skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Clean Power plan
Safe Chemicals

Peter Lehner’s Blog

Electric Vehicles Approach Tipping Point

Peter Lehner

Posted November 18, 2013

, , , , ,
Share | | |

When the first hybrid cars hit the streets, people would point and stare, even stop owners on the street to ask questions. Was it a fad? A novelty? A toy for green enthusiasts?  Time has proven otherwise. In the first quarter of last year, the hybrid Toyota Prius was the third best-selling family car in the world. When the latest generation of plug-in electric cars hit the mass market three years ago, they evoked the same mix of reactions as hybrids did: enthusiasm, curiosity, and some skepticism. However, they’re selling at more than twice the rate at which the first widely available hybrids left dealers’ lots.


The 2014 Chevrolet Volt (photo courtesy General Motors).

Thanks to some savvy, forward-looking plans in many states across the country, electric vehicles are charging ahead. Yesterday, Charge Ahead California, a coalition of community-based, public health, and environmental groups, including NRDC, announced a campaign to place 1 million electric vehicles on California’s roads within the next 10 years. California is also part of an eight-state coalition, including  Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont, which recently agreed to work together to get 3.3 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025. And the recently signed Pacific Coast Climate Action plan, issued by the governors of California, Washington, and Oregon, and the premier of British Columbia, also calls for scaling up electric vehicle sales.

Why the push for more electric cars? Because right now, they are incontestably the cleanest vehicles we have. They’re clean because they produce zero tailpipe emissions—none. No smoke, smell, pollution, nothing coming out of the tailpipe. Eliminating tailpipe pollution is a major public health victory. In California, four out of ten people, often from low income communities of color, may face increased risks of asthma, cancer and other health hazards because they live near busy roads. By reducing pollution, electric cars, buses and trucks help create healthier communities, with less illness, fewer missed days of work and school, even longer lives. The Charge Ahead California campaign will also advocate for rebates and vouchers, ride shares, cash for old cars and other policies that will bring electric vehicles into vulnerable communities instead of merely whizzing past their doors.

Electric cars also help curb the harmful carbon pollution that is fueling more frequent and extreme storms, floods, droughts and wildfires. Several peer-reviewed studies have shown that even with today’s electric grid, manufacturing and operating an electric car today produces 30 to 50 percent less carbon emissions than conventional vehicles. Plus, unlike gas-powered cars, the same electric vehicles on the roads today will get cleaner over time, as our electric grid moves toward 100 percent clean energy.

What’s more, electric cars are appealing not just to dedicated environmentalists, but to anyone who’s ever winced about the price of gas. Driving an electric car is the equivalent to paying about $1 per gallon for gasoline. When’s the last time you saw that price at the pump? Other electric car owners simply enjoy the smooth, quiet ride, the fast acceleration, or never needing an oil change. Driving a car with a combustion engine, one blog commenter told us, in addition to being expensive, “feels smelly and crude.”

The rise of electric cars isn’t limited to the coasts. Five of the top 15 markets for the Nissan LEAF are in the South and Midwest, including Atlanta, Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago and Dallas – Ft.Worth. Atlanta actually ranks fifth in the nation for total electric car sales.

These figures are no fluke: Georgia offers generous incentives for electric cars, including access to car pool lanes in congested Atlanta, and the state’s big utility Southern Company, one of the largest in the nation, is throwing its weight behind electric vehicles. The LEAF and its batteries are manufactured in Tennessee. And in Dallas, major corporations like Texas Instruments provide convenient workplace charging for EVs.

The Northeast and West Coast states in the eight-state coalition have many similar programs in place to build out infrastructure and encourage sales. By working together, they plan to use their collective buying power to leverage good prices on big orders for state-owned electric vehicles and charging stations. Smart policies like these are expected to spur the growth of electric car sales beyond state borders, by boosting infrastructure and bringing down prices.

Electric cars have a long way to go, with only about 150,000 on the road today. But all the signs of approaching a tipping point are there. Prices are falling rapidly. GM and Nissan have reduced their prices by at least $5,000 from their first models, spurring record sales. This year, national sales are expected to increase five fold since the cars debuted in 2011. And the plan to hit 3.3 million cars by 2025 would represent a 20-fold increase from today.  As states like California and other key markets, working with the support and expertise of groups like NRDC, push to make electric cars a convenient, affordable option for consumers, the day will come when electric cars are no longer cause for rubbernecking. They’ll be just another everyday solution for cleaner air, a more stable climate, and freedom from oil.  

Share | | |


Kevin McMahonNov 18 2013 01:40 PM

Electric vehicles can play a major part in improving our economy and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. At present time, about 8 kilowatts hours of electricity are used in the full cycle production and transport of every gallon of gasoline [1]. The average US passenger vehicle uses five gallons of gasoline and thus 40 kilowatts hours of electric power to travel a distance of 100 miles. An average modern 5-person electric vehicle can travel 3.8 miles per kilowatt hour. A Nissan Leaf can travel 100 miles using only 26.3 kilowatts hours of electric power and no gas. By driving electric cars instead of our present internal combustion engine vehicles, we can simultaneously eliminate the use of gasoline and reduce our electric power use.
According to the EPA one gallon of gasoline used in a typical internal combustion engine car creates about 20 pounds of carbon dioxide. For every 100 million electric cars on the road and we can prevent 2 trillion pounds of carbon dioxide every year. This transition to an electric vehicle fleet would vastly improve our country’s energy efficiency, would reduce our reliance on foreign fossil fuel, reduce our US dollars from exiting our economy, and greatly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. It’s time to press the accelerator toward widespread electric vehicle adoption. Be the first, not the last, one on the block to make this change toward a smarter future.

[1] Peder Norby "Hidden Cost of Energy" CurrentEVents, Noverber 2011 Vol. 43 No. 11

Alex NigroNov 18 2013 08:08 PM

You guys are never going to stop your war on enjoying the drive, are you? It's depressing that the car lovers are being silenced. And to think that everyone will march in lockstep is so naive it's funny in a sad way.

KevinNov 22 2013 12:25 PM

Cindy Thanks for your opinions. Here is some more information on ICE vs EV.
Tailpipe comparison typical US auto about 20 pounds per gallon of gasoline or 22 pounds for diesel to a 100% electric vehicle on a clean grid is zero (no tailpipe).

Electric cars are roughly 3 times more fuel efficient than internal combustion engines.
Internal combustion engine efficiency see
Electric vehicle efficiency see
A clean electric grid should be our goal.

Phil MankeNov 25 2013 12:24 PM

I'm going electric even tho my Geo's get over 45mpg. Less; maintenance, pollution, oily mess, supporting highly polluting industries, noise, and when considering my current solar array will charge for free, a completely free energy source. Those who fear change will find things wrong with it, but we all must live with the decisions our thought system affords us. I am happy to choose good ideas.

KevinNov 25 2013 05:12 PM

Phil, if you haven't decided which electric car see for a electric vehicle comparison.

Comments are closed for this post.


Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

Feeds: Peter Lehner’s blog

Feeds: Stay Plugged In