Rob a star engineer asked me to calculate the imputed carbon tax to a consumer buying various cars.
As a base let’s assume the motorist wants safe, reliable, and affordable transportation. The motorist can buy a 2015 Toyota Corolla for MSRP of $17,500 and it will get 32 MPG. Let’s assume the car lasts 10 years and goes a distance of 150,000 miles. At 22.5 pounds of CO2 well to wheels we have the motorist emitting 52.73 tons of CO2 over the ten years.
The motorist can upgrade to a Prius and achieve 50 MPG and only emit 33.75 tons of CO2 over the same distance in the same ten years. This saves the planet approximately 19 tons of CO2 emissions. The MSRP of the Prius is $24,200. The added $6,700 paid divided by the 19 tons of CO2 means the motorist paid a carbon tax of $352.92 per ton of CO2 saved.
This is a very simplified analysis as the battery pack on the Prius required some primary energy to fabricate the pack but for now let’s assume the carbon footprint to produce a Corolla is the same as a Prius.
Next the motorist could have bought a plug in Prius. The MSRP is $29,900, this is $14,400 more than the base Corolla. The MPG is 50 on gasoline and let’s assume that one quarter of the miles are driven on US Average Grid power with the grid emitting 0.55 tons per megawatt hour. Doing some tedious math we get the same 150,000 miles driven over ten years the Plug in Prius will emit 32.53 tons of CO2. The carbon tax for buying the plug in Prius versus the Corolla is $712.76 per ton of CO2 saved.
Next the motorist could have bought a Nissan Leaf. With a MSRP of $30,585 this car is $13,085 more expensive than the Corolla. Using US average grid emissions the Leaf will have 28.88 tons of CO2 emissions over the 150,000 miles. For this purpose we will not add the CO2 emissions to fabricate the battery and therefore at a minimum the carbon tax to buy the leaf over the Corolla is $548.42 per ton of CO2. As you and I as taxpayers gave the Leaf owner $7,500 to buy the wrong car we got taxed at $314.34 per short ton of CO2 emissions saved.
For comparison one can buy a US ton of carbon offsets in Europe for between $7 and $8 per ton of CO2. None of these cars make any economic sense. Go out and buy a Corolla. It is a great car and probably will last long beyond 150,000 miles. The Leaf will turn brown and may not be compostable after 10 years.