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Driving Change

In 2023, we placed too much emphasis on EVs

The transport industry must focus more on decarbonizing manufacturing and supply chain emissions. 

Aerial view of automated robot arm assembly line manufacturing of EVs

About 39 percent of passenger vehicle emissions come from maintenance, manufacturing and energy production, according to a new report. Source: Shutterstock/Gorodenkoff

It seems like EVs are all the buzz as we approach the end of 2023. The end of the year for the EV industry can be summarized with two attention-grabbing headlines: Tesla officially began Cybertruck deliveries four years after announcing it, and the U.S. hit an impressive record, passing 1 million all-electric vehicle sales in a single year. 

Bloomberg reports that EV adoption is rising all across the globe, even in more distant parts of the world, including India, Thailand and Indonesia. With EVs on track to make up 9 percent of U.S. auto sales in 2023 — compared to 2018 when they were floating around 1 percent  — I find it difficult not to be excited about how quickly EVs are catching on. 

But despite all the progress with EV sales, the climate community and EV industry are not focused enough on decarbonizing manufacturing and supply chain emissions. 

Thus, in my opinion, 2023's overhyped trend in transport was placing too much emphasis on vehicle electrification, and the underhyped trend was decarbonizing vehicle manufacturing.

In February, Polestar and Rivian, supported by Kearney, released a telling report uncovering the pathway for net-zero transport and detailing the implications of devoting more attention to EV sales than supply chain decarbonization. This report flew under the radar — perhaps lost in headline-grabbing discussions about new EVs — but its message should not be ignored: 

If the automotive industry ignores life-cycle emissions or fails to take aggressive action to reduce them, then it could result in the entire automotive industry spending its carbon budget by 2035.

2023's overhyped trend in transport was placing too much emphasis on vehicle electrification, and the underhyped trend was decarbonizing vehicle manufacturing.

During VERGE 23, GreenBiz's annual climate tech gathering, we released a video outlining why decarbonizing manufacturing emissions is equally as crucial as selling EVs. The video highlights parts of the Rivian and Polestar report, which I encourage everyone to read.

Here are two key points: 

  • Roughly 39 percent of passenger vehicle emissions come from maintenance, manufacturing and energy production.
  • Supply chain emissions for EVs are approximately 35 to 50 percent higher than for internal combustion engine vehicles, largely driven by the battery pack and other materials such as steel and aluminum. 

Looking ahead to 2024, I predict — and hope — that supply chain and manufacturing decarbonization will gain more attention. Polestar and Volvo both stand out to me as two brands already doing productive work in this space. 

Volvo is leveraging the EX30’s sustainability as a key marketing tool, and Polestar recently published its Polestar 4's first life-cycle assessment, revealing it has the lowest carbon footprint of all Polestar cars to date, coming in at 19.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent at launch. 

Simply put, more automakers need to both sell more EVs and reduce their emissions impact.

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