Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, has never been a fan of battery electric vehicles. Last week in Italy he made one of his most damning statements about the technology: "A forced introduction of battery electric vehicles on a global scale, without solving the problem of how to get a clean energy, would endanger our planet's existence."
Trouble is, Marchionne's view relies on alternative facts. His argument is based on the overall CO2 impact of battery electric vehicles. He quotes a 5-year-old Norwegian study according to which (his quote): "battery electric vehicles are two times as risky, in terms of global warming, as traditional vehicles".
Isn't it ironic that the country where Tesla has achieved its highest market share would launch such a warning about purely electric vehicles?
The quote, alas, is not correct. Here's what the study actually says: The production phase of an electric car generates twice as much CO2 as the production of a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine; the difference is mainly due to the CO2 generated in battery production.
The global warming impact of any vehicle, though, depends heavily on the use phase, either directly through fuel combustion or indirectly during electricity production. When powered by Europe's current mix of electricity sources — for example, nuclear, natural gas, coal or wind — the study found electric cars reduce global warming impact by 20-24 percent compared to gasoline cars, and by 10-14 percent relative to diesel cars. That's under the assumption of a 93,000-mile vehicle lifetime.
If the electricity were produced with natural gas, the CO2 impact of battery electrics would still be lower than gasoline and on par with diesel-powered cars, while 100 percent coal production would give EVs a CO2 impact higher than internal combustion engines.
So EVs could actually worsen the short-term CO2 picture in China — which uses a lot of coal to get its electricity — but not in Europe or Japan.
Marchionne might even be right on a global scale. But that is not necessarily a good reason for FCA to spend so little in research on this new technology, especially when the world — witness recent announcements by Ford and General Motors — goes the other way.