Study Says Electric Vehicles Are Almost As “Dirty” As Diesel Cars


The Nissan LEAF has always been regarded as one of the greenest vehicles to hit the streets. The car has been known to have zero emissions, but a new study showed that the overall pollution the vehicle generates is almost as bad as a conventional diesel car.

According to Which? Car magazine, the amount of carbon dioxide that is created to generate the electricity that powers  an EV, can be just as great as that created by the internal combustion engine.

A conventional car’s emissions come out of the vehicle’s exhaust pipe,  while those created by an electric vehicle are generated at the power station which supplies the car’s electricity.

Industry experts at Which? Car compared the carbon dioxide created by charging electric vehicles with the carbon dioxide emitted by the most efficient diesel models. After a thorough comparison, experts conclude that,”sometimes there’s not a great deal of difference.”

And the gap is narrowing as ‘conventional’ cars up their game to cut emissions.

“The common manufacturer claim that electric cars produce ‘zero emissions’ ignores the fact that most drivers use a conventional electricity supply to charge them, which has a carbon cost from burning fossil fuels, said an expert for Which? Car.

Which? Car analyzed  three of the first EVS slated to hit the UK market and compared them to three conventional rivals. Here’s what they found after comparing the vehicles.

  • The electric Smart Fortwo creates an ‘equivalent’ of 84 grams of carbon dioxide per km driven, whereas the £9,540 diesel Smart Fortwo emits 103 grams.
  • The electric power generated  to drive the LEAF is equivalent to carbon dioxide emissions of  81g/km. By contrast, the Volkswagen diesel Golf has carbon dioxide emissions of 108g/km.
  • The power generated to power the  Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car was equivalent to 68g/km while the similarly sized Suzuki Splash with a 1.3litre diesel engine has carbon dioxide emissions of 131g/km.

EVs are still much more greener than diesel cars when it comes to localized emissions, they don’t emit toxic chemicals that degrade the quality of the air.

Richard Headland,  the editor of Which? Car magazine, had this to say to car makers: “We applaud car makers’ efforts to create greener cars – but we don’t agree with their ‘zero emissions’ claims. Until more electricity is produced from renewable sources in the UK, the carbon footprint of driving an electric car may not be as small as owners think.”

Headland didn’t spend all of his time criticizing EVs. He did praise the vehicles for their low carbon output. “‘Electric cars offer drivers a lower-carbon output and cheaper fueling costs, but are expensive compared with their traditional counterparts and not as versatile,” he said.

Approximately 71 percent of more than 2,000 Which? members surveyed said that they ere concerned about the short range of electric cars.

To get an accurate reading and measure the carbon dioxide created by charging an electric vehicle, Which? followed  Carbon Trust’s method which states that 544 grams of carbon dioxide is emitted per kilowatt hour of electricity used. Which? converted this to an equivalent ‘grams per km’ carbon dioxide rating, to  compare electric cars with the diesel cars.


18 Responses

  1. Tony Lindsey says:

    This “study” is kind of worthless. Here in Southern California near San Diego, only eight percent of electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels. I’m assuming that this “study” is assuming that 100% of electricity used to charge these cars is generated by burning coal or something.


  2. Nico says:

    This argument is only valid winthin the US or in China where most of electricity is generated by burning fossil ressources.
    In Europe for example, Electricity is mainly produced by Nuclear plants (which doesn’t produce CO2 but pollute differently), hydro electricity, Wind mills etc…
    So the carbon footprint for Ev’s depends how and where the electricity is produced.


  3. Greg says:

    So, another way of saying this is that EVs are CLEANER than diesels. And while “‘conventional’ cars up their game to cut emissions.” They will never reach zero. EVs on the other hand, can be supplied increasingly with power from renewable resources as the power sources are moved away from fossil fuels in the United States.

    Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. If you want EVs to be even cleaner, put up you own solar panels and support the transition towards renewable energy sources and away from fossil fuels nationwide.


  4. demetrius says:

    Carbon Dioxide is NOT POLLUTION. It may be green house gas – but it has ZERO effect on air quality. You can’t see it or smell it. Our cities would be quieter and smell much better with more EV’s.


  5. demetrius says:

    In their calculation of diesel emissions – did the scientists take into account the CO2 ‘pollution’ caused by drilling for oil, pumping it, shipping it, protecting it with military resources, refining it, shipping it , storing it, and distributing it… I don’t think so…

    And what about the human cost of propping up the dictators and strong men of north Africa and the middle east in their oil kingdoms. What is that CO2 calculation? Didn’t see that calculated either.


