Automakers in the United States are now betting on electric vehicles (EVs) as the future of the car market. General Motors is switching its entire lineup of vehicles to EVs by 2035. And earlier this month, Ford announced it is splitting its EV and internal combustion divisions as part of its effort to go all in on electric vehicles.
But emissions aren’t the only environmental or societal problem with traditional cars, and that raises the question of how far they can go to combat climate change.
“Public transportation and safe active transportation, like walking and biking, really are the only economically sustainable and equitable ways to enhance access to opportunity and to [transport people] to other destinations.” —Greg Shill, University of Iowa College of Law
Listen: What is the effect of switching gas vehicles for electric cars?
Greg Shill is an associate professor at the University of Iowa College of Law who studies cities and transportation through the lens of corporate law. He is also the co-host of the podcast “Densely Speaking.” Shill says there are millions of people who are either too impaired to drive or too poor to afford the cost of a car, which limits the possibility of lowering emissions through electric vehicle use.
“Public transportation and safe active transportation, like walking and biking, really are the only economically sustainable and equitable ways to enhance access to opportunity and to [transport people] to other destinations,” says Shill.
Maxwell Woody is a research specialist, University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems and the lead author of a new study conducted in partnership with Ford that looked at the environmental benefits of electric vehicles. Woody says his team conducted a study that looked into a myriad of factors that contributed to car emissions from electric vehicles.
“There is approximately a 64% lower emissions for electric vehicles compared to internal combustion vehicles, and this ratio — this 64% — is roughly constant across different vehicle classes,” he says.
Cynthia Williams is Ford Motor Company’s Global Director for Sustainability. Williams says while some costs are still high, the Ford F-150 Lightning is cheaper in the long run compared with its peer gas vehicles.
“You should really take a look at the total life cycle of the vehicle, and do your comparison that way,” she says.