Measuring carbon footprints: old bangers vs new electric cars

“Making a new car creates as much carbon pollution as driving it, so it’s often better to keep your old banger on the road than to upgrade to a greener model.”

“Rather than looking at all the small pieces of the jigsaw, we’ve got to stand back and look at the full picture to make sure we piece together the future we want – and transport is a critical part of that.”

“All we need to do to make a green difference is use our existing cars sparingly and keep them going for longer. Of course, that doesn’t suit the carmaking lobbyists who sit at the Government’s ear. They want us to keep buying new ones.”

“In a world where white goods manufacturers are berated for making less sustainable products that can’t easily be repaired and kept going, binning rather than fixing older vehicles is desperately wasteful.”

“Following Dieselgate, a ‘duly chastened’ VW will be back with a vengeance, making the wholly opaque disposable vehicles it really wants to make, just like the rest of the industry.”

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Back in 2010, Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark writing in the Guardian asked a question which wasn’t that obvious back then:

What’s the carbon footprint of … a new car?

Making a new car creates as much carbon pollution as driving it, so it’s often better to keep your old banger on the road than to upgrade to a greener model.The upshot is that – despite common claims to contrary – the embodied emissions of a car typically rival the exhaust pipe emissions over its entire lifetime… 

When you do eventually replace your car, it obviously makes sense to do so with a light, simple and fuel-efficient model: that way you’ll be limiting both the manufacturing and the exhaust-pipe emissions. But before you buy, look into car clubs, especially if you live in a city centre: you may save lots of money as well as reducing the number of cars that need to be produced.

What’s the carbon footprint of … a new car? | Environment | The Guardian

Since then, more questions are being asked about how ‘green’ electric vehicles are: 

Why low-carbon transport must look beyond tailpipe emissions

With its net zero targets enshrined in law, the UK has begun the transition to low-carbon transport — but electric vehicles need to be assessed on the carbon footprint of their entire life cycle, not just tailpipe emissions With EVs, a big consideration lies in the manufacture of the batteries used to power them, which require the procurement of minerals such as lithium or cobalt, as well as carbon-intensive processes of their final assembly into batteries fit to power a consumer vehicle.

“It gets even more complicated when you look into how and where the components of the battery are sourced and assembled,” adds Eastlake. “A lot of them are produced in China, for instance, which doesn’t have the best grid in terms of using renewable energy sources.” And once these batteries reach the end of their lifespan, the issue of disposal becomes an important factor, due to the high carbon footprint associated with recycling the disused power unit. “Rather than looking at all the small pieces of the jigsaw, we’ve got to stand back and look at the full picture to make sure we piece together the future we want – and transport is a critical part of that,” he says.

Why low-carbon transport must look beyond tailpipe emissions

John Naish writing in the Daily Mail a couple of years ago questioned the government’s ban on sales of all new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars from 2035:

Eco-edict that all new cars be electric in 15 years is doomed to backfire

I discovered that manufacturing an average car generates more than 17 tonnes of CO2 — that’s almost the amount generated by gas and electricity use over three years in a typical UK home. (That’s why it’s ‘often better to keep your old banger on the road than to upgrade to a greener model’, according to The Guardian newspaper’s green-living blog.)

The situation is even worse with electric cars. A Swedish-government report says that making the battery alone releases as much CO2 as eight years’ worth of driving a petrol vehicle.

So, to return to my opening point: all we need to do to make a green difference is use our existing cars sparingly and keep them going for longer. Of course, that doesn’t suit the carmaking lobbyists who sit at the Government’s ear. They want us to keep buying new ones.

Come 2033, when I’m finally in the market for a new car, I predict that technological advances will have made fossil-fuel-engined motors significantly cleaner. The signs are already there in the technical journals. One of the most promising developments is in the world of . . . wait for it . . . cleaner diesel engines with far fewer emissions. You couldn’t make it up. But actually, that’s what the Government is doing with its ‘greener’ motoring policies.

