Electric Vehicle Mileage Fraud

I am glad to see that other sites with more influence than I are focusing attention on the electric vehicle mileage fraud.   The Green Explored site writes, via Q&O:

The EPA allows plug in vehicle makers to claim an equivalent miles per gallon (MPG) based on the electricity powering the cars motors being 100% efficient. This implies the electric power is generated at the power station with 100% efficiency, is transmitted and distributed through thousands of miles of lines without any loss, is converted from AC to DC without any loss, and the charge discharge efficiency of the batteries on the vehicle is also 100%. Of course the second law of thermodynamics tells us all of these claims are poppycock and that losses of real energy will occur in each step of the supply chain of getting power to the wheels of a vehicle powered with an electric motor.

Finally!  For months I have been writing about this and have started to believe I was crazy.   I have written two Forbes pieces on it (here and here) and numerous blog posts, but have failed to get much traction on it, despite what appears to be near-fraudulent science.  I wrote

the government wants an equivilent MPG standard for electric cars that goes back to the power plant to estimate that amount of fossil fuels must be burned to create the electricity that fills the batteries of an electric car.  The EPA’s methodology is flawed because it assumes perfect conversion of the potential energy in fossil fuels to electricity, an assumption that violates the second law of thermodynamics.   The Department of Energy has a better methodology that computes electric vehicle equivalent mileage based on real world power plant efficiencies and fuel mixes, while also taking into account energy used for refining gasoline for traditional cars.  Using this better DOE methodology, we get MPGe’s for electric cars that are barely 1/3 of the EPA figures.

The linked articles provide much more detail on the calculations.  As a result, when the correct methodology is applied, even in all-electric mode the heavily subsidized Fisker Karma gets just 19 MPG-equivalent.

Do you want to know the biggest energy advantage of electric cars?  When you fill them with energy, you don't stand there at the pump watching the cost-meter spin, as you do in a gas station.   It's not that the energy cost is lower, it's just better hidden (which is why I suggested the Fisker Karma be renamed the Fisker Bastiat, after the French economist who wrote so eloquently about the seen and unseen in economic analysis).  It's why, to my knowledge, no electric car maker has ever put any sort of meter on its charging cables.


  1. LarryG:

    Are they not doing the same exact thing with gasoline and ICE engine efficiency?

    if you were going to do an honest apple-to-apple comparison -you'd have to include all the cost of extracting and refining gasoline PLUS the distribution costs PLUS the efficiency of the ICE engine.


  2. raja_r:

    Yeah, what LarryG said.

    Let's not do what the greenies do and fudge the numbers.

  3. Matt:


    Actually, if you are looking to be fair, if you include extraction, refining and distribution costs for gas, then for electric cars, you must include extraction, processing and transportation costs for the fuel used by the electric generating stations.

    Since most of the electricity in the US is still generated using coal, this will NOT favor electric cars.

    A fair compairson of fuel efficiency is to start at the same relative point for both electric and ICE vehicles. Since the majority of electrisity in this country is generated by burning fosil fuels, the fairest point to start is the point at which the fuel is burned. The fact that electricity has a longer trip from this point to the car's wheels and more points where power loss occurs does not make comparison starting from this point unfair.

  4. Another guy named Dan:

    @LarryG et. al. - Read the links:

    "However, they realized it was unfair to charge electric vehicles for these losses without also charging gasoline-powered vehicles for the energy cost of refining and gasoline distribution. They calculated these as adding 20% to the energy it takes to run a gas-powered car, but rather than reducing existing MPG standards by this amount, they instead gave a credit back to electric vehicles."

    This is factored into the DoE numbers, but not the EPA numbers.

  5. Don:

    Larry, and others,

    It's easy enough to determine the efficiency to the pump and to the plant, as these numbers are readily available. As I recall (been over a year since I looked) they are about 37% for gas (up to 45% for diesel) and up to 60% for nat-gas power plants and I think it was about 55% or so for coal. These numbers are I believe based on BTUs converted to kenetic energy in the form or electricity or wheel motion (as appropriate).

    Per Warren's discussion, transmission efficiencies are something similar to the following:

    Transformers: 90% efficient (and they degrade over time, so may be as low as 70% if you're in an old neighborhood). And there are frequently several used in distribution (750K-75K-7.5K-480-408 or 220) with the associated hit at each step.

    Transmission: 66%-80% efficient depending on distance and voltage level. I've heard claims of 95% on some of the new long-haul DC circuits, but last I checked, there's only a few of these, and that's only on of several layers for transmission the electrons pass through to get to you.

    AC-DC Conversion: 80% efficient (there are some 90% efficient rectifiers, but I doubt that's what's being used here because they are HUGE and hugely expensive and generally require 3-phase power ... I've got 9 if them in my data center and the most recent one cost half as much as a Fisker :^).

