EVs could take up to 70,000 miles to be cleaner than a petrol car

Volvo reveals full-life CO2 emissions for its latest model and huge impact energy sources have on cars’ green performance

Electric vehicles could take between 30,000 and 70,000 miles of driving before they reach emissions equality with a regular petrol car, according to new data released by Volvo.

The Swedish car maker, which has previously called for other brands to be honest about the environmental impact of their EVs, has revealed the whole-life CO2 emissions of its latest all-electric model - the C40 - and how it compares to an equivalent petrol model - the XC40.

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It shows that EVs create significantly more CO2 emissions in the production phase but will produce lower emissions levels than combustion-engined cars across their whole life cycle.

It also shows that how quickly this parity is reached depends massively on the energy source used to power an EV, as do the lifetime emissions of the vehicle.

Volvo compared the lifetime CO2 emissions of the C40 with a petrol powered XC40

Comparing the C40 and XC40 over a 125,000-mile life cycle, the manufacturer found that overall, the EV is at least 15% cleaner than the petrol-powered vehicle, rising to more than 50% if it is powered solely by renewable energy.

The data shows that CO2 emissions in the production phase are 70% higher for the EV than the petrol car, down to higher material use and the production of the battery. However, the emissions during the use phase are then lower.

Volvo examined the car’s lifetime usage impact using three different energy sources - the global energy mix, European energy mix and fully renewable wind power.

Using only renewable energy, it takes the C40 30,000 miles to break even with the XC40, rising to 48,000 on the average EU mix and 70,000 miles on the global mix.

Overall, the C40 will have a lifetime CO2 footprint of 27 tonnes if run solely on renewable energy, 42 tonnes on the EU mix and 50 tonnes on the global mix while the petrol XC40 will create 59 tonnes of CO2.

The C40 also performed marginally better (5%) than the all-electric XC40 Recharge thanks to the coupe-style body’s better aerodynamics, with the XC40 Recharge producing 44 tonnes of CO2 on the EU mix.

Volvo says there is scope for EVs’ CO2 impact to be lessened further if efforts were made to widen the use of clean energy.

The brand’s chief executive, Håkan Samuelsson, commented: “We made a conscious strategic decision to become a fully electric car maker and an industry leader, but we can’t make the transition to climate neutrality alone.

“We need governments and energy firms around the globe to step up their investments in clean energy capacity and related charging infrastructure, so fully electric cars can truly fulfil their promise of cleaner mobility.”