from carmakers over the CO2 impact of manufacturing electric vehicles. 

The manufacture of lithium-ion batteries is particularly energy intensive, as is the process to recycle them. 

The source of energy used in both the production and the everyday use of electric cars also has a major impact, which can be expected to improve as energy systems decarbonise. 

Commenting on the report, Matt Western MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Groups for Motor and Electric Vehicles, welcomed the new 2030 phase-out date for petrol and diesel cars, but said it was an inadequate move. 

“We need to address the decarbonisation of both vehicle and fuel to have any real hope of meeting our CO2 reduction ambitions,” he said. 

The report did not include data comparing the lifetime CO2 impact of any other vehicles. 

A study earlier this year from Exeter, Nijmegen and Cambridge universities suggested that an electric car produced less CO2 over its lifetime than a petrol car in 95 per cent of the world. 

But the report does highlight that there is still some way to go before electric cars can deliver fully on the promise of decarbonised transport. 

“We need to do more than just electrify the fleet,” said Andy Eastlake, managing director of the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership. “We are still selling diesel and petrol cars, the engines of which could play out until 2050, so we have to look at decarbonising fuel.”