No, Making a Tesla Battery Does Not Equal 8 Years of Driving an Internal Combustion Car.

“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.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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Death of the Internal Combustion Engine

Less than a month after Tesla became the United State’s most valuable automakerFinancial Post is reporting on a newly published study by Stanford University economist Tony Seba that is sending shock waves through the automotive and oil industries. After careful analysis of current market and economic trends along with technology investments and advancements, Seba’s forecast titled Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030 suggests that by the late-2020s the internal combustion engine will be all but extinct on the dealer showroom.

According to Seba, this revolution is being driven by technology and simple economics rather than government policies. Electric cars are currently the fastest growing segment in the global automotive industry. March 2017 saw a 134% increase in electric automobile sales over March 2016 and a 87% increase Q1 2017 versus Q1 2016. With this kind of growth, two things are occurring: 1) the economies of scale are making electric cars and their components cheaper to produce and 2) the automotive industry worldwide is pouring billions of dollars into battery and electric systems research and development.

Over the next 2-3 years battery ranges are predicted to meet and exceed to 350-400 mile range petrol powered vehicles typically reach and entry level electric vehicle prices are projected to break below $30,000. By 2022-2023 entry level EVs will be approaching $20,000. That is when, according to Seba, the avalanche will occur. “What the cost curve says is that by 2025 all new vehicles will be electric, all new buses, all new cars, all new tractors, all new vans, anything that moves on wheels will be electric, globally,” Professor Seba projects. With EV life expectancy in excess of 1 million miles, almost zero maintenance, and less than 7 cents per mile to operate, internal combustion will simple become obsolete.

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This shift is not without its challenges. The US government stands to lose up to $50 billion in fuel tax revenue, funds that are used for road construction and other surface transportation projects. “Certain high-cost countries, companies, and fields will see their oil production entirely wiped out. Exxon-Mobil, Shell and BP could see 40 percent to 50 percent of their assets become stranded,” the report states. Additionally, the traditional automakers with their large bureaucracies are at risk of being leapfrogged by nimble cash flush tech companies that are already making moves in the industry. That is a lot of economic and geo-political instability added to an already complex world stage.

While I feel like Seba’s projections are a little optimistic, the trends are clearly pointing in one direction. And with renewable energy constituting the majority of new energy production coming on line the news is all the sweeter. What are your thoughts on this? Comment below and let us know.

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