Small Electric Cars are Better for Environment
In general, when compared to gasoline vehicles, electric vehicles are more environmentally friendly as they produce fewer local carbon emissions, even if their production is not yet carbon-free. However, that doesn’t mean all electric vehicles are equal in terms of their positive benefit. Just like some gasoline vehicles are more efficient, or produce fewer carbon emissions than others, some EVs consume fewer resources than others – both when they are built and when they are on the road, using up electrons!
Not surprisingly – much like with gasoline-powered vehicles – small, light EVs are better for the environment than big, heavy ones. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), which releases an annual Greenest and Meanest list, the Mini Cooper Electric, Nissan Leaf, and Mazda MX-30 topped the charts for having the smallest environmental impact of any vehicle on the road. They all scored 67 out of a potential 100 points.
The Mini also had the lowest Environmental Damage Index (EDX), according to the organization. The EDX score reflects the cost to human health from pollution associated with vehicle tailpipe emissions, vehicle manufacturing and disposal, and the production and distribution of auto fuel and electricity.
High-Scoring Hybrid Cars
Interestingly, five of the top 10 greenest vehicles were actually hybrids. The Hyundai Elantra Hybrid Blue, Kia Niro FE, Toyota Camry Hybrid LE, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Blue, and Toyota Corolla Hybrid all scored 63 out of 100. While EVs produce less pollution, vehicle weight and powertrain efficiency also have a significant effect on a car’s environmental impact, and these compact and midsize sedan models performed better than some EVs. Interestingly, the Lexus NX450h+ AWD, which was ranked 11th, was the sole plug-in hybrid on the Greenest list.
The two greenest vehicles from last year disappeared from the 2023 list. Toyota’s redesign of the Prius (which the ACEEE ranked as the greenest car of 2022) delayed the release of information on the latest generation hybrid, so ACEEE was unable to analyze data on the car. And Hyundai ended production of 2022’s second-place finisher, the Ioniq plug-in hybrid.
The ACEEE’s study also compared three models that are available in both electric and gasoline-fueled versions – the Mini Cooper, Volvo XC40 Recharge Twin, and Ford F-150. In every case, the EV model was estimated to cause less environmental damage over time. For example, the Mini’s EDX score was 46 percent lower than the gasoline version; the Volvo’s was 30 percent lower, and the F-150’s lower by 38 percent. Overall, however, it’s not surprising that larger, heavier vehicles cause more environmental damage no matter what the fuel. The Ford F-150 Lightning’s EDX score was 1.23, almost double the electric Mini’s score of 0.66; it requires significantly more resources to build than the smaller vehicle.
Electric Vehicles' Size and Weight Matter
“Not all electric vehicles are created equal,” said Peter Huether, senior transportation research analyst with ACEEE. “Inefficient and heavy EVs have lower environmental impacts than similarly sized gasoline-fueled cars, but they underperform more efficient EVs. To reduce pollution from automobiles, we need policies that both support more electric vehicles and encourage automakers to improve efficiency among all types of vehicles through a variety of strategies, including reducing vehicle weight.”
Huether’s comments put into context some of the more recent EV announcements, particularly in the large pickup and SUV segments, where vehicle size and weight seem to be growing even faster than they have for gasoline vehicles. Trucks like the Rivian R1T, F-150 Lightning, upcoming Chevrolet Silverado EV and others can eclipse 7,000 pounds in some configurations – and the GMC Hummer surpasses 9,000 pounds, with a battery that weighs as much as a Honda Civic.
The ACEEE also released its Meanest list of the worst-performing mass-market vehicles. The list of gas-guzzlers includes 10 pickup trucks and SUVs. The Ram 1500 TRX 4x4 had an EDX score of 2.78, just ahead of the Ford F-150 Raptor.