Biden is touting giant EVs. Are they actually good for the planet?

Source: By Shannon Osaka, Washington Post • Posted: Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The electric Hummer’s carbon emissions record is mixed, to say the least

President Joe Biden has made driving very large electric vehicles a signature move of his presidency. When the all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning came out, the president zipped around a racetrack wearing aviator sunglasses. On Monday, the president’s Twitter posted a picture of him behind the wheel of a Hummer EV, with the caption: “On my watch, the great American road trip is going to be fully electrified.”

The focus on electric cars makes sense. Almost 30 percent of the United States’ carbon emissions come from transportation, and the nation’s roughly 250 milliongas-powered cars, trucks and vans create a huge portion of that carbon pollution.

But the president’s focus on some of the biggest vehicles around — the Hummer EV, the Ford F-150 Lightning — has raised some eyebrows.

And for good reason. For right now, these huge electric vehicles pollute the planet more than small gas-powered cars.

President Biden test drives a Hummer at the General Motors Factory Zero electric-vehicle assembly plant in Detroit during a tour Nov. 17, 2021. (Evan Vucci/AP)

The new Hummer EV weighs 9,000 pounds; its battery alone weighs about 3,000 pounds, or almost as much as an entire Honda Civic. The Ford F-150 Lightning clocks in at about 6,000 pounds. That weight means not only that gigantic EVs pose a threat to pedestrians (in general, the heavier the vehicle, the more fatalities it creates on the road), but also that it takes a lot of energy to drag around the car on city or country streets.

And more energy means more carbon emissions. EVs emit different amounts of carbon dioxide depending on the electricity mix where they are charged; an EV charged in a state where the grid is packed with renewables will emit less carbon dioxide than one in a state filled with coal. (In almost all geographies, though, EVs emit less carbon dioxide than equally sized gas-powered cars.)

According to an analysis by Quartz, a Hummer EV driven on the average power grid in the United States emits about 276 grams of carbon dioxide per mile; a Toyota Corolla running on gasoline, meanwhile, emits 269 grams. Small EVs on the other hand — like the Tesla Model 3 or Chevy Bolt — release around 97 to 108 grams of carbon dioxide per mile.

So, despite Biden’s enthusiasm, the Hummer EV can hardly be considered a “green” vehicle. But the president may be taking a strategic approach to getting Americans into electric cars. For years, just saying the words “electric cars” sparked visions of the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Bolt — small, sensible cars popular with middle-class environmentalist types. The Hummer EV is something else — an attempt to get people who aren’t remotely environmentalist to get on board the transition to a more climate-friendly world. The question is whether it will be worth it.