Toyota: No More Plug-In Electric Cars If Electricity Doesn't Get Cleaner (In Europe)?

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2013 Scion iQ EV hits the U.S.

2013 Scion iQ EV hits the U.S.

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European buyers waiting for an electric Toyota may have quite some time to wait--until the electric grid cleans up, basically.

That's the word from Toyota Europe, which says it wants to see cleaner electricity generation before it commits to electric vehicles.

According to Responding to Climate Change, the automaker sees "little sense" in electric vehicles if the grid powering them isn't largely supplied by renewable energy.

“We need to cooperate with the electricity providers so that what we present to the market, in its totality, is a clean solution, otherwise we’d prefer to step back,” said Toyota Europe’s head of government affairs and environmental issues, Didier Stevens.

Cars getting cleaner, energy... not so much

Toyota wants to see renewables targets in place to encourage greener generation.

Europe currently has no such targets--unlike the automobile market, which has been meeting tougher CO2 and emissions regulations every year.

There, huge gains have been made by automakers leading to cleaner-than-ever vehicles. As far as greenhouse gases are concerned, European vehicles have made much greater strides than power generation has.

That calls the viability of electric vehicles into question, when less expensive hybrid, gasoline and diesel vehicles differ little on a well-to-wheels basis.

Toyota's Stevens cites the lack of a decarbonization target in UK policy and German plans for more coal power as factors compounding the issue.

Energy mix

The former country's energy mix comprises around 40 percent gas and a third coal, with just over 3.5 percent renewables (source: DECC). Germany's overall mix is over a third oil, a tenth coal and 21 percent natural gas, with just 1.5 percent from hydro and wind (source: Wiki).

Germany buys in much of its energy however, and recent statistics show the country's own solar capacity is enough for 50 percent of peak summer demand.

Other recent numbers suggest that the overall European mix isn't too bad, however--the UK and Germany, two countries in Europe less reliant on renewables, produced less grams of CO2 per kilometer (equivalent) than did the U.S. in 2009. France and Spain were even better--among the cleanest in Europe, thanks to low-carbon nuclear power and renewables.

Electric cars: More sense in the U.S?

Studies in the U.S. have shown that even on the dirtiest grid (such as North Dakota's largely coal-based grid), electric cars are still generally cleaner until you approach 50 mpg Prius territory.

In California, where most electric cars are sold and renewable energy is in heavy use (on an individual basis as well as at grid level), you'd need a 100 mpg (or more) car before greenhouse gas outputs became lower.

wind farm

wind farm

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Based on the 2009 figures above, sourced from Shrink That Footprint, any car in the UK over 44 mpg would be cleaner than an electric car. Germany, a little more.

From this perspective, you can see Toyota's point--so many vehicles achieve those figures or more that the benefits of electrification could be called into question. Unless you live in France, of course, where the equivalent is more like 123 mpg--a figure no non-plugin car achieves.

Imperfect math

Taking a more critical gaze at the figures, it's worth noting in electric cars' favor that official European fuel economy figures are often highly optimistic, due to testing procedures that do very little to replicate real-world use.

So in the real world, an electric car is proportionally cleaner than a great many more regular vehicles. And that's on CO2 alone--there's still no competition when it comes to tailpipe emissions.

But until such testing represents real-world use--or Europe adopts greater use of renewables--the giant that is Toyota is unlikely to delve too deeply into battery electric vehicles.

[Hat tip: Brian Henderson]

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