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People drive EVs less than gas-powered cars, and that’s a problem

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People drive EVs less than gas-powered cars, and that’s a problem

We may be overestimating the emissions savings from EVs and under-utilizing them to reap benefits, a new study finds.
November 16, 2023

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EVs are driven almost 4,500 fewer miles than gas-powered cars over the course of a year, researchers report in the journal Joule. That means they are not directly replacing the distances driven by combustion engines, as previously assumed by many climate and energy modelers and by regulatory bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency. And they are not utilizing EVs’ full potential.

EV ownership is on the rise in the U.S., which is a good thing for the environment and the climate. EVs have been shown to have fewer greenhouse gas emissions and far less overall emissions over their lifetimes compared to fossil fuel-powered vehicles.

But until now the assumption has been that people will drive EVs just as much as they drive their gasoline-fueled cars. The team of researchers from George Washington University and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory set out to analyze whether this was true. They analyzed odometer readings from 12.9 million used cars and 11.9 million used SUVs from 2016 to 2022.

They found that electric cars were driven 7,165 miles per year while gasoline cars were driven 11,642 miles. Electric SUVs were driven 10,587 miles annually, compared to 12,945 for gasoline SUVs. Overall, EVs were driven almost 4,500 fewer miles annually than gasoline-powered vehicles.

 

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The team also found that Teslas were driven more than other EVs, likely because of the vehicles’ larger battery packs and widespread fast-charging network. But even so, Teslas were still driven less than conventional internal combustion engine cars.

Why is this a problem? For two reasons, say the authors. One is that EVs might not be reducing emissions as much as has been estimated by climate models. Second, making EV batteries requires heavy mining and a lot of resources and also creates high upfront emissions, and those downsides aren’t being compensated for if EVs are not being driven as much.

“For maximum impact, we need the highest-mileage drivers behind the wheel of EVs rather than low-mileage drivers,” said John Helveston, study co-author and professor of engineering management and systems engineering at GWU in a press release.

He suggests that EV owners might be driving their cars less partly because of a lack of charging infrastructure. They may also own gasoline cars and be splitting the mileage between the vehicles, resulting in lower overall mileage on the EV.=

Source: Lujin Zhao et al, Quantifying electric vehicle mileage in the United States, Joule, 2023.

Image: 3alexd/iStock.com

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