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Electric Pickups Reduce Emissions the Most of Passenger Vehicles

Carbon emissions and air pollution will decrease as electric trucks replace sales of internal-combustion-engine pickups, according to the study by the University of Michigan and Ford Motor Co.

The finding is significant considering that Ford sold more than gas and diesel 800,000 pickups last year, and trucks are the biggest source of the automaker’s profits. Ford also has sold more internal-combustion-engine pickup trucks than any other automaker annually for more than four decades.

The major findings of the study are:

  • Replacing an internal-combustion-engine pickup with a battery-electric pickup results in a reduction of 74 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent over the vehicle’s lifetime on average.
  • While battery-electric vehicles currently have larger greenhouse gas emissions in their manufacturing than internal-combustion-engine vehicles, due to battery production, this impact is offset by savings in their operation.

“This is an important study to inform and encourage climate action. Our research clearly shows substantial greenhouse gas emission reductions that can be achieved from transitioning to electrified powertrains across all vehicle classes,” said Greg Keoleian, a professor at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability and the senior author of the report.

More Electric Pickups

The next two years will see a flurry of electric pickup truck introductions, and that’s going to be good for the environment, according to the study.

Rivian is already delivering its R1T, Ford is about to launch an electric version of its top-selling F-150. General Motors is bringing out both an electric GMC Hummer and Chevrolet Silverado. At some point, Tesla is expected to put its Cybertruck into production.

Automakers sold 2.8 million pickup trucks last year, accounting for about one out of five new vehicle sales. Depending on supply chain issues such as the continuing automotive computer chip shortage, that’s likely to grow this year as the market expands with electric trucks and small fuel-efficient pickups such as the Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz.

How Electric Pickups Reduce Emissions

Battery electric pickup trucks such as Ford’s F-150 Lightning create more greenhouse gas emissions in their manufacturing than internal-combustion-engine vehicles. That’s primarily from pollution created during battery production, according to the study.

However, the extra emissions are offset once the vehicle is in operation. That’s true for both electric sedans, SUVs and pickups. The study found that the emission gap closes to breakeven in 1.2 to 1.3 years for sedans, 1.4 to 1.6 years for SUVs, and 1.3 years for pickup trucks, based on the average U.S. grid and vehicle miles traveled.

“This hangs a bit more science on what was suspected. There are, of course, greenhouse gas emissions created from electricity generation, but not nearly as much as from gasoline over the long life of a vehicle. Presumably, power generation will become greener over time as well, so EVs are a net good choice for the environment,” said Michael Ramsey, the automotive and smart mobility at Gartner Inc.

The breakeven point for pickup trucks is about the same as sedans and shorter than SUVs. There is greater total tonnage of emissions reductions as the vehicle size increases due to the greater fuel consumption of larger vehicles.

The percentage savings is approximately the same across vehicle classes, said Max Woody, a research specialist at the university’s Center for Sustainable Systems.

Size of Electric Pickups Reduced Emissions

But the savings are more significant as electrons replace fossil fuel consumption.

The study said that replacing an internal-combustion-engine pickup with a battery-electric pickup saves 74 metric tons of carbon dioxide over the lifetime of the vehicles. That compares with 45 metric tons for a sedan and 56 metric tons for an SUV.

The researchers also looked at how emissions savings change based on climate and how electricity is produced in the region where the electric truck operates.

To address that question, the study developed maps to show the lifetime grams of carbon dioxide equivalent/mile for each internal-combustion, hybrid and battery-electric powertrains and vehicle body type by county across the United States.

“Concerns about battery-electric vehicles having higher emissions than internal-combustion-engine vehicles or hybrids are largely unfounded, as battery-electric vehicles outperform hybrids in 95 percent to 96 percent of counties, while battery-electric vehicles outperform internal-combustion-engine vehicles in 98 percent to 99 percent of counties, even assuming only modest progress towards grid decarbonization,” the study said.

Electric trucks can reduce emissions even more, depending on how and when they are charged.

Charging during the hours of the day with the lowest grid emissions intensity can reduce emissions by 11 percent on average.

“Deployment of electric vehicles and expansion of renewable energy resources like solar and wind should be done at the same time; the benefit of each is increased by the development of the other,” Woody said.

Jerry Hirsch September 13, 2021
A first ride in the 2022 Ford electric F-150 Lightning pickup reveals a truck with sports car-like acceleration, surprising agility and versatility that exceeds its internal combustion counterparts.

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