Are electric or hybrid cars a green marketing myth, or a real solution?
Will adopting electric or hybrid cars solve any of the problems it's hoped they'll solve? A lot of money and effort is being spent on them, but so too is money being spent on developing gasoline cars. The question is, what is the best allocation of research resources to solve transportation system problems?
When we set out to solve a problem it's best to describe the problem correctly. The solution we end up with is controlled by how we define the problem.
Many are promising big things about electric and hybrid cars, while some are saying it's a bunch of hype. One thing we do know is the big payoff only comes when electrified vehicles become common.
Most of the focus is on environmental issues, primarily greenhouse gas reduction. Electric and hybrid cars are largely seen as solving environmental problems because of their tailpipe emissions. Electric cars have zero tailpipe emissions, and hybrid cars tend to have much less tailpipe emissions than equivalent gasoline powered cars.
But, of course, the tailpipe emissions aren't the whole environmental impact story, not even for gasoline powered cars. Mining gasoline from fossil oil resources requires many kinds of environmental disasters at wellheads, transportation systems, refineries, more transportation systems, not to mention the final consumption as an explosion in an internal combustion engine. Similarly electricity tends to come from coal-fired or natural gas-fired, or nuclear plants, or hydroelectric dams, each of which have negative environmental side effects. However repeated studies show that even if the electricity comes from a coal fired power plant, the electric car "tailpipe" is cleaner than the "tailpipe" of the equivalent gasoline car.
Many see the problem to solve as solely the environmental impact of cars. This means the solutions being offered cluster around the problem of greenhouse gas emissions and other negative environmental impacts. It's been shown over and over that electrified cars do provide some environmental benefit over gasoline powered cars, even for coal-fired-electricity, but the benefit is not terribly large, especially for coal-fired-electricity. Which understandably leads some to question the push for electrified cars.
There are other problems with the transportation system begging to be solved, but these problems largely go unrecognized and aren't part of the problem statement being addressed.