Consuming the million-mile electric car

Cook, Matthew; Valdez Juarez, AM; Catulli, Maurizio and Potter, Stephen (2021). Consuming the million-mile electric car. In: PLATE – Product lifetimes and the environment 3rd PLATE Conference, September 18–20, 2019 Berlin, Germany (Nissen, Nils F and Jaeger-Erben, Melanie eds.), Universitätsverlag der TU Berlin, Berlin, pp. 155–160.



Unlike for many consumer products, there has been no strong environmental case for extending the life of internal combustion engine cars as the majority of their environmental impact is fuel consumed in use and not the energy and materials involved in manufacturing. Indeed, with improving fuel efficiency, product life extension is environmentally undesirable; older, less fuel-efficient cars need to be replaced by newer more fuel-efficient models.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are predominantly considered environmentally beneficial by using an increasingly decarbonised fuel – electricity. However, LCA analyses show that EVs have substantial environmental impacts in their materials, manufacturing and disposal. The high ‘embedded’ environmental impacts of EVs fundamentally change the case for product life extension. Thus, product life extension is desirable for EVs and they are suited to it. While petrol and diesel cars have an average lifetime mileage of 124,000 miles (200,000 Kilometres), the case for the million-mile (1.6 million Kilometre) electric car appears strong.
Although it may be technically possible to produce a million-mile EV, how will such vehicles be consumed given that the car consumption is complex, involving, for example, extracting use and symbolic value? In this contribution we explore the nature of the relationship between cars and the consumer that moves beyond technical and functional value to understand what form of access consumers require to an EV across its entire 50-year life. If such consumption aspects are overlooked then, even if the million-mile car is technically viable, it is unlikely to be adopted and the environmental benefits they may yield will be lost.

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