    Simply multiply the numbers you've seen elsewhere but the efficiency numbers above (or the more accurate numbers you look up... they won't be far off) for a dirt-to-motion evaluation.

    In general, knowing what I know about power efficiency, I'd be REALLY surprised if "19 eMPG" was even close. I'm betting it's more like 10-12. Otherwise, a Fisker Karma would be a reasonable alternative to a Porche or 'Vette Z06, and it's not, by anybody's accounting but the greens.

  6. caseyboy:

    The price we pay for gas at the pump includes all those costs you are talking about, including the margin for the supply chain participants. When I pay $4 at the pump, I'm paying for extraction, storage, transport, refining, storage, transport, distribution and lets not forget taxes.

  7. LarryG:

    yeah.. I shoulda known better.... it's a data swamp! (but I admit..that one can get the numbers from source to use for each.

    @caseboy.. so the price at the pump is equivalent (in comparing apples to apples) to KWh at the outlet?

  8. Matt:


    No, the price of gas at the pump and the price of electrisity at the outlet are not equivilent.

    The price of gas at the pump is not regulated aside from taxes. The price of electicity at the outlet is regulated by state goverments, and their are a few cases of state governments (California for example) forcing local utilities to charge the end user's less than the utilities wholesale costs.

  9. Ted Rado:

    The figures for efficiencies are:
    Electric power generation: 37%
    Local power distribution efficiency: 95%
    Transmission efficiency (US figures): 93%
    ICE efficiency (approx): 20%
    Charge and discharge battery: 80%

    Thus the overall efficiency of an electric car will be about 26% vs 20% for an ICE.

    There are also a myriad of minor losses along the way. Transformers have an efficiency exceeding 98%, for example.

    Each of the above numbers are variable, depending on local circumstances. In backward countries with power plants few and far between, transmission efficiency can be as low as 60-70%. Combined cycle power plants have a slightly higher efficiency (perhaps 41-42%). Open cycle gas turbines have a much lower efficiency. With modern rectifiers, conversion efficiency is extremely high (I was in the electrochemical business for many years). Use of high voltage DC for long distance power transmission has been around for half a century but has really not caught on. The savings in inductance losses do not justify the cost, as US transmission distances are usually quite short. If battery recharching time is shortened, the recharge efficiency is lowered.

    It has been pointed out that the TOTAL energy required for a car, from raw material (iron ore, coal, steel production, battery mfg., etc) should be the measure. One article claims that a full size pickup is more efficient on this basis than an EV or hybrid because of the batteries and other high-energy-to-produce parts.

    While one can massage the numbers all day, it is clear that EV's have little or no advantage in energy consumption. It is all a hoax to get USG money for greenie projects.

    Finally, EV's and hybrids are not being used by the police because of their poor performance, as well as their high cost. It is also reported that 2/3 of hybrid buyers do not buy another one, but go back to conventional cars.

  10. other joe:

    Finally, EV’s and hybrids are not being used by the police because of their poor performance

    Not true. Most municiple fleet purchases have to go to the lowest bidder by law. Hybrid's cost more so that's that.

  11. Mark2:

    Other Joe - Not true. The departments spec out the vehicle. If the purchase req has Hybrid for requirement, all the bids better come in with hybrid vehicles.

    This is why municipality X seems to always have Ford Cars in the Police fleet while Y seems to always have GM. Because the specs are designed tightly and specifically around the vehicle that the police department really wants.

  12. Mark2:

    @Other Joe again, this spec'ing backfires sometimes like when the military wanted refueling tanker aircraft. The Military spec'ed it out for the Boeing 767 which is really small. Airbus/Northrop came in with a bid with a much larger plane, pointing out the Military would only have to purchase 1/3 of them. That is what the Military really wanted so they went with AB/NG. Of course since those planes did not meet the spec. Boeing sued, and now the Military is getting the crappy 767 tankers - whose only purpose is really to extend the 767 program, since private airliners and freighters no longer want the aircraft.

  13. DoctorT:

    "... what appears to be near-fraudulent science..."

    There was no science whatsoever. The EPA almost never uses science in its actions or rulings. It uses invented standards and/or gross misinterpretations of cherry-picked data. Hence the idiotic electric car mpg-equivalence formula, the naming of carbon dioxide as an atmospheric pollutant, the banning of agricultural chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides) found in food at concentrations too low (far less that 1 part per billion) to be toxic, the blocking of thousands of projects to protect sub-sub-species of animals and plants, etc.

  14. Nobrainer:

    I might argue that the biggest true advantage of electric cars is diversity of fuel sources.

    Aside from that, I've got to agree with Warren.

  15. Ted Rado:

    Other Joe:

    I suggest you google prius performance and prius as police car. The Prius has slow acceleration and poor high speed performance. It IS being used for in-city patrol duty to a small extent, where performance is not thought to be important. The police want a muscle car in which they can keep up with whomever they are chasing.