Eco-edict that all new cars be electric in 15 years is doomed to backfire says JOHN NAISH  | Daily Mail Online

These pages have also looked at these questions:

Understanding the sustainability of electric cars – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Finally, Michael Gurdon writing in this week’s edition of the Spectator suggests that expunging our roads of old cars is a mistake:

The death of old bangers

Another factor is that cars built from the mid 2000s onwards became a lot more complex. Vehicles that are ten to fifteen years old are now stuffed with electronic and hydraulic systems that make them go and stop. Faults are more esoteric, and can take hours to track down. The labour bills involved for a car worth less than £1,000 could easily outstrip its value, likewise any new parts needed to fettle it. I live in a Kentish village with a traditional garage, whose owner said vehicles which on paper have years of life in them are heading for the crusher because the economics of fixing them don’t add up. He gave the example of a £600 car that needed a £400 exhaust catalyst…

There’s a school of thought that says getting older, dirtier cars off our roads is kinder to the environment because they emit more muck, but given that greater energy is expended in making a car than it’s likely to use during its working life, there’s a counter argument that throwing away a perfectly serviceable older car is a waste of energy and resources. If mass take-up of electric cars sees many fossil fuel ones become redundant, this process will accelerate.

In a world where white goods manufacturers are berated for making less sustainable products that can’t easily be repaired and kept going, binning rather than fixing older vehicles is desperately wasteful, suggests Joe Hunter. He’s an advertising copywriter and cheap car serial monogamist who buys pensionable Volvos, BMWs and Mercedes, runs them for a bit and sells them on. He’s turned this habit into subject matter for a YouTube channel confusingly called ‘Geoff Buys Cars.’

Hunter thinks successive scrappage schemes, launched during the 2008 financial crash and repeated several times since, spelled doom for many healthy, cheap cars because they were worth more dead than alive. ‘It was a scandal,’ he said. He suggests that this is part of a broader agenda to get people out of private cars. ‘The whole thing gets me wound up and animated. I can see a future where driving a classic is reserved for the very rich.’

The death of old bangers | The Spectator

There are arguments to the contrary of course, in defence of the EV’s life-cycle and use of resources:

Is Keeping Your Old Car Better For The Environment? – YouTube

But perhaps we should finish with Deiselgate and the classic ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’:

Dieselgate: Why VW Will Come Out Smelling Like Roses

Details have been emerging this week of a clever trick pulled by Volkswagen in North America. The German-based automaker is alleged to have been using software to cheat EPA emissions tests for millions of its turbocharged direct injection (TDI) diesel engine Volkswagen and Audi cars dating back to 2009. New vehicles pretty much the world over are required by law to be controlled by a computer featuring a standardized on-board diagnostic (OBD) system, which is used in many countries for periodic compulsory emissions tests. Someone at VW figured out how to get the engine management firmware to sense when an emissions test was being performed and to deliver the desired output signals contrary to what was really happening…The last thing VW wants is their customers getting their hands dirty. A clue into VW’s real aspirations is given by the 1999 Audi A2 with its “service panel” in lieu of a conventional hood. Though this was part of a larger panel which could be unbolted to gain access to the engine, the message was clear: The mechanism is none of your business.

But the primary motivation for all this is not so much the savings in manufacturing cost. More important is the industry-wide desire to increase the value of the car’s software/firmware relative to its hard parts. Thanks to legal precedents which have proved extremely robust, hard parts are almost impossible to copyright. As we know, this is not the case with software. Hence the drive to make as great a part of the overall product dependent on copyrightable electronic control. And from there, it is not difficult to figure out where OBD really came from…

A “duly chastened” VW will be back with a vengeance, making the wholly opaque disposable vehicles it really wants to make, just like the rest of the industry.

Center for a Stateless Society » Dieselgate: Why VW Will Come Out Smelling Like Roses

The Motorcycle Obsession 

MZ stands for Motorradwerk Zschopau, and the bike — a 1980 model — is a product of the East German state. It looks like it, too, doesn’t it? Styling reminiscent of Robert Pirsig’s 1960s Honda CB77. Drum brakes, front and back. A kick starter. A two-stroke engine in which petrol and oil are mixed in the tank. This is exactly the sort of thing I would have expected to see sitting on the other side as they tore down the Berlin Wall. According to the bike’s advert, this little beauty “smells of the 1970s.”

After the collapse of the Berlin Wall, poor MZ struggled in the capitalist world. According to Wikipedia, the company’s spent the last quarter century being bounced from one ineffective foreign owner to the next.
This is East German technology; it needed to run for a long time and be easy to fix, because no one had any money. The 5-speed machine apparently has a decent amount of pace — I found YouTube video of a Polish guy pushing one to 115 km (71 mph) — and it returns something close to 70 miles per gallon.

The Motorcycle Obsession: January 2015

Futures Forum: VW… and making ‘wholly opaque disposable vehicles’ >>> rather than making vehicles which ‘run for a long time and are easy to fix’

   
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