Light-duty vehicles like sedans, trucks, and SUVs account for 58 percent of emissions in the U.S. transportation sector. However, 14 percent of U.S. light-duty vehicle sales in 2020 consisted of pickup trucks like the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, and Ram 1500, and 79percent of the 15 million light vehicles sold in the U.S. last year were pickup trucks.
With an ever-growing demand for larger SUVs and light-duty trucks, Ford Motor Company and the University of Michigan began a study to evaluate how electric trucks will affect the decarbonization of the transport industry.
“This study can help us to understand the potential impact of electrification from an emissions-reduction perspective, mainly as we introduce new electric vehicles, and how we can continue to accelerate our progress towards carbon neutrality,” explained Cynthia Williams, global director of sustainability, homologation, and compliance at Ford.
The new study, aptly named “the role of pickup truck electrification in the decarbonization of light-duty vehicles,” evaluates the savings in greenhouse gas emissions of EV trucks compared to fossil fuel-powered light-duty vehicles. To do this, researchers from the University of Michigan and Ford conducted a cradle-to-grave lifecycle assessment of pickup trucks. The researchers then compared the implications of pickup truck electrification to sedan and SUV electrification.
“This study expands upon previous studies that have focused on comparing battery-electric vehicle sedans to their internal combustion engine or hybrid counterparts,” said Professor Greg Keoleian, senior study author and director of the U-M Center for Sustainable Systems. “We report emissions for vehicle production, use, and end-of-life stages on a per-mile basis and over the total vehicle lifetime.”
In addition, researchers looked at three various 2020 model year powertrain options to evaluate greenhouse gas emissions. The list includes conventional internal combustion engines, hybrid-electric, and battery-electric midsize sedans, midsize SUVs, and full-size trucks. “We analyzed the regional variation in emissions considering differences in electricity grid mixes and ambient temperatures, and we also explored the effects of the rate of decarbonization on emission reduction,” Keoleian added.
The research shows that switching from an internal combustion engine to an EV results in more significant emissions reductions as the vehicle size increases. For instance, switching from a gasoline-powered to an all-electric sedan saves 45 metric tons of carbon-dioxide emissions, while replacing your gas-powered SUV with an all-electric variant saves 56 metric tons of CO2. But for pickup trucks, the study shows a 74 percent reduction in CO2 by switching from gas to electric.
Furthermore, the study has shown that battery-electric vehicles produce more greenhouse gas emissions during the manufacturing process than a gasoline counterpart, which is mainly due to the cumbersome battery packs. However, the absence of CO2 during vehicle operation is enough to offset the emissions produced in manufacturing the car. Based on the average U.S. grid and vehicle miles traveled, EV buyers can recoup the added cost of EVs in 1.2 to 1.3 years for sedans, 1.4 to 1.6 years for SUVs, and 1.3 years for pickup trucks.
Emissions-wise, the study has also shown that concerns about battery-electric vehicles having higher emissions than gas-powered cars or hybrids are “largely unfounded.” Considering different temperatures, drive cycles, and local electricity grid emissions by county across the U.S., the study proves that battery-electric vehicles outperform hybrids in 95 to 96 percent of counties. Moreover, electric cars outperform gasoline cars in 98 to 99 percent of counties, assuming modest progress towards decarbonizing the grid.
Finally, the study reveals that charging a battery-electric vehicle in the daytime (particular hours of the day with the lowest grid emissions intensity) can further reduce emissions by an average of 11 percent. “Deployment of electric vehicles and expansion of renewable energy resources like solar and wind should be done at the same time,” concluded Max Woody, study first author and research specialist at the Center for Sustainable Systems. “The benefit of each is increased by the development of the other.”
Other authors of the study include Parth Vaishnav of the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability and Center for Sustainable Systems and Robert De Kleine, Hyung Chul Kim, James E. Anderson, and Timothy J. Wallington of Ford Motor Company’s Research and Innovation Center.