  16. DrTorch:

    Uh, so why aren't Eugenie Scott and Michael Shermer crusading about this?

  17. IGotBupkis, Poking Fun At President Downgrade For 4 Years and Counting...:

    Along similar lines:


  18. IGotBupkis, Poking Fun At President Downgrade For 4 Years and Counting...:

    }}}} Other Joe – Not true. The departments spec out the vehicle. If the purchase req has Hybrid for requirement, all the bids better come in with hybrid vehicles.

    Same trick is used when they want an internal hire but have to advertise a position -- they put the requirements for a left handed unicorn in there and then hire the internal guy because... Hey, Whaddya Know?": he's a left handed unicorn.

  19. a_random_guy:

    It's a shame that the blog post doesn't use decent figures, and makes no attempt to source the figures it does use. For example, he says that power generation is 42.5% efficient - this figure is far too low. On the other hand, he supposed that transmission from the power plant to the car is 90% efficient - a figure that is almost certainly far too high.

    I don't have the right figures either, but a well-research piece in a widely-read publication or blog would be nice to see.

  20. bob sykes:

    Larry G

    That was done by the DOE in the 1990s. The result is that electric cars get about 35 mpg when all corrections to both electric and gasoline are made. (The corrections for distribution and refining are small.) I believe Coyote referenced the DOE in his original articles.

    Another issue is CO2

  21. bob sykes:

    Sorry, hit the wrong key. Not enough coffee.

    The other issue is CO2 emissions. Here in Ohio, 80% of our electricity comes from coal, so electric cars actually have higher CO2 emissions that gasoline/diesel cars.

    The mechanical engineering faculty at Ohio State doesn't understand this either.

  22. Goober:

    To complicate matters, what about those of us that live in Washington State where 90% of our electricity is hydroelectric? Or places where the main source of teh 'lectrics is nuclear?

    The entire idea is just too convoluted for the average american to want to understand it, so the government agencies choose a metric, stick with it, and move on. Yeah, the metric that they chose is flawed. THe metric that is being suggested here is likewise flawed. In fact, i can think of no way to have a perfect metric - they are all going to have problems.

    The most accurate metric would be to focus on areas of use. If you use the car in Washington State, then you'll get maybe 25,000 miles per gallon equivalent, because very little fossil fuel is burned to make hydroelectric.

    If you use it in Tennesee, you'll get 19 miles per gallon equivalent because they burn coal to make their electric-ticity there.

    If you drive across country, your fuel economy equivalent will vary from 10 miles per gallon to infinite miles per gallon, depending on where you are.

    That is the only way we could develop a flawless system of fuel economy equivalents. If that sounds too convoluted to you, then I think we've just decided that we must use a flawed metric to estimate the fuel economy equivalent, and to me, to try to figure out an "average" generation and transmission loss across every coal plant, nuclear plant, hydro plant, and so forth in the country (which can vary not just from plant to plant, but within the same plant depending on how far you live from it!) is not a very easy way to figure fuel economy equivalent. Apparently, the EPA thinks so, too, so they just don't account for it. Flawed? Yes. Dishonest? Certainly not as "truthey" as I'd like it to be. Still a reasonable metric to choose when faced with the dillema that we're facing - yes. i think so.

    Not defending the EPA here, but I'm a fair person, and in this particular case, I think that to be fair, you have to look at it from their point of view.

  23. Rocky:

    Seems we are all getting caught up in the minutia of data manipulation, EPA numbers on all cars are a fraud. Read the damn sticker, it clearly states the numbers are for comparison purposes only. No one can possibly achieve the EPA numbers driving on public roads. The numbers for electric cars are propaganda, plain and simple. Electric cars are much less efficient, no reason to start that debate AGAIN! They manipulate the figures simply to achieve the result desired in order to promote their agenda. Where are the real world numbers of the REAL cost to the consumer? After all, this would be the only logical reason to by one of these things, Right? How much did a persons power bill go up after plugging one of these golf carts with doors into his wall? How long will the battery actually last before you get gaffed for 10k to replace it? I'm guessing the numbers ain't that stellar, otherwise they would have Joe Twenty-Watt plastered all over the TV plugging his Volt for GM. (Pun intended)

  24. MikeinAppalachia:

    Interesting "debate" here, but I couldn't get past the part where someone claimed that electric utility transformers are 90% efficient and degrade with time. More correct would be about 98% on average loading cycles and they don't. They just fail due to time and loading. Also, to Mr. Sykes, probably true of the ME faculty, but the EE faculty certainly understands.

