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Why buying a Tesla in India or China may not cut your carbon emissions

An essential element of the climate potential of electric vehicles is that they’re eventually able to switch to lower-carbon fuels — a slow process in India and China.

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At a time when most major companies are working on plans to cut their carbon emissions, one of the darlings of green investing is working to increase its emissions footprint.

You read that right. Thanks to its explosive expansion in China and a planned car plant in India, Tesla Inc. is in the process of not just increasing the total sum of its emissions — a pretty inevitable consequence of growth in our current carbonized world — but increasing the amount of pollution each of its vehicles generates, too.

That’s because carmakers’ emissions aren’t just a product of the energy consumed in their factories — they’re a result of the pollution their products pump out while they’re being driven around. Thanks to all the gasoline and diesel that gets burned over the lifetime of the cars they sell, Volkswagen AG is responsible for more greenhouse gases than oil producer Total SE. Toyota Motor Corp.’s footprint exceeds that of BP Plc. Cummins Inc., which makes engines for commercial vehicles, has a higher total than Exxon Mobil Corp.

Electric vehicles like those sold by Tesla are at a substantial advantage on that front. As my colleagues Liam Denning and Elaine He have written, they’re so much more efficient in converting produced energy into vehicle power that even in coal-heavy grids like China’s they’re more efficient than the gasoline equivalent.

The differences from one country to another, however, are substantial.

Take the lifecycle emissions calculator produced by Transport & Environment, a European non-profit dedicated to zero-carbon transport. A current-model large car with a battery produced and charged in an average European Union country emits about 88 grams of CO2 per kilometer, compared to 284 grams for a petrol-powered equivalent. In a country with a low-carbon grid like Sweden or France, that drops to 50 grams or less.

If you use a proxy for a high-emissions grid like those in China or India, though, the picture changes substantially. A car with its battery made in China and charged up in Poland, where coal makes up about two-thirds of the electricity mix as it does in China and India, puts out 193 grams per kilometer.

An essential element of the climate potential of electric vehicles is that they’re able to switch to lower-carbon fuels over the course of their lifetimes, as heavily-emitting power plants are disconnected from the grid and replaced with renewables. That process is likely to be quite rapid in developed countries — but in the two countries where Tesla hopes to catch the next leg of growth, China and India, it’s going to be unusually slow.

As a result, the more cars Tesla sells in China and India, the more the intensity of its emissions — the emissions per vehicle sold, or per dollar of revenue — will rise.

Also read: Why Tesla’s big Bitcoin splash isn’t exciting news for Indians investing in cryptocurrencies


Perhaps this doesn’t matter. Any electric vehicle sold anywhere in the world is likely substituting for one powered by petrol or diesel. What the climate needs is for the market share of battery-powered vehicles to increase vis-a-vis conventional ones. If that means a lot get sold in markets where the immediate greenhouse benefits are lesser than they are in the U.S. and Western Europe, it’s still, on balance, a plus.

Even so, this is the sort of information the climate-focused investors who’ve driven Tesla’s stock price so high ought to be given, so they can make their own decisions about how their shareholdings reflect their own emissions-reduction commitments.

That’s not the case at Tesla. Not only does it not disclose the Scope 3 emissions (those dominated by emissions from the cars it sells), it doesn’t even lay out Scope 1 (from on-site power consumption) or Scope 2 (from purchased electricity). Nor does it disclose its electricity consumption, and its behavior indicates that, for all the rhetoric, this isn’t exactly a priority. Four years after production started at its Gigafactory battery plant in Nevada, the solar panels that were to cover its roof and help make it independent of Nevada’s gas-fired grid are still only gradually being added.

Companies that make products to accelerate the transition to clean energy while providing scrappy documentation of their own carbon footprint may be better than the alternative — ones that provide exemplary historic disclosures but only the vaguest assurances about how their net-zero commitments are going to be met.

Still, a clean-energy business with a market cap roughly equivalent to the S&P 500’s entire oil and gas sub-index should be capable of producing the information to help investors make their own minds up. Tesla’s slapdash emissions disclosure is a stain on an otherwise impressive record. A company that thrives on the power of the sun shouldn’t hide the footprint of its own operations in shadow. – Bloomberg

Also read: For Tesla, India will be a very tough market to crack unlike China


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  1. You’re missing out the staple point which is our DIET, food related emissions are much higher, eating a plant based diet and being vegan is the best way to reduce food related emissions, climate change and most importantly redundant amimal cruelty.

  2. IC cars will stay, until and unless they are banned. Drastic laws have to be enacted and enforced , since some mad people are no more in power.

  3. Who is this numb brain writer or wanna be . Seriously, did he just bumped his head into a wall to write the above article?

    Please do humanity a favor, please don’t reproduce.

  4. Elon Musk once said even when charged with electricity from coal plant it’s still less than IC cars, even so majority of ev buyers are oping for solar to cut down the cost of charging .

  5. Woah. It is 11 PM and this is the stupidest thing that I have read in a really long time. Irrational.. no.. brainless comparison – where is the gas equivalent emission per km in India?

  6. It is not only the Carbon emissions that matter, ICE vehicles emit lead, Nitrogen oxides, HCs VOCs, NMHC, Particulate matter, CO, and sulphates as well. Plus study doesn’t include the impact of overall maintenance of vehicles undertaken over its lifespan that kicks in post manufacturing stage which includes parts replacement, engine oil usage, et al.

    This when combined with densely populated metros we have, makes these moderns cities’ air toxic which adds to the economic stress due to investments in additional health infra that is required and also reducing the economic value of the residents. And also, this is just a start. By moving towards non-conventional energy sources for electricity production, it will always be positive.

    Why is this aspect not covered in the article. Also, why a negative headline? Clickbait?

  7. The simple thing is, petrol won’t magically become non polluting tomorrow. But the coal power plant today can and will be replaced by solar/hydro/wind to great extent. Even today, 34% electricity in India is from renewable.

    There is no zero impact transport. There’s relativity in the amount of pollution and proximity of pollution.

    Sure, it’s 193gCO2/km for EVs on coal grid, but would your rather have 284gCO2 directly to lungs in city air or 193gCO2 into air around coal power plant 100s of km away from densely populated cities? Both are producing pollution to some extent. The only question is which is relatively better in amount and proximity

  8. Paid article, useless fellow don’t know conversion of gasoline to power is 30 to 35 %.

    Even if you get the energy from thermal power plant conversion rate would be 85 %.

    Stupid person also don’t know india and china is focusing on renewable energy.

  9. Kaise jeete ho Bhai tum print waale? Zindagi Bhar negativity.

    It’s well known that burning fossil fuels in individual vehicles is really inefficient compared to burning coal in a coal powered power plant and then using that electricity to run vehicles. Also vehicular combustion is extremely polluting in nature considered the inefficient burning of fuel, specially diesel. When was the last time you saw black fumes coming out of a power plant ? It’s not just about CO2. Carbon dioxide will not cause you any respiratory illness. The sulphur, nitrogen, and various other oxides coming out of a diesel vehicle along with partially burnt fuel is extremely dangerous for health of your respiratory system. Carbon dioxide belongs to the greenhouse club. Not the “it’ll kill you with fatal respiratory illness club”.

    And India is moving extremely fast in terms of renewable energy. Commissioning the largest solar plants in the world. By 2030-35 , 40% of our energy will be from renewables.

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