2020 Tesla Model Y

It Takes 66,379 Miles for an Electric Car to Have Lower Emissions Than Hybrid

Tesla Model Y On A Closed Course

The upcoming Tesla Model Y. Photo: Tesla

In 2020, Tesla is expected to release the Model Y, a battery-electric hatchback “SUV” that will compete with the recently announced Ford Mustang Mach-E and other crossover-type electric fastbacks.

Putting aside all the arguments why electric cars will not save the planet in general, let’s explore whether these new family wagons are even better than the environment than a comparable hybrid car.

As the benchmark for the hybrid hatchback, I will use my 2015 Toyota Prius, which gets about 45 miles per gallon in mixed driving. I will also use the comparison of the 2020 Toyota Prius Prime, which gets 54 miles per gallon in hybrid mode.

Profile shot of a Ford Mustang Mach E Premium driving along a two lane mountain highway

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E. Photo: Ford

For electrics, I will use the long-range versions of the announced Model Y and Mach-E. The Model Y is reported to have a 75 kilowatt-hour battery and range of 300 miles with rear-wheel drive only. The Mach-E can be configured to have a 99 kilowatt-hour battery and range of 300 miles, again with rear-wheel drive.

There are a set of assumptions when making calculations.

First, for gasoline motor cars, is what the emissions for burning gasoline are. According to the Energy Department’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, this is about 23.5 pounds (10.66 kilograms) for the “full fuel cycle (well to wheels)”, using an estimate from a 2015 study.

2020 Prius Prime. Photo: Toyota

Second, for electric motor cars, is the emissions from generating electricity. For Xcel Energy, that was 0.857 pounds (388.73 grams) per kilowatt-hour for its energy mix in the Upper Midwest in 2018.

Next are assumptions for the carbon emissions from producing a vehicle. Much thanks goes to the YouTube channel Engineering Explained, which has a video explaining these calculations. The studies they find create a range of possibilities for emissions. The median estimate for the vehicle without a battery is about 10 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, while the median estimate for a 100 kilowatt-hour battery is about 11.75 tonnes.

Thus, for each of the vehicles, the rough estimates for each model’s production emissions and emissions per mile create a spectrum of options.

2015 Toyota Prius 2020 Toyota Prius Prime 2020 Tesla Model Y 2021 Ford Mach-E
Emissions per mile (g) 236.88 197.40 104.12 128.28
Emissions vehicle (t) 10 10 10 10
Emissions battery (t) 0 1.034 8.8125 11.6325
Production emissions (t) 10 11.034 18.8125 21.6325

Here is that formula plotted on a graph going to 100,000 miles of driving.

Comparison Of Hatchback Emissions

As you can see, the 2015 Prius has the lowest lifetime emissions until 26,190 miles, when it is passed by the 2020 Prius Prime. The Model Y passes the 2015 Prius at 66,379 miles and the 2020 Prius Prime at 83,389 miles, just under the 100,000-mile Tesla drivetrain and battery warranty. Over the course of 100,000 miles, the Mach-E keeps its title for highest lifetime emissions, only passing the 2015 Prius at 107,113 miles, after the 100,000-mile Ford battery warranty has expired.

Solar can reduce emissions of electric cars.

Solar can reduce emissions of electric cars. Photo: Xcel Energy

These numbers can and will change with time. One major factor is the energy generation mix that powers electric cars. Until recently, it was possible to purchase 100-percent renewable electricity through Xcel’s  Renewable*Connect program, but that program is fully subscribed and not accepting new customers. If options for renewable electricity in Minnesota do become available, it would make electric cars much more competitive with traditional hybrids. Assuming the power source is emissions-free, the Model Y overtakes the 2015 Prius after only 37,202 miles and the 2020 Prius Prime after 39,405 miles.

What are your wheels? How are you reducing your carbon footprint? Share your experiments and discoveries in the comments.feature

30 thoughts on “It Takes 66,379 Miles for an Electric Car to Have Lower Emissions Than Hybrid

  1. Joey SenkyrJoey Senkyr

    While Xcel’s Renewable*Connect program is currently fully subscribed, the Windsource program also allows customers to purchase 100% renewable energy, and is still available for sign-ups, and most counties have available community solar options as well. There’s still multiple ways to make sure your electricity consumption is 100% carbon-free.

  2. Scott Berger

    Thanks for the write-up. Lots to discuss here.

    First, the Prius is a much smaller vehicle than the Mach-E or TMY. Better comp is the TM3 or Hyundai Kona Electric. Lighter and smaller (battery-electric vehicles) BEVs are generally more efficient and less wasteful to produce. Bear in mind that small, light gas burners are also a lot less polluting than a large CUV/SUV.

