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TheStreet Open House

Electric Cars Won't Make Your Air Any Cleaner

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The purpose of this article is to show with relatively simple logic that electric cars will not have a noticeable impact on air quality and so it is a complete waste of money to subsidize these cars.

Let's start with the objective of not only electrification but also of other alternative fuels: reduce emissions, so as to improve the air quality.

That's a laudable objective. There was a time, some 40 years ago, when the air quality in much of America's major cities was bad. The smog over Los Angeles was legendary.

So what happened over the last 40 years? The emissions standards for regular gasoline and diesel cars were changed dramatically, step by step, as technology allowed.

Over these 40 years, as the half-life of the car fleet turned over every decade, on average, essentially 100% of this bad air and smog went away. No, it did not decline 100% but a new 2014 car sold today has seen a reduction in emissions by almost 100% compared to the average new car of 40 years ago.

These days you could lock yourself in a small garage, turn on the engine and you would be fine for a very long time. You would die from dehydration or starvation before the engine's emissions killed you.

If a new 2014 car sold in the U.S. or Western Europe today is so clean, what is the remaining problem? Why are emissions not down 100% on an aggregate basis?

The answer is mostly twofold:

1. The average age of the car fleet is 11.4 years. This means the average car on the road today was made in early 2003. That car from 2003 still pollutes more than a 2014 car.

2. Some vehicles are not subject to the same emissions standards. You will likely notice this when a large truck or bus passes you by. They spew out massive amounts of (mostly) diesel emissions.

Let's say that we do nothing in terms of alternative fuels and tightening automobile emissions standards going forward -- what would happen? If we do nothing, the car fleet would become cleaner and cleaner every single year, as the car park rolls over. Within a dozen years, most cars would be as clean as the best new cars today.

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