At a time when most major companies are working on plans to cut their carbon emissions, one of the darlings of
green investing is working to increase its emissions footprint. You read that right. Thanks to its explosive expansion in China and a planned car plant in India, Tesla Inc is in the process of not just increasing the total sum of its emissions — a pretty inevitable consequence of growth in our current carbonised world — but increasing the amount of pollution each of its vehicles generates, too.
That’s because carmakers’ emissions aren’t just a product of the energy consumed in their factories — they’re a result of the pollution their products pump out while they’re being driven around. Thanks to all the gasoline and diesel that gets burned over the lifetime of the cars they sell, Volkswagen AG is responsible for more greenhouse gases than oil producer Total SE. Toyota Motor Corp’s footprint exceeds that of BP Plc Cummins Inc, which makes engines for commercial vehicles, has a higher total than Exxon Mobil Corp.
Electric vehicles like those sold by Tesla are at a substantial advantage on that front. As my colleagues Liam Denning and Elaine He have written, they’re so much more efficient in converting produced energy into vehicle power that even in coal-heavy grids like China’s they’re more efficient than the gasoline equivalent.
The differences from one country to another are substantial. Take the lifecycle emissions calculator produced by Transport &
Environment, a European non-profit dedicated to zero-carbon transport. A current-model large car with a battery produced and charged in an average European Union country emits about 88 grams of CO2 per kilometer, compared to 284 grams for a petrol-powered equivalent. In a country with a low-carbon grid like Sweden or France, that drops to 50 grams or less.
If you use a proxy for a high-emissions grid like those in China or India, though, the picture changes substantially. A car with its battery made in China and charged up in Poland, where coal makes up about two-thirds of the electricity
mix as it does in China and India, puts out 193 grams per kilometre.