    Second, as you alluded to, a common anti-BEV talking point is the energy production mix. While a valid point at this moment, it is inarguable now that renewables are replacing coal and other power plants as they age out. It’s simply cheaper to do so.

    Third, you neglect to mention that BEVs are both likely to be longer lasting, and that BEV batteries are easily recyclable or can be reused as home-based battery units once they have diminished capacity.

    Fourth, many BEV owners, like my brother, invested in a solar array at home, which can easily charge your vehicle directly, particularly if you have one of the aforementioned batteries in your home.

    Nevertheless, the enthusiast BEV crowd all too often forgets that walking, biking, and public transit are still the gold standard for being “green.”

    I recommend the Fully Charged Show if you want more information on electric cars.

    1. Mark

      Well said, Scott.

      Battery technology is going to continue to evolve and get better. Tesla recently patented a battery for their vehicles that would last at least 1 million miles. Even after 4,000 discharge cycles the battery would still have 90% of its original capacity. The application potential is huge, battery technology like that making its way to buses could lead to massive savings due to increased bus life expectancy. Those savings could easily lead to more routes & buses, which MSP sorely needs.

  3. Mathias Mortenson

    This is a great article. I agree with Scott that the gold standard is walking or biking. But I also agree that the anti-BEV stance is overly dismissive. The energy production mix is obviously trending in ways that will make these calculations considerably different in even just a few years. Additionally, I’m wondering whether the .857 lbs/kWh takes into account the significant amount of hydro Xcel purchases from Manitoba. My understanding is that state regulations don’t allow this to be calculated as a renewable.

  4. Monte Castleman

    A few comments:

    There’s a good chance Toyota and Tesla batteries will last 200,000 miles. Not so for Honda and Ford. This from a guy my stepfather knows that refurbishes battery packs.

    The Prius and Tesla Y are not the same market. If you’re buying a Y, chances are you would’t buy a Prius because it doesn’t fit your needs for hauling people and/or stuff. Nor is either the target market for the Mustang. A better comparison would be the Y with one of the hybrid crossover, or even pure gasoline crossovers on the market now.

  5. Conrad ZbikowskiConrad

    A factoid to add in from what I have learned: According to Tesla, the number one vehicle that people are switching from when they buy a Tesla (currently 80 percent Model 3) is a Toyota Prius. I understand there is a huge performance difference and other things to consider, but in sales, these two brands are very tied together.

    1. Jonathan Peterson

      Buyers in general are moving away from smaller sedan type vehicles like the Prius. Those going from a Prius to a BEV larger than the Prius, would likely have gone to a larger hybrid or 100% ICE in the BEV’s absence. So one really needs to compare similar sized vehicles.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        We really need policy to stop the creep toward ever large vehicles. From space efficiency to safety (SUV are disproportionately deadly the people walking), it’s a really bad “trend.”

        1. Mark

          Realistically the move towards BEV will help that. Your design parameters aren’t constrained by the need to allocate 4-5′ for an engine compartment. Additionally safety is slightly improved for BEV since the batteries are on the bottom making them significantly less likely to roll over plus it increases handling capabilities. Obviously that doesn’t help when one hits a pedestrian, but there are additional benefits to BEVs that should be recognized.

  6. Eric

    Since the expectation is the these cars will last longer than 66k miles, wouldn’t a more accurate headline be “All-in, Electric cars have lower emissions than even hybrids”

    1. Mark

      Absolutely. Outside of an accident there is no expectation that any of these cars would reach end of life by 66k miles, nor would they magically fall apart 1 mile after the warranty expires.

        1. Mark

          And yet the old vehicle still works and will likely be purchased by someone wanting to replace an even older vehicle that is likely ICE powered. That ICE vehicle may be at end of life and head to the junkyard, thus moving us one step closer to removing ICE vehicles from the road.

          Either way the point remains that the original vehicle in question doesn’t magically stop working at 66k miles and the title could have been worded better.

          1. Monte Castleman

            Now that vehicles (American pickup trucks and Toyota / Honda cars anyway) can last 250,000 miles there’s a hot market for 100,000 mile plus cars because buying one of those and driving it into the ground is by far the cheapest way to drive. I think there’s only one or two on my stepfather’s lot that are under 100,000 miles. Only one of the four cars I’ve driven I got when under that, and that one not by much, definately over 66,379.

            1. Eric

              EVs aren’t what make buyers want a new car every 5 years, that is their desire to be driving a new car. When the owner of an EV decides to get another new EV after 5 years that original car doesn’t go away, it goes into the used market and pushes what is very likely to be an old ICE car out of the system. Seems like a plus.

