When calculating emissions for vehicles, the full lifecycle of a vehicle and its energy source should be taken into account.

Today’s internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) are about 99 percent cleaner for most tailpipe pollutants than vehicles in 1970, and studies show that different automobile powertrains produce similar greenhouse gas emissions on a lifecycle basis.

  • Advancements in internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle efficiency has helped to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation sector over the last few decades.
  • The fuel economy of new cars, trucks and SUVs has increased 29 percent, and their related carbon dioxide emissions have dropped 24 percent since 2004, due in large part to greater industry investment in lightweight vehicle technologies.
  • When the full lifecycle of a vehicle and its energy source is taken into account — including GHG emissions during fuel production, manufacturing, operation, and disposal stages — advanced internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) are capable of achieving comparable reductions in GHG emissions as similarly equipped, full battery electric vehicles (BEVs).
  • The extraction and processing of mineral resources needed for electric vehicles has the potential for severe environmental and social degradation and has already started to affect developing economies, according to the Colorado School of Mines.
  • Policies that only examine a vehicle’s tailpipe emissions significantly distort the fact that BEVs emit GHGs during their manufacturing and based on the mix of energy sources used for electricity generation.
  • Focusing on a single technology like BEVs discourages competition and the development of other technologies that could have a more significant impact on GHG emissions in the nearer term, and at a lower cost to consumers.
  • Further Reading:
    • According to a 2021 International Energy Agency, adhering to a goal of limiting a rise (above preindustrial levels) in global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius could result in a quadrupling by 2040 of the minerals required for clean energy technologies, including those needed to build electric vehicles and wind turbines. “The data shows a looming mismatch between the world’s strengthened climate ambitions and the availability of critical minerals that are essential to realizing those ambitions,” said Fatih Birol, executive director of IEA, in its news release.
    • “Slow Down: The Case for Technology Neutral Transportation Policy,” ConservAmerica, December 2020.
    • “Battery Electric Vehicles vs. Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles,” Arthur D Little, November 2016.
    • “Insights Into Future Mobility,” MIT Energy Initiative, November 2019.
    • “Cradle-to-Grave Lifecycle Analysis of U.S. Light-Duty Vehicle-Fuel Pathways: A Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Economic Assessment of Current (2015) and Future (2025-2030) Technologies,” Argonne National Laboratory, June 2016.
    • “Global EV Outlook 2019,” International Energy Agency, May 2019.