Update on the EPA's Electric Vehicle Mileage Fraud

I have written several articles (here and here) outlining why the EPA's method of giving electric cars an equivalent or eMPG is outright fraudulent.  I calculated for the average driver, for example, that the Nissan Leaf's 99 eMPG was actually closer to 36.  Why?  Well, in the EPA's methodology, the science-based Obama administration pretends the 2nd law of thermodynamics does not exist.  Specifically, they assume perfect conversion of the chemical potential energy in fossil fuels to electricity.  They also assume zero transmission losses.  To rework the calculation, I actually used a Clinton-era Department of Energy methodology called well to wheels.

So here is something I thought I would never write:  It turns out the Union of Concerned Scientists agrees with me.  Apparently they have used a similar methodology to rework electric vehicle MPGs based on the fuel mix of the power in different cities, rather than an average national fuel mix as I did it.  I am not sure how they did the analysis - did they use average fuel mix or the marginal fuel, and if the marginal fuel did they assume the marginal fuel at night or during the day?   For example, certain California cities look good with solar use but that does not do anything for typical night time car charging.

Anyway, the problem is hard and I could quibble with how they did it.  But the results are telling - everywhere they looked, even in the hydro-powered Pacific Northwest, the eMPG they got was lower than that of the EPA's.  And in many cases much lower.

If corporations were using the EPA's eMPG methodology, they would be busted by the FTC for false advertising.  It's time to fix this calculation so Fisker Karma drivers can't continue to fool themselves into thinking they are doing something positive for the environment.


  1. me:

    Ha. Thank you - living in the PNW, I have to deal with those dear hybrid drivers clogging the insufficient local traffic infrastructure by driving with both eyes fully focused on their fuel efficiency meter and -having an unfortunate tendency to roadrage at folks who have no feel for or understanding of traffic flow- I have had a lot of discussions about why I think that the environmental impact of driving like this is vastly overestimated. This will help me back up those debates when the next one arises.

  2. Reformed Republican:

    I had similar thoughts when I first heard about electric cars. I could not understand how using fossil fuel to power a turbine, then transmitting that electricity over power lines, then storing in a battery and using that to turn a motor was supposed to be more efficent than directly powering a car engine by burning fossil fuel in the engine.

    I accept that it might end up being cheaper, especially given the hefty gas taxes (though I have never attempted to do any calculations), but not a more efficient use of fossil fuels.

  3. SG:

    All of the EPA estimates for all cars are a lie to begin with. It's impossible to factor MPG into an electric but somehow they managed to torture a logarithm in order to get the mileage they wanted. People who drive these golf carts with doors really don't care what the real or fictitious mileage is. It's all about the perception of doing something good for the environment. Reality is an inconvenience at best when it comes to feeling good about saving the planet.

  4. rxc:

    I live in France, so my mileage(kilometerage) would be very close to infinity. Maybe here they should use kilometres/gram uranium/plutonium burned instead.

  5. Ted Rado:

    Again, the lack of the most elementary engineering calcs raises its head. One can readily calculate the overall efficiency of any of the alternative energy schemes. They are all nonsense. It amazes me how politicians and zealots can lie like a rug in support of their pet schemes and get away with it.

    One point of interest: Production of rare earths, batteries, and electrical equipment is energy intensive. I read an article puporting to show that an SUV was more energy efficient from mine to grave than a hybrid if all that was taken into account. I have not checked into it myself, but would not be surprised if it were true.

  6. Mark2:

    To be fair the eco nuts claim there is an energy cost to extract and pipe and deliver fuel to your car, which may not be accounted for. Of course from the ground to the power plant is usually not accounted for either, so I would guess much of that is a wash.

  7. Arthur Felter:

    I still disagree with you on this.

    Assume the average price of gas is $4.00. From my research, the Leaf can go 3.16 miles per kWh. Electricity is pretty cheap here in Utah, but let's assume a higher price of $0.15/kWh. A leaf driver, instead of paying $4.00 at the pump, spends $4.00 on electricity. At 3.16 miles per kWh, the leaf driver can travel just over 84 miles on $4.00 of electricity. To me, this equals 84 equivalent miles per gallon.

    If the user pays $0.10/kWh (closer to what I pay), then the e-mpg is 126.4.

    Being economically minded, that's how I see it: how far will $4.00 of gas versus $4.00 of electricity get you?