              It’s just like when luxury apartments are built. Many of our fellow urbanists will sneer at them and (rightly point out that we need housing further down the price ladder), but the new buildings increase supply and push nicer multi-family dwelling down the housing ladder to where we need it. Seems good to me.

  7. Owen Harald Morgan

    Another important difference is that even though electric vehicles sone times run on electricity generated from fossil fuels, a large generator running at constant RPM pollutes far less for the same amount of energy than thousands of ICEs running at varying RPM and that the pollution is not local to where our children breathe.

    And, my electric vehicle now has 76000 miles on it and still drives like new. More than one owner has well over 150000 on the original brakes…

  8. Mike

    So at the end of the day, what it comes down to is the all EV has a large up-front hit due to large battery production, but a lower emission rate per mile than a hybrid. So you start out “in the hole” and work your way out with lower rates per year of driving. this assumes the production for the cars themselves remain comparable.

    As the technology for electricity production continues to add more renewables to the mix, and battery technology (lithium sulpher for example or some of the promises by Tesla for a 1M mile battery achieved with some additives to the traditional Lithium-Ion chemistry) improve these cross-over points will occur at lower and lower milage points. I think when looking at a durable good like an automobile many of which we keep for 7-10 years you need to look forward to these improvements as well.

    1. Andrew Evans

      Well and a larger emissions hit when the battery needs to be replaced.

      At some point they will be greener than a decent ICE car getting decent mileage, right now they aren’t quite there. With the next few generations of batteries and another 10 years they will be there, and in 10-20 years we won’t be buying normal ICE vehicles.

      The benefit to one right now, or one of the main ones, is that someone wouldn’t need to go to the gas station. For me a smaller EV would take $20-30 in gas, over the $70-80 I’m paying in the Jetta to commute. The same would be true for the $150-180 I spend commuting in the 911.

      1. Scott Berger

        You say there is a “larger emissions hit when the battery needs to be replaced” This is a common misconception that shouldn’t be repeated erroneously.

        BEV batteries are not only reusable (best) but are also readily remade and recycled into new batteries when the time comes.

        Are you factoring in the 8-9 qt. synthetic oil changes in your 911 commuting costs? Even changing my own 911’s oil/filter is big time bucks. Commuting costs are not even close when all maintenance is factored in.

        1. Andrew Evans

          I’m not repeating it erroneously, unless there are some recent articles and studies I’m not aware of.

          With a quick search “replacing ev batteries environmental impact” it seems this is the best article to your point – https://www.fleetcarma.com/electric-vehicle-batteries-reused-recycled/ with most of the ones landing along the lines I did.

          I’m sure as the batteries mature and re-use is built in more that they will either last longer and none of this will be an issue. I’m just not sure we’re at the point in time now where that is the case.

          Sure, with our cars emissions is a little more one sided. However with current lifespan of battery packs and/or replacement a regular ICE car with decent mileage (like my Jetta when new) will be around the same or in somewhat the same ballpark as an EV.

          My oil changes are around $60, doing it myself. Sure it’s enough to complain about but not really a lot considering that’s what I signed up for with the car.

  9. Chuck Ray

    Thanks for the analysis Conrad. I had reached a similar conclusion abotu Xcel’s grid in Colorado a few years ago when I bought and electric Fiat. It came down to lower fuel costs (~$2.50/100mi electric or 95mi/egal) and greening grid (55% renewable in 2026). Of course I’ve picked up a Toyo hybrid since, for long range. What’s interesting to consider going forward is plug-in hybrid vs electric. 95% of miles on early Volts where electric. With plug-in you still take advantage of renewable energy -locally sourced- and even lower costs. As such, the only reason to get hybrid is to overcome range anxiety and that all starts changing in a significant way around 2025. My point is that we need the entire populace to become comfortable with electric drive because we need net zero transportation across the board in the next couple of decades. 2030 goals look to be about 50M EV on the road in 2030; we can get half way there based on current high adoption (YoY 2019/2018 saw a down turn in market share yikes!), and we need to make up the other half through VMT reduction… as you all are doing!

    1. Monte Castleman

      I really wanted the Volt to succeed as it seemed like an excellent concept. A sedan doesn’t meet my needs (or that of a lot of other people considering how much that market is declining) but I could see myself able to buy a parallel hybrid crossover SUV some day.

      Besides being a sedan instead of something more versatile, I think the issue wasn’t that the technology was bad, it was marketed incorrectly. It looked like any other sedan and didn’t scream “I’m driving a hybrid” like the Prius does and marketing it as an “extended range electric” confused people.

      1. Andrew Evans

        They will get their. All of the major European luxury companies are starting to bring in mainstream EV vehicles and charging stations. I don’t follow racing that closely but iirc there has been electric bike racing on Isle of Man for around 10 years or more now, and for the past handful of years or so there has been Formula E. Not to mention Tesla and the hype or marking they are putting into the EV market.

