Yes, electric vehicles really are better than fossil fuel burners

(The Guardian, 26 Nov 2019) Hans-Werner Sinn’s opinion piece on whether electric cars are as climate friendly as they seem generated a good deal of controversy. William Todts, executive director of Transport & Environment, gives his response

Hans-Werner Sinn is quite the character. This German economics professor’s writings range from the Greek crisis to migration, to German energy policy.

Recently he has discovered a new passion: electric vehicles. Back in April Sinn published a paper claiming electric cars were worse than diesel. The study was roundly criticised for being misleading. Even Germany’s largest carmaker VW felt compelled to publicly contradict the report days after its publication, giving a rare glimpse of its own lifecycle analysis based on company-specific data that shows Volkswagen EVs are better than their diesels.

Yet rather than backing down, Sinn’s now back at it in an article published by the Guardian. Rather than forcing carmakers to invest in clean technology – the EU’s current policy – Sinn proposes introducing a big fuel tax on car drivers which he believes would be more effective than forcing German carmakers to go electric.

But this isn’t about Sinn. In fact, whenever you read a newspaper article claiming EVs are worse than diesel or petrol cars, that article will be based on a report that deliberately makes EVs look worse than they are.

Usually the plot is as follows: a smaller petrol or diesel car is compared with a bigger, more powerful electric car; then the fossil fuel car is assumed to be as efficient as the EU’s official tests portray (in reality its fuel economy is always a lot worse); and finally the electric car is driving in a region with a very dirty electricity mix. Then you assume very high emissions for battery production based on outdated studies and finally you pretend electric cars don’t last very long and that its batteries aren’t reused or recycled.

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The Guardian, 26 Nov 2019: Yes, electric vehicles really are better than fossil fuel burners