  8. sean2829:

    I have made this point before. I don't disagree with the point you are making regarding technically on the electrics but I think the mileage standards is really a gift to the automotive industry or a "get out of jail free" card. The new mileage standards, which have their own caveats, credits and offsets, can be met more easily with little white lies told here and there. Just a few percent of electrics in a fleet with astronomical mileage can offset some low mileage gas guzzlers that can probably be delivered with a relatively high profit margin. I think that's why everyone involved buys into the charade. In reality of corporate fuel economy standards, the crazy electric stats allow you to burn more fossile fuel in other vehicles. It's time to give a hug to you environmentally conscious neighbor, particularly if like a lot of muschle under the hood.

  9. Brooks:

    @Arthur Felter:

    First, because government subsidies of the Nissan Leaf are justified on carbon "footprint", I am subsidizing your purchase of the Leaf not because it saves you money but because it supposedly puts less carbon containing gases in the atmosphere.

    Second, being economically minded, you should know that your economic analysis should go much further than just the cost of powering your car per mile. You must compare a similarly sized and equipped gas powered car with the Leaf. Being generous to your argument, a similarly sized and base model car would get at a minimum 35 MPG and cost about $16,000. A base model leaf starts at $27,000 after you take out my subsidy for your purchase of $7500. You now have to make up at least $11,000 (I am being generous to Leaf owners by saying the car only gets 35 MPG and costs $14,000 and not taking into account the taxpayer subsidy, or for that matter, the taxpayer penalty of gas taxes that is not on electricity.)

    Assuming your figures are correct, the effect MPG difference is 84-35 or 49 MPG. Using 49 MPG will allow me to perform the calculation between car types only once.

    Now you have to take into account a big part of the maintenance of electrical cars that gas cars do not have, the battery. Seeing as manufacturers are deathly afraid of publicizing easy to understand replacement guidelines for electric batteries, we have to make inferences. Nissan claims that 70% of Leaf users drive less than 40 miles per day and thus the battery will be at 80% at 5 years.


    I am going to assume then that at 10 years and less than 40 miles per day it will be time to replace the battery because it will be at 60% capacity or less. If you drive more, the degradation will be faster. To be fair, our gas powered car will need a $200 battery replacement at 10 years as well. Nissan's own faq states, "At this point, an estimated cost cannot be provided. We’ll be able to share more as information becomes available. You can sign up to stay in the loop." Hmm, I wonder why? Online estimates have it without labor as costing $12,000. Since it would be PR suicide to charge customers that much, I will make it an even $5,000. (And crater the resale value of the car...)

    40 miles per day is 14610 miles per year or $1192 using your figures. The net present value of the gas savings for 2012 with a midyear calculation point @ 49 MPG @ $4 is $1163. 2013-$1106. 2014-$1052 all the way till 2021-$741. NPV of the battery replacement minus the cost of a regular batter is $2985.

    Adding all these up you get a cost savings of $6399 over a 35MPG car that costs 16000. Adding in the purchase price difference, you are still in the hole $4600.

    So lets not try to justify all this on costs. The only reason to own one is to "supposedly" put less carbon in the atmosphere, which is doubtful at best, a horrible scame at worst. This number becomes SIGNFICANTLY worse if you take out the taxpayer penalties for using gas and the taxpayer subsidies for buying an electric vehicle.

    So to sum up, Nissan loses money on every car sold. There worst nightmare would be if these cars became popular. You lose money compared to your other similar sized and equipped options. The taxpayer loses money from the subsidy. The government loses money from the subsidy and the lost gas tax revenues. If this is the payout of a green economy, wowee!

  10. Tony:

    As someone with a pickup and a load of rechargeable battery powered tools in the side bins, I look at the costs of replacing my batteries on a regular basis and wonder how it works for electric and hybrid cars. I take care of my batteries and try to prolong their lives as long as possible, but they all go kaput eventually. The manufacturers know the deal. The tools are cheap. The batteries are expensive. The battery tools are great for convenience, self-contained, short burst use. They can't beat a corded tool for power, long term performance, weight, reliability, torque, longevity and cost. It seems to be the same with cars. One of these days, a minority of the population will discover that hybrids and electric vehicles are not all cracked up to expectations.

  11. Mark2:

    Arthur Felter:

    The 3.16kw per mile you quote is quite idealized. Real world and you get about half the 100mile range the leaf is suppose to have in normal usage. 42mpg based on the costs you site, is still pretty good though, and puts the leaf firmly in the same mileage class as similar sized cars like the Toyota Yaris.

  12. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States:

    >>>> so Fisker Karma drivers can’t continue to fool themselves into thinking they are doing something positive for the environment.

    Screw that. Let's do a full-cycle, best-case energy use analysis for all the #%$#^ PoSes and show that not a single freaking one of them is worth a metric ephton of *leaded* gasoline for either the economy OR the environment.