  6. BLIND GUY says:

    So the need to switch to much more cleaner electricity production will help home, business and transportation. The trick is keeping jobs here to have a clean self sufficient energy system. Investing in a clean energy future is a win win win.


  7. vanuck says:

    OMG, WTF, I just lost any hope for this site.
    Demetrius, you took the words from my mouth….


  8. Van says:

    I must agree with the posts above. (1) No percentage was given for the assumed 544 kg of C02 from a KWh of electrical energy consumed. (2) Even if 80% of the electrical generation comes from burning fossil fuel, power stations do not emit as much air pollutants as internal combustion engines, so basing the comparison on C02 is bogus.
    (3) No improvement over time will occur once you buy an ICE, it will polute the same or get worse, whereas the electrical generation may get better with nukes and renewables.

    We keep seeing naysayers mindless comments concerning the Leaf, it is more green than
    any ICE powered car by far!!


  9. CaptJackSparrow says:

    But did they bother to measure pollution from both an EV and an ICE at “Cold Start”? Guess which pollutes more……


  10. David says:

    Yeah, must say I’m losing faith too.

    Seems like this website was bought out by an oil company or interest. Seriously, I know we all know how far they went to put the EV1 out for good by “donating” “funding” for this type of “research” along with the media influence to try to get this kind of “news” widespread.

    Now that the LEAF is on the hit list we can only hope that with the power of the internet for communication and with widespread,always available information; the SMART thing to do will prevail instead of greed winning again. However; with my most recent experience with a public viewing of the LEAF, I’m feeling like we all might be living the squeal to “Who Killed This Electric Car?”.


  11. jeffhre says:

    I’m getting a lot of ads on my browser today, explaining the meaning of Prii. Prii, plural of passed by a Volt and not nearly a Leaf.


  12. jeffhre says:

    Wow I’m really impressed by this study. “The electric Smart Fortwo creates an ‘equivalent’ of 84 grams of carbon dioxide per km driven, whereas the £9,540 diesel Smart Fortwo emits 103 grams.”

    Multiply that tiny difference by 500 million commuters worldwide – gee no difference at all.


  13. Andrew says:

    Much like mainstream news media in this country (the US) should stop reporting on Sarah Palin’s idiotic musing, this site should stop reporting on idiotic surveys and studies that do nothing but miss the point entirely.

    Others have made some good points, but its far simpler than that even:
    1. Electric cars don’t pollute locally. The pollution is created elsewhere.
    2. Gas cars pollute from millions of individual sources (i.e. each car). Electricity generation plants pollute from one location.
    3. Its far cheaper, and easier to capture pollution at one large source than it is across millions of individual sources.
    4. Much of the electricity generated for EV cars will be done at night. That electricity is actually being produced at night regardless of whether or not it is being used, because its more costly (and more likely to increase plant maintenance costs) to bring the plant down and then back up again every day and night.

    So, in fact the real CO2 cost of an EV is far less than the study authors claim, given that they are using electricity that is going to be produced and wasted anyways. I.e. the CO2 will be produced whether or not there are electric cars.


  14. SPIKE says:

    Quite a few of the Nissan Leaf owner, along with those on the waiting list, get a portion of their electricity from their solar panes.


  15. Buzzzzzzzz says:

    Electrical sources for California:

    Took me about 30 seconds to research. The author maybe should have as well.
    Looks pretty clean to me.

    Coal ………….. 2,327,809 1.3 %
    Petroleum ……… 1,961,066 1.1%
    Natural Gas ……. 89,624,044 48.7%
    Other Gasses …… 1,240,053 0.7%
    Nuclear ……….. 34,352,340 18.6%
    Hydroelectric ….. 30,899,631 16.8%
    Other Renewables .. 23,680,568 12.9
    Other………….. 124,520 0.1


  16. Van says:

    On the left coast, Washington, Oregon and California, the Leaf is 3 to 5 times more green than any diesel on the road.


  17. EVsRoll says:

    It is important to note that some Leaf electric cars may be using dirty power. However, it is not possible to say that all Leaf EVs are not using clean power. Utilities are all different, some clean, some not.

    You need to look at exactly where the power is coming from. Some new cleaner power plants are coming on line. You need to check exactly where your power is coming from. Generalizations are not possible. Averages are.

    Details here:



  18. Mike says:

    Wow! What utter rubbish! Does petrol and diesel appear out of thin air? How about a fair comparison!


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