We are repeatedly told that the future is electric. The internal combustion engine is on its way out and will be replaced by battery-powered vehicles, or so some of our elected officials want us to believe. They are hoping to see a seismic shift in production priorities all in the name of climate change and saving the planet. A few states are outright banning the sale of gas-powered cars not too far down the road. But is all this really necessary?

Toyota just released a study showing that we don’t need EVs to dramatically lower carbon emissions. According to the study, all that is really needed is a fuel economy (eco) mode component in cars. 

By covering 400,000 miles in eco mode, Toyota was able to demonstrate a savings of 5,091 gallons of gasoline and $18,304 in fuel costs when matched against the national average. Tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide reduced by 26%. Studies have shown that if continuously in eco mode a vehicle can save at least 2-3 mpg, which amounts to five or ten percent.

This could be a game changer.

Of course, there are drawbacks or modest inconveniences of employing the eco mode function. In order to use less fuel, eco mode requires the car adjust its throttle response, shift earlier than usual, and keep the engine running at lower RPMs. The car is less responsive with this reduction in power output.

But this is much less invasive than forcing the auto industry to manufacture electric vehicles by demonizing the fossil fuel industry and compelling the EV market to be heavily dependent on subsidies and tax credits. Such a combination is hardly a recipe for success. We are not ready to go fully electric, and may never be, what with the severe limitations EVs carry with them: the amount of time required to charge, their short range, the lack of infrastructure, repair costs, and low top speeds. Not to mention the steep price tag. Plus, EVs are not as green as they portend to be.

The emissions caused by manufacturing an electric vehicle far exceed that of a conventional vehicle of the same size, simply due to the added emissions incurred in producing battery cells. Miners who unearth the various critical minerals needed for these batteries are exposed to substantial amounts of dangerous toxins. It is estimated that one would have to drive his electric vehicle 100,000 miles to make any difference in carbon emissions. If every vehicle in the world were electric, the total reduction in carbon emissions would fall by only 1.8%. It is also believed EVs wear out roads much quicker due to their heavier weights. 

We may want to hit the pause button before making the complete switch to electric, especially when there are other avenues for curtailing carbon emissions, some of which involve such little effort and don’t add their own environmental impact.

An eco mode option puts the consumer back in the driver’s seat, so to speak. The user can decide when, where, and how often to use eco mode. And those who want an electric vehicle can still buy electric.

Companies that currently offer the eco mode in some of their vehicles are Honda, Ford, Chevrolet, Lexus, Kia, Hyundai, Toyota, Volvo. The latest Mini Cooper models have a green mode. It’s only a matter of time before others follow suit with a similar feature.

Carmakers should all be free to develop and invest in electric vehicle technology if they so choose. The key word is choose. The government should not be in the business of mandating (directly or indirectly) automotive technology, especially at the expense of the taxpayers’ pocketbooks and preferences, nor product performance.

Joe Biden’s goal of zero-emissions vehicles comprising 50% of all new car sales by 2030 is overly ambitious, if not unrealistic. Considering EV sales currently make up only 5.8% of vehicles sold in the U.S., we may want to seek other alternatives for reducing our carbon footprint. The eco-mode discovery is a step in the right direction. 

Kristen Walker is a policy analyst for the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit education and research organization. For more information about the Institute, visit www.theamericanconsumer.org or follow us on Twitter @ConsumerPal

This article was published on Real Clear Energy on 06 June 2023