    Carpet bomb the bastards, then take no prisoners. This irrational libtard "It makes me feeeeeel good" crap has to stop being the basis for public policy. And that includes supporting alternative and "sustainable" just about everything.

  13. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States:

    >>> Nissan claims that 70% of Leaf users drive less than 40 miles per day

    This only makes sense IF you only make a short commute with it AND your commute is short in the first place. 20 miles one-way is nowhere in a lot of major metropolitan areas. You drive that going to the nearest supermarket (okay, yes, hyperbole) -- but you're going to spend a lot of time sitting in traffic and that's not going to make your mileage THAT low -- that's still energy wasted keeping the AC on and other things.

    The real fact is that any car is generally driven 10k-12k miles per YEAR, and that is the figure for doing base cost comparisons -- because it provides a real figure for the number of gallons used per year for your alternatives, and a real estimable price of how much gas is likely to be used by the vehicles and hence the savings possible by one or the other being more efficient.

  14. dickw:

    what a joke - they get 10 miles per 9 pounds of coal.

  15. Michael:

    Isn't it easier to calculate the total efficiency for gasoline vehicle and for electric vehicle.
    The http://www.betterplace.com electric renault fluence project in Israel got me thinking about it.
    (they've already sold a few cars here in Israel)

    And as an Engineer I've come up with this framework:
    for fuel powered car it will be: oil excavation x transportation x refinery x transportation to gas station x fuel tank to wheels eff.
    for an electric car it will be: total electric plant eff. x grid eff. x battery to wheels eff.

    my guess is that combustion powered transportation is still more efficient.

  16. ErisGuy:

    Gee. Government statistics are fraudulent, designed to make politicians, their ideology, and their corporate stooges look good. Who woulda thunk it?

  17. Mark2:

    Why the electric EPA numbers are faked:

    "Washington— Electric vehicle sales have been slow out of the box, despite marketing hype, government incentives and the hopes of green car advocates.

    Total sales last year were 17,425, which is less than 0.1 percent of the U.S. car and light truck market.

    Nonetheless, automakers show no signs of pulling back their multibillion-dollar bets: They need electric cars to meet tough new fuel-efficiency standards. About a dozen new plug-ins and fully electric cars will go on sale in the next year."

    From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120417/AUTO01/204170368#ixzz1sJ8N6zZs

  18. Mark2:

    @Michael, there are excavation and transportation costs to get natural resources to power plants. Why would you include those expense for hydrocarbon fueled cars, but not include them for electric cars?

  19. Arthur Felter:

    Let me start off by saying that I think the Leaf is a joke. I like the idea of electric cars (torque available right from the beginning? What's not to like?), but there are a load of issues that makes an electric car a waste of money. (Ever seen the Top Gear episode where they test the Tesla? Yeah, the car is nothing but a novelty.)

    You mention that I need to take into consideration other factors, like the added cost of the car. As a consumer, I would take that into consideration (and the added cost is yet another reason why the Leaf is a joke). However, it is my take that the discussion brought up by Warren is one of fuel economy; and looking at just fuel economy, the cost for 1 gallon of gas could get you about 84-124 miles in a Leaf. Based on this, I don't see any egregious misrepresentations from Nissan for e-mpg.

    You bring up a shizzy-load of excellent points - all of which I agree with you on. If I valued my life so little so as to want to drive a tin can down the road, all in the name of a few extra miles per gallon, then I'd definitely go the route you mention: pay $16k for a car that gets 35 mpg instead 40k for one that gets better mpg.

    My only defense for the Leaf is how far you can go with $4.00 of electricity (and even that isn't an argument to buy one).

  20. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States:

    >> which may not be accounted for.

    There's this thing, called "gasoline price"? It's accounted for in that. Unlike Electrics, it's not randomly subsidized. Heck, it's randomly taxed

  21. Smock Puppet, 10th Dan Snark Master:

    >>> Gee. Government statistics are fraudulent, designed to make politicians, their ideology, and their corporate stooges look good. Who woulda thunk it?

    Indeed... I'm shocked, shocked to find that this is going on here!

  22. michael:

    @Mark2. I did it's in the "total electric plant eff."
    i.e. from ground to wire.

    My argument is that the E.V could be less efficient then
    gasoline vehicle.

    And also you could add the total manufacturing efficiency cost difference for instance:
    Li-Ion 225 kg batteries Vs. An Iron Fuel Tank.
    Electric Motor Vs. Cast Aluminum Motor.