Oil industry is 'peddling misinformation' about electric vehicles 

  • Electric vehicles are cleaner and more efficient than conventional vehicles.
  • Reports against EVs are coming from oil-backed studies, leading to skewed public perceptions of battery-run autos.
  • Electricity powered transportation will cause less pollution and less asthma, cancer and other illnesses associated with pollution from the burning of fossil fuels.
A Tesla Model S vehicle being charged.
Angel Navarrete | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A Tesla Model S vehicle being charged.

When technological innovation threatens to upend the status quo, the status quo fights back. Every time. I try to keep that in mind when observing oil industry-backed efforts to discredit electric vehicles (EVs) and dismantle progress on transportation electrification by peddling misinformation through industry-funded studies.

To give you a sense of the absurdity of these efforts, imagine Bell Communication publishing a report suggesting cell phones are less convenient than landlines. Or Blockbusters paying for an analysis showing Netflix makes watching movies more difficult.

The vast majority of research institutions and environmental public interest groups support accelerated EV adoption because the science is clear that EVs are much cleaner than conventional vehicles.

Consider this: electric vehicles don’t have tailpipes. They run on electricity, and across the country, our electricity sources are getting cleaner. Even factoring in emissions from electricity used to power EVs today and pollution from battery manufacturing, electric vehicles are already significantly to vastly lower in emissions than conventional vehicles, depending on how the electricity is produced in different regions of the country.

"Here’s the bottom line: transportation electrification is a really good idea, and electric vehicles are a superior product. That’s why they will replace the internal combustion engine."

As states and cities push for more and more ambitious clean energy targets, the electricity that powers our lives will increasingly be derived from solar, wind, nuclear and other low- or no-emission or non-polluting energy sources. And battery recycling will become more common as economies of scale make it an increasingly profitable business. That will translate to less pollution and less asthma, cancer and other illnesses that our communities suffer because of fossil energy pollution.

Compare that to gasoline and oil, which will never get cleaner. Burning fossil fuel to power engines creates pollution. Period. Fossil fuels cause pollution at every stage of their lifecycle: from drilling to transport to refining to burning in an engine.

Electric vehicles also use energy far more efficiently than gasoline vehicles--three to four times more efficiently. With an EV, more of the energy inputs get converted to propulsion, and far less is lost as heat from combustion and other inefficiencies in gasoline vehicles. EVs are cleaner than gasoline vehicles today and will continue to be into the future based on extensive studies.

And, we’ll save money. All of us. For one thing, electric vehicles are far cheaper to fuel and maintain than the internal combustion machine. No trips to the gas pump. No engine troubles--because there’s no engine. And it’s worth noting that they perform better, too, in terms of acceleration and handling because of the low center of gravity.

For another, electrifying the transportation sector can keep energy rates low for all electric utility customers. Multiple studies have demonstrated that shifting from gasoline to smartly-charged electric-powered engines will tap excess capacity on the electric grid, improving power system performance and lowering costs for all energy consumers.

Here’s the bottom line: transportation electrification is a really good idea, and electric vehicles are a superior product. That’s why they will replace the internal combustion engine.

As one might expect when an industry contemplates its own obsolescence, the oil industry is doing everything possible to delay the inevitable -- including funding questionable research.

Transportation electrification coupled with the continued transition to clean energy sources promise a much better future for all of us. I suspect that someday, future generations will look back on the age of the internal combustion engine with the same mixture of amazement and bemusement that come to mind when we think of the times of the horse-and-buggy and landlines.

The benefits of that future will be so striking that we should do everything we can to hasten the transition. And we should soundly condemn the arguments that seek to slow or delay that progress for the misguided efforts they are.

Christine Todd Whitman, president of the Whitman Strategy Group, was the E.P.A. administrator from 2001 to 2003 and the governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001.