Pickup Truck Electrification Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions more than other Light-Duty Vehicles

Major automakers are scaling up manufacturing of electric trucks as a crucial tactic for lowering their cars’ greenhouse gas emissions. Light-duty cars, such as sedans, SUVs, and pickup trucks, currently account for 58 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the US transportation industry. Pickup trucks accounted for 14 percent of light-duty vehicle sales in the United States in 2020, and both pickups and SUVs have increased their market share in recent years.

But what does the electrification of pickup trucks signify for the transportation industry’s decarbonization?

In a new study, experts from the University of Michigan and Ford Motor Company examined the savings in greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline-powered pickup trucks. The findings was published online in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“This is an important study that will help to enlighten and urge people to take action on climate change. Our research clearly shows that switching to electrified powertrains across all vehicle classes can result in significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions “Greg Keoleian, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Environment and Sustainability and the director of the Center for Sustainable Systems, is the study’s senior author.

Researchers conducted a cradle-to-grave assessment of pickup truck life cycles and compared the effects of pickup truck electrification to those of sedan and SUV electrification in the study.

This study can help us understand the potential impact of electrification on emissions reduction, particularly as we launch new electric vehicles, and how we can continue to accelerate our journey toward carbon neutrality. We are honored to collaborate with the University of Michigan on this essential project.

Cynthia Williams

With a focus on evaluating greenhouse gas emissions, researchers examined three different model-year 2020 powertrain options for midsize sedans, midsize SUVs, and full-size pickup trucks: internal-combustion-engine vehicles, hybrid-electric vehicles, and battery-electric vehicles, accounting for differences in fuel economy, annual mileage, vehicle production, and vehicle lifetime across vehicle classes.

They discovered that battery-electric vehicles have around 64% fewer cradle-to-grave life cycle greenhouse gas emissions than internal-combustion-engine vehicles on average in the United States for sedans, SUVs, and pickup trucks.

“This study can help us understand the potential impact of electrification on emissions reduction, particularly as we launch new electric vehicles, and how we can continue to accelerate our journey toward carbon neutrality. We are honored to collaborate with the University of Michigan on this essential project” said Cynthia Williams, Ford’s global director of sustainability, homologation, and compliance.

Several major findings are presented in the paper. Researchers discovered, for example, that substituting an internal-combustion-engine vehicle with a battery-electric vehicle resulted in greater overall tonnage of greenhouse gas emissions reductions as vehicle size increases, owing to larger vehicles’ higher fuel consumption.

Greater greenhouse gas reductions for pickup truck electrification than for other light-duty vehicles

Though the percentage savings is about the same across vehicle classes, on average, replacing an internal-combustion-engine sedan with a battery-electric sedan saves 45 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent; replacing an internal-combustion-engine SUV with a battery-electric SUV saves 56 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent; and replacing an internal-combustion-engine pickup with a battery-electric pickup saves 74 metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent over the lifetime of the vehicles, said study first author Max Woody, research specialist at U-M’s Center for Sustainable Systems.

The researchers also discovered that, due to battery production, battery-electric vehicles have higher greenhouse gas emissions than internal-combustion-engine vehicles, but this impact is mitigated by savings in operation. Based on the typical U.S. grid and vehicle miles traveled, the break-even period for battery-electric and internal-combustion-engine vehicles is 1.2 to 1.3 years for sedans, 1.4 to 1.6 years for SUVs, and 1.3 years for pickup trucks.

“This study builds on prior research that compared battery-electric car sedans to their internal-combustion-engine or hybrid counterparts,” Keoleian said. “We report emissions for vehicle manufacture, use, and end-of-life phases on a per-mile basis and for the whole vehicle lifetime.”

“We also looked at the geographical variance in emissions, taking into account changes in power grid mixes and ambient temperatures, as well as the effects of grid decarbonization rate on emission reduction.”

Vehicle emissions vary across the country due to differences in temperature and drive cycles, which impact a vehicle’s fuel economy. The intensity of the local electrical grid’s greenhouse gas emissions is also an essential element for electric vehicles. The researchers created maps that illustrate the lifetime grams of CO2 equivalent/mile for each powertrain (internal-combustion engine vehicles, hybrid vehicles, and battery-electric cars) and vehicle type (sedan, SUV, and pickup truck) per county across the United States.

Researchers discovered that public concerns about battery-electric vehicles emitting more pollution than internal-combustion-engine vehicles or hybrids are largely unfounded, as battery-electric vehicles outperform hybrids in 95 percent to 96 percent of counties, and battery-electric vehicles outperform internal-combustion-engine vehicles in 98 percent to 99 percent of counties, even assuming only modest progress toward grid decarbonization.

Charging procedures can help to minimize emissions from battery-electric vehicles even more. According to the study, charging during the hours of the day with the least amount of grid emissions can lower emissions by 11% on average.

“Deployment of electric vehicles and increase of renewable energy resources such as solar and wind should occur concurrently,” Woody stated. “The development of one increases the benefit of the other.”

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