The global outlook for electric vehicles is nothing but up. But how will you choose your own EV? The Total Environment Centre’s guide includes lifecycle carbon emissions.

  • See separate article on the fire risks of EVs and light electric vehicles and why some property owners are considering keeping them out of their basement car parks.

The introduction of the Australian government’s fringe-benefit tax (FBT) exemption for EVs has helped sales reach numbers three times higher than last year, according to the latest report by the Electric Vehicle Council.

The report found that EVs must make up 50 per cent of all cars sold in 2030 for the nation to reach its climate target.

For that to happen, the Australian government must introduce an ambitious and globally competitive new vehicle efficiency standard that brings us into line with comparable overseas markets, like the US, Europe, and New Zealand.

But how can a consumer select the best option for EVs?

The Total Environment Centre’s latest update for its Green Electric Car Guide for cars retailing for under $100,000 has some key advice.

The criteria and considerations

Each car was given a score out of 100 based on three key criteria:

  1. lifecycle carbon emissions – carbon emissions over its lifecycle, from manufacture through use to end of life, counting for 50 per cent of the score
  2. use of sustainable technology – technological advances that will help to reduce the environmental impact of EVs and make them more affordable, counting for 25 per cent of the score
  3. carmaker’s policy positions – the carmaker’s role in helping or hindering, the urgent task of decarbonising, private transport in Australia, counting for another 25 per cent of the score

While the TEC has given these other factors considerations, it has omitted lifecycle analysis (LCA), affordability and offsets from their scoring: for the following reasons:

  • the LCA was not considered due to there being no unified way of carrying out the measurement of lifecycle carbon emissions. Only Volvo and Polestar have published a full LCA in an accepted international standard. Tesla has used its own methodology in evaluating their car and none of the all-Chinese brands has a LCA available for Australian customers
    • affordability was not considered as TEC believes that while critical to EV transition, it does not have a direct environmental impact and the greenest car imaginable is pointless if no one can afford to buy it
    • Offsetting – while being the easy way to achieve net zero or net carbon neutral – was deemed too difficult to achieve internally and both national and global carbon offset markets have too many problematic aspects to be considered for the report

The top four choices are:

  1. Tesla Model 3 rear-wheel drive (RWD) – 73/100

The Tesla 3 RWD rated an impressive 40 out of 50 on lifecycle carbon emission, the highest of its kind on this list. It also does reasonably well in sustainable technology at 18 out of 25, with the lack of decarbonisation target, weak LCA and lack of supply chains in Tesla’s policies being the main factor bringing its score down.

  • Tesla Model Y Rear Wheel Drive 68/100

Doing slightly worse than its counterpart, Model Y ranks 35 out of 50 on its lifecycle carbon emissions. The sustainable technology (18/25) and carmaker’s policy position (15/25) remains the same as the RWD.

  • Volvo EX30 Plus Pure Electric 67.5/100

While rating the same as Tesla Model Y in lifecycle carbon emissions (35/50), Volvo has a much better carmaker’s policy at 19.5 out of 25 thanks to its good decarbonisation targets and strong supply chain. They are unfortunately set back by using less sustainable technology (13/25), bringing down the total score of the EV.

  • Polestar 2 Standard Range Single Motor

This model’s lifecycle carbon emissions rates lower (25/50) compared to alternatives, you can find a similar use of sustainable technology in the Polestar as the Volvo (13/25). What’s truly impressive is Polestar’s 24 out of 25 rating on its policies committing to more sustainable cars with impressive full marks fuel efficiency standards, LCA, supply chain and commitment to producing no ICE cars. ­­

If you want to see how the other cars scored, you can do so from this table below:

Why pick EVs?

With most human activities consuming natural resources and energy, the guide was created to:

  • minimise the use of finite resources
  • maximise the use of renewable resources
  • use all resources as efficiently as possible
  • prevent air, land, and water pollution
  • avoid the need for creating carbon offsets

The report noted that while individual ownership of resource-intensive manufactured products with limited lifespans, such as cars, is not usually compatible with the principles of a circular economy, we must accept that private vehicles will likely be around in various guises for many years to come.

The improvement of EVs will minimise negative impacts of their manufacture, use and disposal, minimise resource utilisation, and maximise their energy efficiency, it says.

Eight things to consider when buying EVs

While there are numerous complexities with picking out EVs, the TEC suggested a few “no-brainer” environmentally important questions to ask yourself when buying your next car:  

  1. size – is the car big and/or heavy? if so, it will likely have a relatively substantial environmental impact over its lifecycle
  2. shape – is the shape more like a bird or a brick? Bird shapes use less energy and can noticeably impact energy consumption, especially at highway speeds. This is known as the drag coefficient; the lower (closer to zero), the better
  3. battery – there are two main considerations:
    • size: the bigger it is, the more energy it takes to lug around. If you live in a city and do a few long drives yearly, opt for smaller ones. Opt for larger if you live regional, rural or remote area without good access to public charging stations
    • chemistry: two main chemicals are used: nickel, manganese, cobalt (NMC) or lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP or LiFePo4). LFP batteries are bigger, and heavier, but more robust (less flammable) and can handle repeatedly being charged to 100 per cent without the “risk” that comes from minerals like cobalt.
  4. electric motors – also face two issues
    • number: models can come with a single, two or even four motors (one to drive each wheel). More motor means more power, weight distribution, better handling, and off-road capability. Still, it adds upfront costs and weight to lug around – reducing efficiency and range
    • type: the two types are asynchronous induction and synchronous permanent – while both have pros and cons, asynchronous induction does stand out in environmentally due to permanent magnet motors that require mining of rare earth materials
  5. tyres and wheels: while bigger wheels look more impressive and improve the car’s grip and handling, they are also usually fatter and increase the car’s energy consumption by increasing the airflow resistance. Long-wearing tyres are also recommended to handle the heavier weight of EVs. Remember that tyres in general also produce microplastics and other toxins; the lighter the car, the less pollution the tyre creates
  6. interiors: putting aside the hype and scepticism of vegan interiors, the most important environmental considerations are reducing plastic and increasing the use of natural and recycled fabrics and textures
  7. warranties and service schedules: opt for longer and more inclusive warranty for high voltage (HV) battery and the rest of the car, the lower the servicing requirements – meaning the manufacturer has confidence in their products, which means longer lifespan and lower environmental impact
  8. techno-bling: new EVs can be computers on wheels, requiring semiconductors – which might be lightweight and reliable but also involved complex supply chains, extractions and processing of precious metals and rare earth materials. If it’s not related to safety, you can opt out of playing computer games and singing karaoke on the road or that sunroof you barely notice

Other environmental impacts of an EV usually depend on how you use it and whether or not you charge it from renewable energy or fossil fuels.

TEC recommends a homegrown rooftop solar, which is cheap, convenient and doesn’t need big infrastructure or investments to get to the car. Otherwise, if you can’t recharge overnight, options are to install a home battery to store the rooftop solar or buy grid energy that guarantees it is 100 per cent renewable.

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  1. Why not pick EVs
    Why not also present reasons why currently not to buy an EV?
    You cannot make an informed decision without assessing pros and contras.
    What has to change to allow 50% of my neighbors to have an EV on the same street powered with a single phase for example?
    How far do I have to drive to reach a public fast charger which suits my car?
    What can I do to prevent my adapter plugs to be stolen while I use a public charger?