The Koch brothers and their oil industry allies are saying a lot of bad things about electric vehicles. Through coordinated efforts to plant op-eds in both Conservative and Beltway media, and through other broad public-facing misinformation campaigns, they are hammering anti-EV talking points over and over and over. Problem is, these talking points are myths.
Those who benefit most from unconstrained consumption of oil and gas are saying that EVs are a niche product for the rich, that they don’t really reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and that government shouldn’t be “picking winners.” Without exception, the Koch campaign’s assault on EVs relies on cherry-picked data and arguments that are one-sided, misleading, or just plain wrong.
Fortunately, we have facts to counter the Koch’s EV myths.
The Economics of Electric Vehicles
- The EV tax credit benefits drivers of all income levels.
- Tax breaks to the oil and gas industry cost taxpayers more than the EV tax credit.
- Electric cars are cheaper to own and operate than comparable gas-powered cars.
- Many EV models available today are cheaper than the average cost of a new car.
The Electric Car Driving Experience
- Electric car ranges are practical for most American households.
- Most EV charging is done at home and public chargers are rapidly spreading.
Environmental Attributes of Electric Vehicles
- Electric cars are better for the climate, no matter how they are charged.
- Over the full life cycle of the vehicle, electric cars are greener.
- Electric car batteries don’t use rare earth metals, but do use the materials as most consumer electronics…and gas-powered cars.
- Electric car batteries can be recycled.
Plug-In Cars and the Electric Grid: Coming Soon
The Economics of Electric Vehicles
Fact: The EV tax credit benefits drivers of all income levels.
Myth: EV incentives only benefit the rich.
Explanation: This is a favorite of the Koch network and oil industry, and was featured prominently in a Koch Industries’ full page advertorial in The Hill: “Or the tax credits (up to $7,500) the government offers to consumers who purchase hybrid and electric vehicles. Such credits may seem enticing to the general public, but the reality is that 90 percent of the beneficiaries come from the top income bracket.”
This is deceptive and inaccurate framing that has been widely used in anti-EV arguments. To support the point, some cite a study by the Congressional Research Service (though most make the claim without any reference), which describes how in 2016, 57,066 individual taxpayers claimed $375 million in plug-in vehicle tax credits. Of these 57,066, 78% have an adjusted gross income of $100,000 or more.
Others cite older data from 2014 IRS filings that was promoted in a recent Pacific Research Institute study.
Both references ignore the significant role leases play in the EV market. Through 2017, the vast majority of EVs were leased—a full 80% of non-Tesla EVs and still well more than half of all EVs including Tesla, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. In 2016, while 57,066 individuals claimed the EV tax credit, 158,614 plug-in vehicles were newly registered, meaning that more than 100,000 (nearly two-thirds) were leased. After a dealer claims the $7,500 tax credit, it is applied as a rebate at the point of sale and reduces the monthly lease payments, making EVs more affordable.
- InsideEVs, on why leases can’t be ignored and how they make EVs affordable to all income classes: “The Hill Contributor Claims Electric Car Tax Credits Benefit The ‘Elite’“
- National Center for Sustainable Transportation, on how the average income of households that purchase any new vehicle—plug-in or gasoline powered—is in the top income bracket, and the relative affordability of EVs: “The Dynamics of Plug-in Electric Vehicles in the Secondary Market and Their Implications for Vehicle Demand, Durability, and Emissions” (2018)
Fact: Tax breaks to the oil and gas industry cost taxpayers more than the EV tax credit.
Myth: The federal government is picking winners and only subsidizing cars that few drive.
Explanation: The cost of the EV tax credit is a tiny fraction of the lost tax revenue that results from permanent tax breaks to the oil and gas industry. In his 2018 study for the Manhattan Institute, Jonathan Lesser argues that the EV tax credit is costing the U.S. treasury hundreds of millions. To be precise, in 2017, this total was $670 million. However, according to the treasury’s own figures, oil and gas subsidies and tax credits cost $4.7 billion annually.
