“The innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.” – Niccolò Machiavelli
If you have an irrational resistance to change, particularly technological advancements that can in anyway be portrayed as being good for the environment, then right now there is a terrific propaganda piece being spread around that will reinforce your worldview. Based on a Swedish study, this story claims that the production of a Tesla 100 kWh battery, Tesla’s biggest, produces 17.5 tons of carbon dioxide emissions which they allege is equivalent to driving an internal-combustion vehicle for 8.2 years. There is just one problem: it is utter nonsense.
In taking on this claim, we will take their numbers and assumptions at face value and address the first question: How far do you have to drive an internal combustion engine powered vehicle to reach their 17.5 tons of carbon dioxide? To figure this out we will use the Audi A8 4.0 since it is a comparable vehicle in terms of size, performance, and price range to the Tesla Model S equipped with the 100 kWH battery. According to it’s official EPA ratings, the Audi achieves 19 mpg in the city, 29 mpg on the highway, and 22 mph in combined use. Taking those numbers, we can calculate that you would have to drive the Audi just a tad over 31,500 miles to reach our 17.5 tons of carbon emissions. In the interests of transparency, feel free to verify the match here.
The next question is how many miles does the average American drive in a year? According to the Federal Highway Administration, the average across all age groups in 13,476 miles per year. So now we can divide 31,500 miles by the annual average of 13,476 miles driven and we arrive at an apples to apples number of 2.34 years – not 8.2 years.
Now that we have demonstrated this to be blatant propaganda, allow me to point out a couple of the other logical fallacies involved:
- They completely ignore that these numbers will soon shift even further in favor of Tesla once their first Gigafactory, powered by renewable energy, comes online.
- While this study focuses solely on battery production, it looks only at internal combustion engine miles driven and completely ignores the carbon emissions produced in the production of the 93 octane gasoline used by the Audi. The EPA calculates an additional 1.1 tons of upstream carbon which would further reduce our number.
As a car guy, I understand there are plenty of reasons to like the internal combustion engine: quick refueling, established infrastructure, the sound of a high performance engine. But no matter how you look at it, environmental superiority isn’t one of them.