Electric cars not 'emissions free', says watchdog

Caroline Cassidy

The manufacturers of electric cars would have us believe that their vehicles are entirely emission free but they are not being entirely truthful.

Electric cars not 'emissions free'
Electric cars not 'emissions free'

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An investigation by consumer watchdog Which? found that the carbon dioxide (CO2) used to generate the electricity (much of which is produced via traditional non-renewable fossil fuels) needed to power these eco-friendly cars is not a million miles away from that produced by a standard motor.

The Which? experts compared the CO2 created by charging electric cars with the emissions from the most efficient diesel cars on the market - their conclusion? "Sometimes there's not a great deal of difference."

And as the makers of conventional cars battle to cut emissions from the internal combustion engine, the gap between the two is narrowing.

As part of their research, Which? tested three of the first electric cars due to hit the UK with three "efficient" standard vehicles.

The electric Smart Fortwo was found to create the "equivalent" (based on the electricity needed to charge it) of 84g of CO2 per kilometre driven, while the diesel version emitted 103g.

Meanwhile the electrically-powered Nissan Leaf used 81g per kilometer as compared to the VW Golf 1.6 TDi Bluemotion's 108g.

But while both electric and standard motors were responsible for similar levels of CO2, the price difference is considerably wider. For example, the electric Smart Fortwo is expected to cost in the region of £21,000 as opposed to the diesel version which costs just £9,540.

The Which? report stated: "The common manufacturer claim that electric cars produce 'zero emissions' ignores the fact that most drivers use a conventional electricity supply to charge them, which has a carbon cost from burning fossil fuels."

However, electric cars still represent a much greener way to travel since they do not produce CO2 emissions from the exhaust.

Which? Car editor Richard Headland told the Daily Mail: "We applaud car makers' efforts to create greener cars - but we don't agree with their 'zero emissions' claims. Until more electricity is produced from renewable sources in the UK, the carbon footprint of driving an electric car may not be as small as owners think."

What do you think? Would you swap your standard car for an electric alternative? Leave a comment below...