If Congress repealed just nine tax breaks commonly used by oil and gas companies, as the Center for American Progress has calculated, the U.S. Treasury would save an average of $3.7 billion every year.
- Center for American Progress: “It Is Time to Phase Out 9 Unnecessary Oil and Gas Tax Breaks“
- Wall Street Journal: “Does the Oil and Gas Industry Still Need Tax Breaks?“
Fact: Electric cars are cheaper to own and operate than comparable gas-powered cars.
Myth: Electric cars are expensive “toys for millionaires.”
Explanation: While EVs tend to have higher upfront costs to purchase, that premium is more than offset by savings on fuel and maintenance. A study published in the journal Applied Energy in 2018 compared the total cost of ownership (TCO) of conventional gas-powered vehicles, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and all electric vehicles in Texas, California, the United Kingdom, and Japan.
Using model year 2015 vehicles of comparable classes, over a project 5-year span, the all electric vehicles were the cheapest to own and operate in all regions.
Fuel costs represent the largest operating costs of driving a vehicle, and the relative savings of switching from gasoline to electricity are considerable. Even when comparing gas prices in the low $2 range and above average electricity rates, the cost per mile for fueling an EV is considerably cheaper than fueling a gas-powered vehicle, according to analysis by the Idaho National Laboratory.
- Applied Energy: “Total cost of ownership and market share for hybrid and electric vehicles in the UK, US and Japan” (2018)
- Guardian: “Electric cars are already cheaper to own and run, says study” (2019)
- Idaho National Laboratory: “Comparing Energy Costs per Mile for Electric and Gasoline-Fueled Vehicles“
Fact: Many EV models available today are cheaper than the average cost of a new car
Myth: Electric cars are only luxury vehicles.
Explanation: Carbuyers can currently (as of February 2019) find at least 23 plug-in models that cost less than the average cost of a new car sold in the United States.
According to the Kelley Blue Book, as of September 2018, the average cost of a new car (or light vehicle) sold in the United States was $35,742. Ten all electric vehicles and 13 plug-in hybrids are currently available in the U.S. for less than that cost, including SUVs, a minivan, crossovers, hatchbacks, and the Tesla 3.
- PlugInCars.com: “Compare Electric Cars and Plug-in Hybrids By Features, Price, Range“
The Electric Car Driving Experience
Fact: Electric car ranges are practical for most American households
Myth: Electric vehicles are impractical, and the average driver can’t rely on them.
Explanation: A full 69% of American drivers travel less than 60 miles on weekdays, which is well within the range of most EVs. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a car in a one vehicle household is driven roughly 30 miles per day; in two- and three-car households, the most-used car is driven approximately 43 miles per day.
The Union of Concerned Scientists and Consumers Union conducted a study in 2013 and factored access to charging, hauling needs, and passenger capacity — and found that 42% of American households could rely on an EV as their only vehicle. In the six years since, average EV ranges have expanded significantly, meaning even more households could rely dependably on a plug-in car. When you consider that an American household averages two cars, its clear that replacing one with an EV is more than practical.
- Union of Concerned Scientists: “Infographic: Millions of Americans Could Use an Electric Vehicle“
Fact: Most EV charging is done at home and public chargers are rapidly spreading
Myth: Electric cars take too long to charge.
Explanation: According to the Department of Energy, more than 80% of all EV charging is done at home. Another study by the Center for Automotive Research found that in 2018, “about 90% of U.S. EV owners charge at-home overnight.” Thus, the typical EV driver starts every day with a “full tank” and won’t need to worry about charging in public.
There were 61,190 public charging points in more than 21,000 locations throughout the United States as of February 2019. Increasingly, DC fast charging stations—which can add 100 miles of range in barely more time than it would take to fill a gas tank—are coming online for the rare occasions that an EV driver does need to fuel up fast away from home or work.
- FleetCarma: “DC Fast Charging Guide“
Environmental Attributes of Electric Vehicles
Fact: Electric cars are better for the climate, no matter how they are charged
Myth: EVs are charged on fossil fuels, so there’s no climate benefit.
