Recently, Steve Marshall was driving his Tesla Model S to work in downtown Bellevue when he noticed the 6-year-old electric vehicle had crossed the threshold of 80,000 miles. This got Marshall thinking: How much carbon had he saved in the intervening six years by jettisoning his gasoline-powered vehicle in favor of a green alternative?
This is the kind of matter Marshall considers often in his role as the City of Bellevue’s transportation technology partnership manager, a position that, among other duties, has Marshall constantly researching the latest in transportation technology — not just privately owned electric vehicles, but also autonomous and shared electric vehicles.
To answer his question, Marshall figured out that despite a gallon of gas weighing only about 6 pounds, it produces approximately 20 pounds of carbon when used in a traditional internal combustion engine.
“When you burn it, the carbon in the gasoline merges with two molecules of oxygen — that’s where you get the CO2 — and those molecules weigh a lot,” Marshall said. “On top of the 20 pounds you produce, you can add another 5 pounds from transporting the (gasoline to the gas station).”
From there, Marshall used the Environmental Protection Agency’s estimated 24.7 miles per gallon average and surmised he had saved an equivalent of approximately 35 metric tons of carbon from being expelled.
“That turns out to be a little over seven elephants, if you take the average weight of an elephant,” Marshall said proudly.
Marshall isn’t the only Eastsider experiencing these savings.
Tesla Motors reported that Bellevue ranks No. 25 in its list of U.S. cities with the most carbon savings, with more than 31 million pounds just from Teslas alone, to say nothing of the savings from other electric and hybrid vehicles on the road today.
This uptick in the number of electric vehicles on the road actually has helped Bellevue reduce its community-generated greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent between 2011 and 2017 despite the city’s population growth of more than 11 percent during that period.
Marshall is quick to qualify that a lot of other city and Eastside infrastructure improvements have gone into this decrease in emissions, but that electric vehicles are definitely part of the solution.
“The single best thing that a household can do to reduce its carbon emissions is to go from a gas car to an electric,” he said.
Though Marshall is a self-described Tesla Motors fan, with the 6-year-old Model S luxury sedan and a newer, more compact Model 3 sedan in his garage, he said there are a lot of really great options available on the market today.
Aside from Tesla’s models S, X, and 3, the Nissan LEAF is one of the most common electric vehicles on the road today, along with the Chevrolet Bolt. There’s also the Hyundai Kona Electric, Jaguar I-PACE, Ford Fusion Energi, Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Audi e-tron, Fiat 500e, and countless others.
Part-time Kirkland resident Philip Skoog has a family of four electric vehicles, including two LEAFs, a MiEV, and a Model 3, and said he isn’t going back to gas-powered vehicles.
“We find (our electric vehicles) fun and affordable and sold two gas cars after we found we just didn’t use them,” he said. “They are quick and easy to charge, and new versions have great range. Except for long trips, all my charging is at night at home on a normal 50-amp outlet.”
If there are myriad electric vehicle options from several vehicle makers, why aren’t there more on the road? Marshall said there are some misconceptions about electric vehicles that are preventing people from buying one. The chief concern? Price.
Sure, Tesla’s largest car, the Model X sport utility vehicle, starts at $77,000 — and can rise to more than six figures when fully decked out — but other vehicles start at much more affordable prices for baseline models, like the LEAF ($29,990), the Model 3 ($32,815), and the Kona ($36,950). These prices are further offset by a federal tax incentive, worth up to $7,500, to be claimed against the following year’s tax return, as well as a state sales tax exemption at the point of sale. Actual tax savings can vary depending on the make and model of the vehicle, purchase price, and purchase date.
Moreover, vehicle owners looking to make the switch should take time to calculate how much they spend for gas and other maintenance on a monthly or annual basis. This often can offset monthly payments on a new vehicle. If a new electric vehicle still is too spendy, a consumer can consider purchasing a used one.
“I have bought used cars all my life, but (six years ago) I couldn’t buy a used electric because they didn’t exist — now you can,” Marshall said. “If you want to buy a Chevy Volt or a Nissan LEAF, you’re looking at maybe $10,000. That’s kind of remarkable, if you think about it.”
After price, Marshall said many people believe that electric vehicles aren’t as fast or fun to drive as gas-powered cars.
“(Some people) who buy cars like to say, ‘Mine’s the fastest; mine’s the best-performing in all these categories,’” Marshall said. “But absolutely nothing can beat an electric vehicle in terms of instantaneous torque. If that catches on, I think (people will say), ‘Oh, maybe we were wrong.’”
In the end, Marshall said he believes the range, cost, and performance of electric vehicles will only improve with time.
“The regular gas-powered cars, they’re about as good as a 100-plus-year-old technology can get; they’ve improved it only so much,” he said. “But electric vehicles, they’re still improving. It’s not only good for your pocket, but it’s good for the environment. And it’s good just because it’s fun.”