We all know that electric cars have zero tailpipe emissions, but the claim that electric cars move the pollution from the tailpipe to the power station chimney has long been a cornerstone of arguments against the electric car. 

But in an unusually candid moment at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show, Nissan Executive Vice-President Andy Palmer spoke out against such claims. 

According to Palmer, the idea that electric cars pollute as much or more than gasoline cars is nothing more than bovine by-product.

“I think it’s complete bull$#!%,” Palmer explained. “First of all, if you talk about tank-to-tank, the amount of CO2 consumed from creating the electricity to getting it to the car -- is it zero emissions? The answer is no, you consume carbon energy in creating the energy, and that’s true.”

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

Tackling the topic head on, Palmer admitted that while a Nissan Leaf powered entirely from electricity generated at a coal-fired power station would emit less carbon emissions than a traditional gasoline car and more than a hybrid car, there wasn’t a single country in the world where 100 percent of electrical energy was generated from coal. 

In other words, a 100-percent coal-powered Nissan Leaf was impossible given the energy generation mixes in the world today.

“If you look across the world as a whole, by far the lease emitting means when we talk about creation-to-use, electric cars are the lowest of the CO2 burners,” he explained. 

Although Palmer was keen to point out that electric cars pollute less than most other cars on the road today, he admitted that there was some way to go before most grid-charged electric cars were completely zero emissions. 

“Now, what we try to do is we try to talk to governments to say ‘how about cleaning up the generation of electricity, how about using more clean, more sustainable energy rather than going with coal burning’. The more they clean up electricity, the more compelling the story is behind the electric car.”

“I think it’s far to say that in every case, an electric car emits less CO2 than an internal combustion engine,” he finished. 

Given the number of early adopting electric car fans who drive their plug-in cars solely on renewable energy generated from domestic solar panels or wind turbines, we’d have to agree. 


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