A dealership manager remarked today during class that Electric cars are a zero sum emissions game. At the point of the end user, no emissions are produced by electric vehicles, however the source of the electricity that went into the vehicle may not have been environmentally friendly, which eliminates the environmental advantage. If the same amount of CO2 is produced in a coal plant as would have been produced by an internal combustion engine, then I agree electric vehicles are not more environmentally friendly.
On the other hand, environmental benefits, which are a great marketing tool, aren’t the only advantage Electrics have over internal combustion vehicles. When electricity is produced by burning coal, it has a significant negative environmental impact. Natural gas, while cleaner burning than coal also has significant extraction costs that harm the environment as well. Renewable sources can be much more environmentally friendly than either of these combustible fuels. Even clean coal is a significant improvement over the dirty coal alternative.
Electric vehicles also enjoy an efficiency advantage According to FuelEconomy.gov: “electric vehicles convert about 59–62% of the electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels—conventional gasoline vehicles only convert about 17–21% of the energy stored in gasoline to power at the wheels” The relatively new MPGe standard compares the distance traveled per unit of energy. The EPA introduced the standard and uses a conversion rate of 1 gallon of gasoline to 33.7 kilowatt hours of electricity. Even performance vehicles such as the Tesla Model S have far superior efficiency ratings than even the most modern and fuel efficient cars powered by internal combustion engines.
None of this dictates that consumers will create a space in the market for electric vehicles, but the issue is more complex than whether electric vehicles are more eco-friendly or not.