        It’s coming, we’re (obviously) closer now than 10 years ago, although it could be moving faster.

        I’m sure cheaper gas plays a part of this. However, again as more of a casual consumer, I’m not sure we have the same level of EV cars that we did 10 years ago, or the same range. I made the comment before, but I spend about $70-80 commuting with the Jetta, and that could drop down to $20-30 with a EV. Roll that into a $15k used car, and I’m set. I don’t consider myself that unique, so I’d assume that there are others like me looking to get into an EV as soon as our current vehicle dies or when it makes sense. Unlike my partner, I don’t really want to commute in a larger truck or SUV and would feel just fine in a (normal) small car.

        So I give it another 5-10 years. I also will be willing to bet most will transition to EV due to gas and economic reasons rather than environmental – which may work into your marketing comment.

        IMO my .02

        1. Andrew Evans

          A few edits…

          Ooopsies on the first “their”

          I should add that we didn’t also have the current used market that we did 10 years ago and that I believe (someone correct me if I’m wrong) that prices of EV’s have gone down a little.

          1. Monte Castleman

            Well, 10 years ago we had Cash 4 Clunkers which created an artificial shortage of inexpensive used cars (hurting poor people by doing so). If your car is worth $1000, you would instead get $4500 for it to be destroyed rather than sell it to someone else for $1000 who would make us of it and drive it into the ground. The market has recovered quite a bit since then.

            I don’t doubt electric vehicles that fit my needs will eventually come (road trip capable, AWD, crossover form factor). I do doubt that in 5-10 years ICE vehicles are going to be so undesirable that we’ll have to pay to have them hauled away, even those a couple of years old at the time, a prediction some people are seriously making.

            1. Andrew Evans

              I’m glad I don’t seem to hang around in your circle of friends where you have people seriously making that prediction, parties and events must be fun for you!

              I’m just the optmist that feels that in 5-10 years (maybe the perpetual 5 years from now) we will see a shift in new car production towards EV. The used market for them will only get better, and choosing an EV or better hybrid for those of us commuters or city dwellers may be way more mainstream than it is now – especially for those of us privileged enough to afford it or who view it as a choice.

              Again, the larger luxury and sport brands are working on EV. Porsche’s first production EV (I don’t follow racing so not sure if they are in Formula E, I think so) did this – https://newsroom.porsche.com/en/2019/products/porsche-taycan-record-nuerburgring-nordschleife-18440.html more notably 3,425 km in 24 hours. The km in 24 hours will only get better as technology goes on. Let’s just say money isn’t an issue, my partner and I would have an EV if it could do 4-5 hours of straight driving, or need a 30 min stop mid way to top off. The technology is either starting to get there, or not that far off, and it will get better.

              As a side note my model 911 (996, I’m cheap) lapped the Nürburgring in 8:17, the Taycan did it in 7:42. Although some may still hold out for ICE cars, I doubt there will be much love lost in the normal every day performance crowd (i.e. most who would buy a Porsche) when you can walk into a 4 door car that is comfortable and that can be a lot of fun on track days. Tesla seems to have ran a time of 7:13 or 7:23.

              Maybe I’m not as rosy eyed as some in your circles are making, but I don’t doubt that a traditional ICE engine for consumer vehicles will be obsolete (on the new market) in 10-15 years, and very mainstream in 5-10 years.

  10. Ralf Thomsen

    Shouldn’t we also be figuring in the emissions for building and operating all those fighter planes and aircraft carriers which are not optional when our nation is addicted to oil when making this comparison?

  11. Nick

    Even though the 2015 Toyota Prius is not a plug-in hybrid, it does have a battery to store the energy collected from braking. The 2015 Prius XW30 has a 1.3 kWh battery. Small compared to the Tesla, but this does move the break-even point from 66000 to 55000 miles.

    (I’m not steeped in the hybrid/e-car community so please feel free to correct me on any factual, or arithmetic, errors.)

    Regardless, this post feels to me that it is asking all the wrong questions.

    As other commenters noted, the headline is misleading. All that matters is that the break-even point is well inside of the cars’ lifespan. The Tesla beats out the hybrid after just 20-30% of the lifespan, and that’s a big win for the Telsa, not the Prius. What’s more, the salient point is the lifetime emissions: at 200,000 miles, two Teslas have the footprint of three hybrid 2015 hybrid Prius’s.

    If you had charted a traditional 20 MPG vehicle as well, the difference between the hybrid and the plug-in starts to look negligible. At 200,000 miles and 20 MPG, a traditional car consumes the carbon footprint of two hybrids or three teslas.

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