The role of pickup truck electrification in the decarbonization of light-duty vehicles

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Electrification can reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of light-duty vehicles. Previous studies have focused on comparing battery electric vehicle (BEV) sedans to their conventional internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV) or hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) counterparts. We extend the analysis to different vehicle classes by conducting a cradle-to-grave life cycle GHG assessment of model year 2020 ICEV, HEV, and BEV sedans, sports utility vehicles (SUVs), and pickup trucks in the United States. We show that the proportional emissions benefit of electrification is approximately independent of vehicle class. For sedans, SUVs, and pickup truck we find HEVs and BEVs have approximately 28% and 64% lower cradle-to-grave life cycle emissions, respectively, than ICEVs in our base case model. This results in a lifetime BEV over ICEV GHG emissions benefit of approximately 45 tonnes CO2e for sedans, 56 tonnes CO2e for SUVs, and 74 tonnes CO2e for pickup trucks. The benefits of electrification remain significant with increased battery size, reduced BEV lifetime, and across a variety of drive cycles and decarbonization scenarios. However, there is substantial variation in emissions based on where and when a vehicle is charged and operated, due to the impact of ambient temperature on fuel economy and the spatiotemporal variability in grid carbon intensity across the United States. Regionally, BEV pickup GHG emissions are 13%–118% of their ICEV counterparts and 14%–134% of their HEV counterparts across U.S. counties. BEVs have lower GHG emissions than HEVs in 95%–96% of counties and lower GHG emissions than ICEVs in 98%–99% of counties. As consumers migrate from ICEVs and HEVs to BEVs, accounting for these spatiotemporal factors and the wide range of available vehicle classes is an important consideration for electric vehicle deployment, operation, policymaking, and planning.

Research Areas: 
electric vehicles
pickup truck
greenhouse gas emissions
life cycle assessment
Publication Type: 
Journal Article
Environmental Research Letters
Date Published: 
March 1, 2022
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Full Citation: 
Woody, Maxwell, Parth Vaishnav, Gregory A. Keoleian, Robert DeKleine, Hyung Chul Kim, James E. Anderson and Timothy J. Wallington. (2022) “The role of pickup truck electrification in the decarbonization of light-duty vehicles.” Environmental Research Letters. 17(03):1-14. 034031
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