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By Russ Finley on Aug 19, 2016 with 6 responses

Is The Tesla Model X The Hummer Of Electric Cars?

Tesla catches fire in France

Tesla catches fire in France

Another Tesla goes up in smoke. I’ve written about some of the other incidents here and here.

When I built my electric bicycle back in 2007, I had been waiting for a battery that was less volatile than what had been available. I didn’t want to risk having a fireball under my seat. Tesla traded volatility for power density.

I think electric cars are great for all kinds of reasons, which is why I bought one in 2011. But like any car, they are not created equal, and as marketers begin the process of differentiating them to get us to buy them, that inequality will grow and diversify as it has for conventional cars. And for any fellow electric car enthusiasts out there who think electric cars are going to make a significant dent in carbon emissions in the foreseeable future, read Robert Rapier’s article on that subject. Even a strongly biased study by the UCS shows that electric cars, on average, presently produce about half of the emissions of conventional cars in a cradle-to-grave analysis. Eliminating fossil fuels instead of nuclear from our energy mix will improve that over time.

2007 cell phone photo of Hummer and Cherokee

2007 cell phone photo of Hummer and Cherokee

Way back in 2007 when I was blogging for Grist, I took a picture with my cell phone (note the low resolution) of a Hummer parked next to a Cherokee. I drove a Cherokee at the time. I wrote a short blog post about it titled Not all SUVs are created equal:

…I spotted a yellow Hummer parked next to a yellow Cherokee (the original SUV) the other day. The contrast was startling. Status seeking has a natural tendency to escalate. You know the end of a fad is near when it finally spawns a ridiculous monstrosity like the Hummer.

Leaf delivering stuff to a yard sale

Leaf delivering stuff to a yard sale

Also in 2007, I wrote a short blog article titled Hummer almost caught on film doing useful work:

That’s right. I actually saw a Hummer pulling a trailer with stuff in it yesterday. Although stunned, I recovered in time to get a shot of his trailer as he pulled away from the transfer station. Coincidentally, I was also pulling a trailer on my bike (also visible in the lower right hand corner). We smirked at one another as we passed.

That same year I wrote another article that was reposted at Auto Blog with a slightly different title: Prius snob challenges data that shows hybrids, Hummer have same lifetime energy consumption.

He (me) accepts that a hybrid such as a Prius (shown being assembled in Toyota City, Japan) would use more energy during its lifecycle, given that CNW has placed its lifecycle at 109,000 miles while giving SUV 197,000 miles.

In my article I pointed out that it was the assumption that a Prius would only be driven 109,000 miles that made it worse than a Hummer. You would have been lucky to get that out of a Pinto. I was highly skeptical that a Prius, with assistance from an electric motor, would last no longer than a Pinto. Earlier this year Consumer Reports listed the Prius as one of the 10 Best Cars to Get to 200,000 Miles and Beyond.

Wife's 2016 Prius getting its first oil change

Wife’s 2016 Prius getting its first oil change

The Hummer brand has been discontinued. A lot has changed in the decade since I wrote those articles, human nature, not so much.

As one might have predicted, a similar dust to dust study showed up in 2013 suggesting that the Tesla was as bad for climate change as a conventional car. I didn’t get into that one but I did take a quick look at the Union of Concerned Citizens and Scientists study (that may or may not be better than the other study), which of course, concluded the opposite. The UCS conclusion:

For all Americans, charging the average new EV produces far fewer global warming pollutants than driving the average new gasoline car.

Although not mentioned in the study, another conclusion that can be drawn is that when it comes to carbon emissions, a Prius is as good or considerably better than an electric car in most states.

Tesla Model X that lives in my neigborhood

Tesla Model X that lives in my neigborhood

I was also surprised to find, using the data in the UCS study that, according to their assumptions and calculations, the Tesla sedan would emit 36% more emissions than the Leaf over its lifetime, which is greater than the difference between an average car and a standard pickup truck. They were also careful not to point this out anywhere in the study.(1) And please, don’t shoot the messenger. It’s time we stopped comparing apples to oranges.

If a Hummer is less environmentally benign than a Cherokee, then a Tesla Model X is less environmentally benign than a Leaf.

(1)Standard 2WD pickups sold in 2016 average 18.7 mpg. The average car sold in 2015 gets 25 mpg. 2016 2WD standard pickups emit 34% more carbon emissions per mile than the average car.

Originally published at Biodiversivist.

  1. By Forrest on August 20, 2016 at 7:45 am

    Apples to oranges comparisons. I had an acquaintance that justified a 4×4 Honda pickup. He was single, retired, and had little use of load hauling, towing ability, or traction of such a low mpg vehicle. His justification? Come to find out he was from Phoenix and scarred to death of Michigan winters and driving. He didn’t drive much so the mpg rating was irrelevant. So, is he foolish? Should we demand regulations to force him to Bolt purchase? May a Uber application be more powerful than battery car for the environment and his quality of life?

    Around here when fuel cost soared, scooter sales exploded. They are cheap, convenient, fun, and have tremendous mpg ratings. Motorcycle sales did the same. So, in reality of personal transport and environmental concerns the grand sum total benefit to the environment, I would venture to guess this equipment was of more value as compared to meager sales of battery car. We compare an SUV to a leaf, maybe we should compare a scooter to a leaf?

    I may just purchase a Elio vehicle when they come out. If you do the math, this car may have 10x potential to improve auto emissions as compared to battery car. View the you tube interview of Paul Elio. One should conclude this engineer knows something about the car markets and the position of his vehicle. The car should displace a portion of the worn out used car market. A superior choice for low income citizens that would gain in reliability, low operating cost, safety, etc. The battery car is not in that market. So, my thinking of realistic change and actual benefit to citizens that will go hand in hand with change of emissions. The Uber technology, scooter, motorcycles, and Elio Motors probably more potent solution to both environment and consumers needs. Of course the fuel emission cost to environment is but a small fraction or within the negative zone if ethanol fuel is in the tank.

