Study Shows Low Mileage Drivers Should Avoid BEVs

Banning sales of new vehicles with internal combustion engines could only increase the automotive industry’s CO2 emissions, especially in regions like Europe and the UK.

That’s the finding of a study by vehicle emissions specialist, Emissions Analytics, that claims many consumers will never use their BEVs enough to ‘pay back’ the huge extra CO2 level emitted in the production of their battery packs. Using a formula of averages, not least the averaging out of vehicle types and the annual mileage completed by consumers, the study says low annual mileage regions, such as those making up the European Union and the British Isles, will see nearly a third of consumers having to run their BEVs for the impossible lifespan of 24 years before the vehicles will ‘break-even’ in terms of overall CO2 emissions compared to comparative ICE powered vehicles.

The research points out that switching from ICE to BEV is an environmental investment because the CO2 footprint of BEVs is greater because of the emissions from making the battery, while the elimination of the engine and other components in ICE is roughly offset by the electric motors.  On top of this, electricity generation according to the average mix in Europe or the US creates about as much CO2 as the oil extraction, refining and distribution.  So, from the outset, BEVs make CO2 emissions worse until a break-even point is reached after a period of time. The study points out that estimates of how long into the life of a vehicle the break-even point is reached is dependent of several factors including carbon intensity of the electricity grid, embedded carbon in battery manufacture, in-use vehicle emissions rates and distance driven per year. Using known averages, the study says, most commonly cited break-even points fall between two and eight years.

According to research by Field Dynamics, in 2019 – before the pandemic – the average European car was driven just over 7,000 miles. The distribution of annual miles across all cars subjected to periodic technical inspection (PTI) saw the majority of cars with less than 5,000 miles per year and just 0.5% above 30,000 miles.  This matters because the fewer miles driven, the longer it takes to reach the break-even CO2 point.

Using this data, Emissions Analytics finds that 32% of the European passenger car fleet cover less than 3,000 miles per year meaning those who have switched from ICE to BEV will never see the CO2 break-even point. At the same time, the 0.9% who achieve more than 25,000 miles annually, will see the break-even point within a year.

US better for BEV

However, while Europe has been a big target for automakers wooed by BEV early adopters, the average consumer in the US will reach break-even point twice as quickly with BEVs because they typically clock up 13,500 miles per year. The study concludes that the more intensively a BEV is used, the quicker it will pay back the CO2 investment. With this in mind, it suggests that if these low mileage users take up a self-charging hybrid powered vehicle instead of a BEV, the overall reduction in CO2 across the nation’s fleet would be 17% greater, and the reduction in the need for scarce battery materials would be around 32%. Naturally, the proportions will be lower in countries with cleaner electricity grids, such as France and Norway, and higher in those with heavier fossil fuel use, such as Poland and Germany.

On top of the US’s high mileage advantage, its wholesale energy costs around one quarter of Europe’s, so it can more credibly and competitively build the necessary extraction and processing supply chain, rather than just the final battery assembly part.  Also, the North American continent is the global region with the highest number of urban environments and BEVs offer the biggest efficiency gains in urban driving, owing to powertrain efficiency at slow speeds and regenerative braking.

Emissions Analytics concludes: “In summary, this analysis can be put as: why are we forcing light car users to spend more money on vehicles that actually pollute the planet more?  While Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandates may be direction-finders and worthy aspirations, it is also very important we make sure that those who do convert to BEVs are the right people, from an allocative efficiency point of view.  ICE bans are even more problematic than ZEV mandates because ‘success’ would be wilfully suboptimal  A better approach would be to drop the bans and be highly selective with mandates, and rely more on the CO2 targets and/or carbon pricing to set the direction and then let the industry and consumers rearrange their supply and demand accordingly to deliver the best environment outcome in the most efficient, speedy and equitable way.  In this way, lightly used cars would not be swapped for BEVs, saving money and CO2.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in Europe. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_



  1. Avatar Pramod Rayasa 12th May 2023 @ 8:50 pm

    In future, plants that process batteries will be able to use CO2 sequestering technologies to greatly limit CO2 emission. This technology is available currently. This method is far more efficient than recovering CO2 from the atmosphere.

  2. Avatar Louis Muench 14th May 2023 @ 4:26 pm

    US utilities meet peak demand with fossil-fuel-generated electricity, and they will for a long time into the future until we finally have a green grid. The payout of CO2 emitted during the manufacture of a vehicle depends on when the vehicle is charged. Light users and smaller vehicles with smaller batteries that charge off-peak (overnight) may have substantial advantages for CO2 reduction over a large, heavy vehicle that charges on peak with a high energy delivery system.

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