The electric vehicles of 2022 that matter most for the climate

This year, showrooms will have more new electric vehicle models on sale – at least 20 – than any year in history. Automakers and their dealers will say that everyone changes the world.

But not all electric vehicles are equal when it comes to their impact on the climate.

This factor is stubbornly important: transport accounts for 31% of the country’s carbon emissions, a figure that has barely budged despite the 2.2 million electric vehicles currently on the road. E&E News has asked a number of experts about which 2022 electric vehicle models will move the needle on emissions.

Observers said those to watch won’t necessarily be those parading in Super Bowl ads or receiving plaudits from the automotive press. Many are not flashy or are beyond the reach of the regular buyer.

New luxury cars from Mercedes or Cadillac are too expensive to sell in large numbers. Muscular mud crushers like the GMC Hummer or the Rivian R1T will likely roll out of the factories this year.

What matters for the climate is that the petrol or diesel is not burned in the first place. This measure is sometimes referred to as avoided emissions. The electric vehicles that avoid the most emissions are those that are sold in the greatest number, that are the heaviest or that travel the most kilometers. Generating electricity to charge an electric vehicle has its own emissions, but it is a separate measurement.

Here are the low emissions The electric vehicles the experts have their eyes on:

Tesla Model 3 and Model Y

Tesla Model Y. | You’re here

While automakers talk about the electric vehicles they hope to sell in large volumes one day, there’s only one company likely to achieve that feat in 2022.

“We know that Tesla, of course, sells the most electric cars in the world,” said Karl Brauer, who monitors car trends at iSeeCars.com, an automotive search engine.

And not just a few, but a lot: in 2021, Tesla says it delivered 936,000 electric vehicles, the vast majority being Model 3 sedans and more affordable Model Y SUVs.

By comparison, America’s second-largest electric vehicle vendor, Ford Motor Co., could sell 127,500 electric vehicles this year, according to estimates by Alan Baum, an independent automotive analyst in Detroit. This includes 95,000 from the Mustang Mach-E and 32,500 from the Lightning F-150 pickup truck.

In 2022, Tesla’s numbers are poised for a rapid rise.

The automaker’s plants in Austin, Texas and Berlin are expected to start operating soon. The most optimistic analysts assume that more than 2 million Teslas could arrive in the world.

Some of these Teslas will be on shared platforms that guarantee plenty of road miles. Revel, a startup taxi service in New York, packs luggage in the Model Y, while Hertz Corp., one of the nation’s largest car rental networks, offers rides in the Model 3.

Toyota RAV4 and plug-in hybrids

Toyota RAV4 PHEV
Toyota RAV4 PHEV. | Toyota

They don’t make the headlines, but one of the most important classes of low-emission vehicles is a growing quiver of plug-in hybrids.

These PHEVs outperform the Toyota Prius, the green vehicle of yore, by shifting the vehicle’s gas-electric mix further in favor of electric. In doing so, they make a zero-emission journey possible.

The traditional hybrid is one that recharges its relatively small battery from the gasoline engine or from the act of braking or decelerating. Plug-in hybrids have a larger battery and rely on it for a number of purely electric miles before the gasoline engine starts. This larger battery requires external charging via the power grid – hence the name “plug-in”.

In terms of sales numbers, “hybrids and plug-in hybrids are doing much better than electric vehicles,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst at online automotive market Autotrader.com.

The best-selling PHEV in 2021 was the Toyota RAV4 Prime, which debuted in 2019. Close behind is the Prius Prime, the plug-in version of Toyota’s best-selling Prius. “Toyota can’t do enough of the RAV4 hybrid,” Krebs said.

These models lead a small crowd of PHEVs now on sale at dealerships. None sell in huge numbers, but pretty well: the RAV4 Hybrid sold out last year, according to figures from iSeeCars.com.

The value proposition for drivers is clear. They provide a number of zero-emission miles – usually between 20 and 30, with the highest RAV4 at 42 miles – before dipping into the gas tank. This saves money while avoiding the range anxiety that comes with an all-battery electric car.

New models are on the rise. Last year, Ford introduced a plug-in Escape SUV. South Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia offer a plug-in version of nearly every model in their lineups, the latest being SUVs like the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento.

In 2022, roll call will increase with Jeep’s off-road offerings, including plug-in Wranglers, Grand Cherokees and Gladiators.

