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This article was published on November 19, 2020

Electric cars aren’t clean — and it’s time the industry is honest about it

Electric cars aren’t clean — and it’s time the industry is honest about it
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Last month, on World EV day, Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath issued a statement that began with this line: “Electric cars are not clean.”

On the face of it, this seems like a strange thing for the chief executive of an electric car company to say. After all, EVs are always marketed as a “clean” alternative to conventional cars.

But the truth is a little more complicated. Electric vehicles do offer a route to climate neutrality, but it takes more than just buying an EV to “go green.” The trouble is that car manufacturers have not been clear about the environmental impact of their products.

At Polestar, we don’t think that’s good enough. That’s why our CEO is calling for the entire automotive industry to be open about the true environmental impact of their EVs, as well as the realities of the supply chains and manufacturing involved. Manufacturers must tell the whole story, instead of using selected highlights as a smokescreen to mask inconvenient truths.

Remembering dieselgate

The emissions scandal that was dieselgate weakened people’s trust in car manufacturers. “Families bought diesel cars because they wanted to help protect the environment,” says Thomas Ingenlath. “They were lied to.”

Because of this, people are rightly wary of believing claims made about electric vehicles. How can they tell where the truth ends and the greenwashing starts?

[Read: Here’s how to make your website more accessible]

Time for total transparency

What’s needed now is total transparency. Honesty about the progress being made and the setbacks being encountered.

Carmakers must offer complete clarity, or risk losing people’s trust. Without clear industry standards, manufacturers will continue to create sustainability “benchmarks” that only serve their own purposes, making any real comparison impossible.

What we’re doing

That’s why we recently published the Polestar 2 Life Cycle Assessment. As well as the numbers, we’re also sharing our methodology, because you can only trust the figures if you can also understand the full context. Here’s an example:

It would be possible to selectively quote the lowest number in this chart, and truthfully claim that the Polestar 2 can emit less than half the amount of CO2-equivalents during its lifetime than a similar conventional car. But the full story is that this figure is only achievable if the car’s owner always charges the battery with renewable energy.

The other story these figures tell is that an EV’s materials production, making the Li-ion battery modules, and car manufacturing account for higher emissions than those of an equivalent fossil-fueled car. The chart below shows how far you have to drive a Polestar 2 before that “carbon cost” breaks even with a conventional car.

You can read the full Polestar 2 Life Cycle Assessment here.

Towards sustainable mobility

The journey to sustainable mobility is exactly that: a journey. The fact is that all products have an environmental impact. Electric cars are no exception. However, as opposed to a fossil fuel-driven car that can never reach climate neutrality, EVs can.

We don’t have all the answers, but we are dedicated to progress and we firmly believe that every step in the right direction counts. And we will be completely transparent along the way. Trust has to be earned and this is how we plan to earn it.

Where we’re going from here

We’re calling for the rest of the automotive industry to become part of the solution. Car manufacturers have to come together and be more transparent, to give consumers the information they need to be able to make the right choice.

We won’t really achieve sustainability unless we tell people the full, unvarnished truth about the environmental impact of electric vehicles. So that they’re always aware of exactly what they’re buying.

Being transparent about sustainability is in everyone’s best interests: consumers, manufacturers, and last but not least, the environment.

Polestar and Shift

As we look to the future of personal mobility, sustainability is a critical consideration. That’s why we partnered with The Next Web to bring information about all the exciting changes in the automotive industry together on this page. Accelerating the shift to sustainable mobility by making electric driving a question of when, not if.

Read more

Visit the Polestar site to find out more about our approach to sustainability, including the details of our sustainability ambition, technical and social innovations, and our ethical stance.

If you’re interested in reading more about transparency and the Polestar 2 LCA report, click here to go directly to the transparency page.

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