    • By Russ Finley on August 20, 2016 at 10:47 am

      We compare an SUV to a leaf, maybe we should compare a scooter to a leaf?

      True enough. It’s all a matter of degree and all food for thought.

      • By Forrest on August 20, 2016 at 1:36 pm

        This is the latest 8/16 life cycle emission for ethanol. A team at Argonne National Laboratory. Note the albedo land warming effect is a recent factor to derate ethanol GW benefits. No stone is left unturned to lower the value of ethanol. The competition receives no such level of scrutiny.

        With the LUC-induced albedo effect included, ethanol from corn, switchgrass, and miscanthus has life-cycle GHG emissions of 56, 29, and -4 g/MJ, respectively. These results translate to a GHG emission reduction of about 39%, 68%, and 104%, respectively, relative to petroleum-derived gasoline, which has a GHG emission intensity of 92 g CO2e/MJ.

        Jay Leno thought eventually the conventional auto would become sport driving. Think of how horse riding has maintained a popular sport. So, that thought makes me think that, yes, status symbol of Uber like autonomous fleet would be gone. Vehicles very utilitarian and functional for need. Probably standardized for architectural and metro design needs. Think of check out with cashier push button hailing of transport and bag boy placing groceries in trunk inside the store at the register. How, about the metro design benefits of one way narrow pathways for vehicles. Vehicles with no crash design criteria would be incredibly light and small. Some vehicles with no seating just material transport, that effectively replaces trucking with autonomous freight line of vehicles. The value of standardizing to a shipping container spec becomes apparent for packaging, delivery of passengers, storage, etc.

        • By Forrest on August 21, 2016 at 6:24 am

          Also, the analysis of where carbon energy is utilized within ethanol production and possible efficiency improvements. The future (if carbon emissions remain a primary concern) would push even grain ethanol to negative carbon. Know that the process plant is where all the energy is consumed. That fertilizer and farm use of petrol products is minimal as compared. The CHP process can really improve the numbers. Heat recuperation or reuse is easy to do within a process that has so much low grade heat needs. Boimass boiler will improve the carbon rating 30% alone. The anaerobic digester is becoming standard fare and may play into local farm process of animal wastes. Primary distillation is giving away to osmosis membrane technology (I think?). Wet distillery grains are getting popular, localized plant direct sales and distribution is getting more popular, and thermal waste heat energy parks. Spiritwood station coal plant is one such power plant that makes for a cheap and low carbon heat source for ethanol. With CHP process the coal power plant efficiency jumps to 69%. This will effectively cut emissions by one half as compared to traditional coal power plant at 33%. Ethanol process is but one of customers for heat.

          • By Forrest on August 22, 2016 at 7:04 am

            Also, as the grid becomes less carbon intense, that will improve ethanol carbon rating, as well. Especially, if wind power and solar is generation at the farm and/or process plant. So, ethanol is a potent path to utilize renewable energy. Just a liquid more easy to use and store form. Especially, when one considers the fuel should drop well into negative carbon rating when the pure CO2 fermentation co-product is utilized to plastic feed stock, food, or fuel as expected. Grid power could never go into negative rating status as compared.

            Ethanol fuel and processes are highly sustainable and recyclable. It’s the natural biological process that dovetails so well with nature. Compare that with unsustainable battery power and all the other technologies that rely on electronic waste and rare earth metals. Our landfills already brimming with electronic trash. Putting our energy sector upon high reliance of foreign rare earth minerals is a horrible vulnerable condition, worse than import oil reliance. You do notice these energy sources receive no penalty for these changes as compared to the infamous indirect land use change penalties applied to ethanol? How much penalty to apply to energy forms that need military power to protect rare earth mines? How about the single source manufacturers and processors?

            This electronic and battery waste produces toxic trash that is expensive or impossible to recycle. It’s corrosive to healthy clean environment. As compared, the ICE contains easy to recycle steel and aluminum. A simple low cost vehicle may be the least damaging of all for the environment. Simple lead acid battery and easy to recycle components. I do believe when my daughter needed a car for college, the decision back some years to recycle a cheap Tempo was the most environmentally decision to be made. This was even before my Representative starting crowing about cash for clunkers and how good that would be. The old car was clean and classic vintage. It was destined to scrap yard, but for $1,000 bill to rebuild. The car always bettered 25 mpg, ran E85 like a champ, and continued on for an additional 100,000 miles. So, what are the life cycle emissions of this? Better than a new battery car I would guess. If you think so, tell me how environmentally friendly the decision to purchase the $8,000 Elio car would be. The car is assembled from mostly off the self hardware that achieves 80 mpg with traditional ICE technology. The car should be 100% easy to recycle and replace the most polluting class of vehicle, the worn out ones. The car could operate on high level ethanol blends.

  2. By TimC on June 5, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    An article today on the Consumer Affairs website says that AAA Insurance will raise premiums 30% for Tesla Model S and X owners:

    AAA says that Tesla owners have both more frequent claims and higher claim amounts than comparable models. Tesla disputes this.

    But I think Consumer Affairs may be missing the point here. Tesla owners shouldn’t care about insurance rates, or cost of ownership in general. Tesla products are expensive status symbols. People who buy Teslas should have the status, and the commensurate income, to go with the symbol. If you have to ask how much it costs, either the car or the insurance, then you probably can’t afford it.

    Not sure if the same will hold for the Model 3, though.

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