Delivery vans and trucks

BrightDrop Delivery Van
BrightDrop delivery van. | BrightDrop

Delivery vehicles are important for emissions because they are not only heavy, they also travel many miles, every working day. More of these vehicles will go electric this year than any other in history.

It’s hard to say how much, because truck manufacturers watch their sales numbers and don’t themselves know how quickly production can increase. But it will be “a drop in the ocean,” said Ben Sharpe, a heavy-duty vehicle analyst at the International Council on Clean Transportation, who estimates fewer than 500 units hit the road last year.

Delivery companies are still cautious and making small purchases.

“We’re talking about sales between one and a dozen,” Sharpe said. “We don’t see a lot of these trucks rolling out yet.”

On the sidewalk this year, you can sometimes see the electric Ford Transit or the BrightDrop van from General Motors. Other packages will be purchased by Arrival, a UK startup with small factories in North and South Carolina, and Rivian Automotive Inc., which makes trucks for Amazon.com Inc.

There’s a reason they’re among the first large vehicles to go electric, said Jason Mathers, director of vehicle and fleet strategy at the Environmental Defense Fund. Their typical use case – navigating a predictable daily route and returning to base overnight – pairs well with limited battery range and the need to spend hours recharging.

Other heavy vehicles are also ramping up. School and transit buses have the most momentum, followed by waste haulers and utility boom lifts, along with a few large regional haul trucks like the Volvo VNR or Daimler eCascadia.

“This market has really accelerated over the past two years,” Mathers said, to the point where “we really can’t keep up.”

“The vehicles themselves work very well,” Mathers said. “We need a lot more work to develop the charging infrastructure and charging interface that companies need to use these vehicles at scale.”

Ford Lightning F-150

Ford F-150 Lightning
Ford F-150 Lightning. | Ford

This electric version of America’s best-selling truck is being watched closely by climate hawks this year, though its immediate consequences will be mild.

The reason? “I think the pickup truck segment is the most important for climate impact,” Krebs said.

It’s not just that trucks are very popular or that they are large vehicles that consume more fuel. They straddle two key markets: regular truckers, many of whom will be exposed to electric vehicles for the first time through the F-150, and fleet buyers, who could eventually purchase electric versions in large numbers.

“You don’t sell one on one. You sell a whole bunch to one buyer,” Krebs said of the fleet as a customer.

Ford plans to start production of the new F-150 in the spring, and it’s not the only one or the first. Rivian beat Ford by producing just over 1,000 R1T trucks in 2021. Behind Ford is Tesla, which may not launch its Cybertruck until 2023. Each has a long list of paid reservations.

But customer interest in electric trucks alone won’t chill the planet. First, the vehicles themselves must be mass-produced. Ford, Rivian and Tesla have only just started their assembly lines, and they are highly unlikely to meet customer demand in 2022.

Baum, the Michigan analyst, estimates the F-150 Lightning will sell 32,000 units this year. Rivian – between its pickup, its SUV and the delivery truck it makes for Amazon – could produce 30,000 units.

That’s significant, but it’s a handful of grit compared to the 726,000 traditional F-150s the Americans bought last year.

Volkswagen ID.4 and crossovers

Volkswagen ID.4.
Volkswagen ID.4. | volkswagen

Volkswagen, the world’s first traditional automaker to bet its future on electric, could start to see that effort begin to pay off in the United States this year with the ID.4.

It is a crossover, that is, a small SUV based on a car platform rather than a truck one.

American drivers love crossovers, and two models from traditional automakers — the ID.4 and Ford’s Mustang Mach-E — will likely sell well and start changing the emissions profile of American passenger cars.

While other automakers offer electric crossovers, they are made on other continents and shipped here. Strong demand in Europe and Asia means relatively few reach US dealerships.

In contrast, Ford and VW will manufacture theirs in North America. The Mach-E is manufactured at Ford’s Cautitlán plant outside of Mexico City. This year, Volkswagen is set to unveil a new $800 million all-electric assembly plant at its Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant. Its first product will be the ID.4.

VW only sold 15,000 of the vehicle last year, but those were imports. With the new Tennessee plant, the German automaker should begin to be able to manufacture many electric crossovers and price them competitively, Baum said.

“The ID.4 has always been a standout vehicle for me because it’s the right vehicle at the right price,” Baum said. The ID.4 starts at $40,700 and the Mach-E at $43,900.

Baum estimates ID.4 sales this year could reach 24,000. Add in the roughly 95,000 Ford Mustang Mach-Es, and the two traditional automakers could start nipping at Tesla’s heels.