  25. LarryG:

    not to turn this into a US vs Toyota discussion but I've had Toyotas and American cars - more Toyotas as of late and my experience has been that Toyotas almost always meet the EPA numbers - and then some and that the American car often do not even on a good day.

    the other point I'd make with regard to the variability issue on energy sources, efficiency, distribution, etc is to use a normalized composite average (I think that's the term).

    So for electrics - the energy source would be coal, nukes, gas, etc - in the percent proportions they provide. So coal would make up somewhere around 50% of the composite.

    do the same thing for gasoline, gasoline can and does travel wildly varying distances depending on the source and consumption.

    I must say the folks who comment here are largely polite ... which is very refreshing compared to some blogs that discuss things that are controversial.

    thank you!

  26. Ted Rado:

    a random guy:

    Electric power generation has a low efficiemcy because the heat of vaporization of the water in the boiler is lost. For example, to boil water and superheat the steam takes about 1500 btu/lb. Of this about 1000 is lost to the condenser. Hence the low (approx 37%) efficiency. This is fundamental thermodynamics, not some mechanical inefficiency. Engineers get around this in industrial plants that need a lot of low pressure steam by going to "cogen". Here, the turbines are run with higher exhaust pressure (40 psi or so) and the LP steam used for process heat. The overall efficiency jumps to close to 80% as the condenser steam is now put to use istead of thrown away. A large captive use of LP steam is required to make this idea work. Accordinng to the internet, power transmission efficiency in the US averages about 93% because there are power plants all over the place and transmission distances are low.

    Engineers have been trying for decades to improve efficiency by going to supercrircal boilers, higher superheat, etc. In many cases the additional cost and problems do not justify these ideas.

    If gas is used as fuel, combined cycle gas turbines can give efficiencies well over 40%, but more equipment is required with attendent high capital cost. Open cycle gas turbines get much lower efficiency than conventional steam power plants and are cheaper. They are used for peak power as they are easy to start and stop quickly.

    If you are interested in the subject, there is much data on the internet.

  27. Paul Scott:

    If you really care about efficiency and pollution, then install a solar PV system on your roof (provided you have a viable roof for solar). I did this 10 years ago, spent $15,000 for a 3 kW PV system. Then I bought my first electric car, a Toyota RAV4 EV. I sold that EV last year when I got my Nissan LEAF, a very sophisticated and incredibly efficient car.

    My electric bill has averaged about $100 per year for both my house and car for the last decade. My PV system paid for itself last year by offsetting most of my utility bill and all of my gasoline bill. So, for the rest of my life, I get free energy from the sun.

    I have learned to hypermile pretty well. My onboard efficiency meter in the LEAF is showing for the past 500 miles an efficiency of 5.6 miles/kWh. I don't know how this fits in with the math I've seen in the previous comments, seems to me you all are making this whole calculation a lot more complex than it needs to be. Just switch to solar, buy and EV and hypermile. That way, you'll get the best efficiency and use the least amount of dirty energy possible.

  28. Hunt Johnsen:

    All the battery systems I'm aware of have a finite lifetime in terms of how many times they can be charged and discharged before they fail. This is usually less than a thousand or so cycles. I wonder how the energy required to produce and recycle the batteries affects the nominal MPG of these things? Having your Tesla "brick" on you might be expensive.

  29. Smock Puppet, 10th Dan Snark Master and CRIS Diagnostic Expert:

    >>> he supposed that transmission from the power plant to the car is 90% efficient – a figure that is almost certainly far too high.

    Actually, as Ted notes, that's not the case. I was researching this for a piece on solar power several years ago, and, indeed, 95% did seem to be the figure. I thought it would be lower, too, but apparently not.

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

    >>> I must say the folks who comment here are largely polite … which is very refreshing compared to some blogs that discuss things that are controversial.

    Oh, we can be rude. It's mainly if you're
    a) actually making a reasonable argument
    b) not restating something already clearly disproven earlier in this or another thread for the 97th time (96, eh, that's ok. 97 is RIGHT OUT) without doing anything to refute the "disproof" given earlier.
    c) providing sources for at least some of your facts, esp. those which might be more contentious or questionable.

    In other words, if you're interested in a dialogue and a comparison of information, you'll get that. If you want to monologue on your favorite topic -- multiple times -- while ignoring responses completely -- that can get rude replies.

    There's a guy who has frequented here from over on Carpe Diem, "Benny". You get a little tired of him relentlessly trying to bring his complaints about the military budget into a discussion of, oh, speaker housings. Replies to Benny can be rude sometimes, and I'd suggest they're well-deserved.

  31. HenryBowman419:

    Your Forbes article from 2010 would have been more convincing to some people had it not included the phrase "...a conversion factor of 33.7 gallons per KwH." Of course, this should have been 33.7 KwH per gallon, but the error was actually repeated later in the article. One person I knew who began reading the article immediately quit reading upon seeing this absurd phrase.