GMC Hummer EV Polluting More than a Chevy Malibu in the U.S. Is the Wrong Discussion

GMC Hummer EV has plenty of aspects worth of criticizing, but being electric is not one of them 16 photos
Photo: GM/EPA/edited by autoevolution
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Anyone who read my editorial about the GMC Hummer EV knows I am not personally a fan of this electric pickup truck. Despite that, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) published an article about the Hummer EV that I feel obliged to discuss because it proposes the wrong discussion.
What ACEEE said is that 60% of the electric energy in the U.S. is generated by fossil fuels. The entity concluded that this leads the Hummer EV to indirectly emit 341 grams of CO2 per mile – or 21 g more than the 320-g-CO2/mile gasoline-powered Chevrolet Malibu. The source is an article from Quartz, which presents their source as “Quartz research.” To keep the discussion going, let’s consider our Quartz colleagues did a good job, and the numbers are correct.

For ACEEE, this is evidence that EVs must not be treated as if all of them were carbon neutral. In other words, the entity urges the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to “explore ways to factor EV efficiency into fuel-efficiency and greenhouse gas standards.” The premise for that request is that “behemoth EVs can still be worse for the environment than smaller, conventional vehicles.”

That is a fallacious argument, as bad as “bicycles are better than cars.” It starts with the premise that anyone who buys a Hummer EV is a potential customer of “smaller, conventional vehicles” and ends by saying indirect emissions make a vehicle dirtier. That’s just like assuming anyone who can afford a car will prefer a bike regardless of the circumstances. It is right the opposite: most people who ride bikes cannot afford a car. If we are to consider the emission in electricity production, we should also count emissions from petroleum extraction and refining to have an honest conversation.

Let’s examine the first fallacy: folks that want to buy “smaller, conventional vehicles” are a different public than those willing to purchase a Hummer EV. Those looking for a Malibu would probably buy a Tesla Model 3 if they wanted to go electric. Soon they will also have the Hyundai Ioniq 6 and the Volkswagen ID. Aero. If you compare the carbon emissions of equivalent vehicles, electric cars will always perform better.

If we are to compare the Hummer EV to anything, it should be to similarly-sized vehicles that offer the same capabilities. In other words, it should be to massive and powerful machines that can do well on offroad trails, such as the RAM 1500 TRX, Toyota Tundra TRD Pro, or Chevy Silverado ZR2.

According to EPA, the RAM has a carbon dioxide emission of 748 g/mile, and the Toyota and the Chevy emit 461 g/mile and 588 g/mile, respectively. None of them is cleaner than the Hummer EV. None is as wide or heavy as GM’s electric pickup truck.

Summing up, “smaller, conventional vehicles” are not the competition to the Hummer EV, which makes the comparison invalid. The electric pickup truck is giving an alternative to behemoth, gas-guzzler pickup truck buyers. Without it, we would have vehicles emitting more carbon on the streets. In the case of the RAM 1500 TRX, even more than twice what the GMC pickup truck theoretically emits. And I say theoretically because that depends greatly on the electricity matrix in each region – and even in each house.

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), 59% of U.S. electric energy comes from fossil fuels: 1% from petroleum, 32% from natural gas, and 26% from coal. That does not mean this is the case everywhere.

If you live in Vermont, there is a great chance that your electricity comes entirely from renewable sources. The Visual Capitalist obtained 2020 information from EIA about the electricity sources in each state, and Vermont gets 57.8% from hydropower, 17.8% from biomass, 16.2% from wind, 8% from solar, and 0.1% from natural gas.

Delaware is the dirtiest U.S. state: 92.3% of its energy comes from natural gas and 2% from coal. That means 94.3% of its electricity comes from fossil fuels. West Virginia has more renewable sources involved in its electricity matrix, but 80% of its electric energy generation depends on coal, the filthiest fossil fuel.

Even in the dirtiest states, electric cars are better. They have the highest energy efficiency of all vehicles, at around 90%. That means about $90 of the $100 spent on putting electricity into the battery will turn into movement. The best combustion-engined vehicles achieve an energy efficiency of around 40%. In other words, $60 of the $100 you spend with gas or diesel turns into heat and fumes. EVs also avoid pollution in concentrated areas, which is the main reason for China’s push for electric cars in its megalopolises.

The ACEEE’s statement about the GMC Hummer EV’s emissions also fails to realize that its owners can generate their own energy. Someone willing to spend more than $100,000 on a vehicle may also consider installing enough solar panels in their houses to charge the EV. The GMC pickup truck’s massive 2,923-pound (1,326-kilogram), 212.7-kWh battery pack can work as a fantastic power backup in emergencies or just to store the energy generated by the sun. Even in a region with electricity generated with coal, it can be cleaner than “smaller, conventional vehicles.”

The GMC Hummer EV is a 9,063-lb (4,103-kg) beast that goes from 0 to 60 mph (97 kph) in 3 seconds. It has a ridiculous payload capacity of 1,300 lb (590 kg) – lower than the 1,433 lb (650 kg) payload of a 2022 Fiat Strada double cab, which is lighter than the Hummer EV’s battery pack: it weighs 2,573 lb (1,167 kg).

One can argue that the electric pickup truck is a waste of precious batteries and is just too big for its own good. Accelerating so fast with so much weight makes it potentially dangerous. The low payload capacity makes it a joke as a work vehicle. The issue is that, like several combustion-engined cars, its only purpose is to entertain its owners.

It was by being fun to drive and desirable that Tesla succeeded in making electric cars popular. Before the company, they were seen as closed golf carts. In fact, many owners of exaggerated vehicles still refer to EVs as such. The Hummer EV is an attempt to show electric pickup trucks can be more than that. If it is a lousy one, it may have more to do with the ICE vehicles the Hummer EV intends to replace than with it in itself.

By attacking the Hummer EV with the wrong arguments and demanding EV regulation, ACEEE is not helping bring more electric cars to the market. On the contrary: it is giving electric car critics more ammo. Those in doubt about a RAM 1500 TRX or the Hummer EV could come to the wrong conclusion that both are dirty. Why would they pay more and endure the inconvenience of long charging sessions if they could save time and money and have a vehicle that at least pretended to be useful with more payload?

In the end, ACEEE seems to be against massive pickup trucks, with hoods so tall they may demand front cameras not to kill animals, children, or short adults. Too bad that the entity just helped them sell more of these behemoth gas-guzzlers by thinking the main problem of the Hummer EV is being electric.
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About the author: Gustavo Henrique Ruffo
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Motoring writer since 1998, Gustavo wants to write relevant stories about cars and their shift to a sustainable future.
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