Laggard carmakers caught out trying to pass off anti-EV research as independent

Aston Martin has found itself at the centre of a PR storm for not coming clean over its role in authoring a widely-debunked study that criticised electric vehicles. It has emerged that the report was written by a PR firm recently registered under the name of the wife of a director at the British carmaker.

The study, commissioned by Aston Martin as well as Bosch, Honda, McLaren and others, wrongly claimed that EVs have to be driven almost 50,000 miles before delivering lower emissions than a fossil fuel car. Independent experts and the founder of BloombergNEF immediately took the claim to task after it was reported in the British press. 

The methodology was based on the analysis of just one electric vehicle - the Polestar 2 model by Volvo. Researcher at the Eindhoven University of Technology Auke Hoekstra called out significant flaws, such as the underestimation of combustion engine emissions, exclusion of petrol supply chain emissions from the analysis, failure to adequately take future improvements in electricity mix into account, and for carrying out a lifecycle study of a single car manufactured in China and applying it to all EVs.

Lucien Mathieu, transport and e-mobility analyst at T&E, said: “Time and time again we see laggard carmakers, who have been asleep at the wheel in the electric race, seeking to discredit EVs with reports showing them to be worse for the environment than internal combustion engine vehicles. This study suggested ‘groundbreaking’ results, yet it was riddled with factual errors.”

And while a dispute over methodology may not have garnered much attention, the attempt to pass off anti-EV research as ‘independent’ has highlighted the problem of some manufacturers seeking to discredit EVs rather than commit to transformation.

BloombergNEF founder Michael Liebreich revealed that the public relations firm responsible for the report is registered to an address owned by a communications firm under the name of Rebecca Stephens, the wife of Aston Martin’s government affairs director, James Stephens. Others said the report was timed to derail the British prime minister Boris Johnson’s plans to ban the sale of new fossil fuel vehicles by 2030.

Rebecca Stephens told the Guardian that the report attributed to the PR firm was “compiled” by the same companies that commissioned it. She added that the PR firm was contracted by Bosch “to provide public affairs and stakeholder support” so its logo and contact details appear on the back of the report “for this purpose”.

T&E’s own lifecycle analysis also discredits the report commissioned by Aston Martin and other carmakers. It shows that the battery carbon debt is paid off in less than two years of driving. It finds that electric cars in Europe emit, on average, almost three times less CO2 than equivalent petrol/diesel cars.

In the worst case scenario, an electric car with a battery produced in China and driven in Poland still emits 22% less CO2 than diesel and 28% less than petrol. And in the best-case scenario, an electric car with a battery produced in Sweden, and driven in Sweden, can emit 80% less CO2 than diesel and 81% less than petrol. What’s more, with the grids relying ever more on renewables, electric car emissions are set to decrease over time, T&E reports. 

Aston Martin has been notably slow to transition to electrification and instead of investing its energy into transitioning to cleaner fuels, it has set out to stop the clock. But as T&E’s analysis shows, evidence is on the side of EVs. 

Lucien Mathieu concluded: “Our own analysis shows average European EVs to be three times cleaner than equivalent diesel and petrol cars. And with energy mixes becoming greener every year, the gap between lifecycle emissions of EVs and ICEs is only set to grow.

“We need to put these myths to rest. Electric vehicles are better for the environment, and a rapidly growing number of drivers say EVs are better for them. Let's focus on accelerating the uptake of EVs and not waste time trying to delay the inevitable with desperate tactics.”