Explanation: For all Americans, plugging in anywhere in the United States, the average new EV produces far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the average new gasoline car.
Conclusive research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) found that in 2018, carbon dioxide emissions from battery-powered vehicles were about 40 percent lower than for internal combustion engines last year. Even in regions with electric grids most reliant on coal, such as China, EVs were responsible for fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Furthermore, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, who conducted a landmark “well-to-wheel” life cycle analysis of electric vehicles.
It’s true that the emissions from charging an EV will vary considerably depending on where you plug in. But as this UCS map shows, charing an EV off of the dirtiest grids in the country (in and around Colorado and Kansas) yield global warming pollutions equivalent to driving a 35 mile-per-gallon gasoline-powered car.
In California, where over 40% of the nation’s EVs have been sold, driving an EV produces emissions equal to a gasoline car that achieves 87 mpg.
- Bloomberg: “Electric Cars Are Cleaner Even When Powered by Coal“
- UCS: “How Clean Is Your Electric Vehicle?“
Fact: Over the full life cycle of the vehicle, electric cars are greener
Myth: Producing EVs is worse for the climate than producing cars with internal combustion engines.
Explanation: While true that building an electric car produces more emissions than a conventional gasoline-powered car, mostly because of battery production, these emissions are dwarfed by those saved over the driving life of the EV.
Again, we turn to the UCS’s life cycle analysis: “the average EV in the U.S. produces less global warming emissions than the average gasoline vehicle. The peer-reviewed literature largely agrees: EVs produce more pollution than gas vehicles in the production of the vehicle, but then save emissions while driving which results in a net savings within the first couple years of driving.”
Fact: Electric car batteries don’t use rare earth metals, but do use the materials as most consumer electronics…and gas-powered cars.
Myth: EV batteries are dirty and dangerous and full of rare earth metals.
Explanation: Many EV critics will portray the electric battery as toxic and dependent on a number of rare earth metals mined from conflict regions. It is true that cobalt and lithium are widely used in many EV batteries, however neither are rare earth metals.
This isn’t to say they aren’t problematic — cobalt mining in particular is plagued by some very serious environmental and labor problems, as documented in in-depth reports by Amnesty International and the Washington Post. But these problems are economy-wide. Cobalt is used widely in the lithium-ion batteries that power most cell phones and laptops. There’s no question that lithium-ion battery manufacturers have to clean up their supply chains, but that’s something that Apple and Panasonic and Samsung are as responsible for as Tesla and Ford and General Motors.
Finally, some critics will claim that EVs are dependent on cerium, most of which comes from China. In reality, only some hybrids use cerium in their nickel metal hydride batteries, but it is also dusted onto every catalytic converter fitted into any internal combustion vehicle.
- HybridCars.com: “Oil Lobbyist’s Video Takes Cheap Shots At Electric Cars“
- DeSmog: “Koch-funded Group, Fueling US Forward, Echoes America Rising Squared in Misleading Attack on Electric Cars“
- DeSmog: “America Rising Squared Report Bashes EVs for Using Same Rare Earth Metals as Gas-Powered Cars”
Fact: Electric vehicle batteries can be recycled and repurposed
Myth: EV batteries are a toxic environmental nightmare waiting to happen.
Explanation: Even though lithium-ion batteries, the most common EV battery, are designated landfill-safe, there’s no good reason that they ever have to wind up there. EV batteries can and should be recycled, the lithium — currently in very high demand for laptops and phones and countless electronics — extracted for re-use.
Even more promising is the concept of reusing the batteries themselves for other applications. A battery considered “done” for electric vehicle use still has about 75-80% of its capacity, and can be used for home energy storage or for grid storage applications. Nissan and General Motors are already partnering with companies and utilities to explore options for EV battery afterlives.
The Best EV Mythbusting
- InsideEVs: Top 10 Most Common Electric Car Myths Busted
- Undecided With Matt Ferrell: Electric Cars: Myths vs. Facts