Tags: chevy | volt | nissan | leaf

Electric Car Gas Mileage Estimates Misleading

By John Lott   |   Thursday, 20 Aug 2009 09:06 AM

These miles per gallon measures for electric cars are getting ridiculous. Last week, General Motors announced with great fanfare that its new Chevy Volt will get 230 miles a gallon. Nissan quickly announced that its new car, the Leaf, will get 367 mpg. Right now the car companies are using the EPA's draft methodology to figure out these mileage numbers. In an era of electric cars, these estimates are really nonsensical, and the EPA needs to rewrite them before they become final.

Despite what people might think, the extremely high miles per gallon rates do not mean that the engine is consuming less energy, but only that the car is electric, with some occasional use of gasoline. It makes it sound as if the total emissions generated by the car would be very small. However, how "green" the car is greatly depends on how the electricity was generated in the first place. And that can vary tremendously, depending on whether the energy source for the electricity was, say, coal, natural gas, nuclear, or something else.

Unfortunately, the EPA totally disregards this elementary fact, that electricity is not totally "clean." For the Volt, General Motors specifically designed the car to go 40 mile range on an electric charge because the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that almost 80 percent of Americans drive less than 40 miles a day. The draft EPA miles per gallon estimates take those first 40 miles as if they used no energy since the car was powered off of a wall socket, not gasoline.

Possibly all this is a government PR gimmick to get people to think less energy is being used. After all, some people might wrongly conclude that the Volt uses a fifth the energy that a Toyota Prius and Honda Insight use. Or that the Nissan Leaf uses about a seventh as much energy. But that simply isn't true.

Possibly it is just a way for the government to further subsidize the purchase of electric cars. With the latest federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy requirement, car companies have to produce cars that average at least 42 miles per gallon by 2016. Companies that average below will have to pay a tax to the government, and in order to avoid that tax will be willing to sell cars listed as having a high MPG at a loss. Each Volt sold will let GM sell nine cars that get 21 miles per gallon without having to face the tax.

Surely, given how stringent fuel economy rules are, car companies probably couldn't be happier with these inflated mile per gallon estimates for electric cars. As we don't like those requirements in the first place, we don't mind this loophole too much as if does allow car companies to continue producing the types of larger cars that people want.

Electric cars are already very highly subsidized and these rules simply make them larger. The government is already going to give a $7,500 tax credit for those who buy a Volt.

Still, the main thing is the deceptiveness in the government program. If the whole purpose is to provide even more subsidies for electric cars, make it $15,000 or whatever they want. But make it so that everyone can clearly see what they are doing. The Barack Obama administration should fix these misleading miles per gallon estimates before they are finally released.

John Lott is the author of Freedomnomics.John Lott's pieces for Fox News can be found here and here.

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