The Daily Mail’s new campaign against electric cars and vans in the UK is hypocritical and against its own readers’ interests, writes Bob Ward.   

The Daily Mail has launched a desperate propaganda campaign against the UK government’s current intention to stop sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2030. In a series of inaccurate and misleading news and opinion articles about electric vehicles, the newspaper is hoping to bounce the Government into weakening its policy on the phase-out of the internal combustion engine. 

The Daily Mail and its sister paper The Mail on Sunday have a long track record of promoting misinformation about the causes and potential consequences of climate change. 

The new campaign, with articles badged ‘Rethink the 2030 petrol car ban’, began on 3 July 2023, running a front page story under the headline ‘Put brakes on “damaging” 2030 petrol car ban’. The article’s opening sentence sets the tone for the ongoing campaign: “Ministers were last night under pressure to ease off the pedal on their drive towards banning petrol and diesel cars by 2030.” 

This, of course, was inaccurate and misleading. There is no proposal to ‘ban’ petrol and diesel cars by 2030. In fact, Boris Johnson’s government announced on 18 November 2020 that sales of new petrol and diesel cars would stop in 2030, with sales of new hybrid vehicles banned from 2035. There is currently no deadline for the phase-out of all petrol and diesel vehicles. 

Misrepresenting electric vehicles’ carbon emissions 

While the new campaign does raise some legitimate questions about the current costs and infrastructure for electric vehicles, its coverage is clearly intended to undermine the confidence of its readers and to put pressure on the Government to weaken, rather than strengthen, its policies. And it uses misinformation to try to achieve this campaign aim. 

For instance, the newspaper also included an article in its print edition on 3 July under the headline ‘Why electric cars are not green machines’. The second paragraph of the article by Jack Hardy, who was tasked with producing all of the attacks on electric vehicles and the 2030 ban on new sales of petrol and diesel cars, states:  

“The environmental benefit of electric cars may never be felt – with their production creating up to 70 per cent more emissions than their petrol equivalent. 

“Electric cars need to be used for tens of thousands of miles before they offset the higher releases, with VW’s e-Golf becoming more environmentally friendly only after 77,000 miles, according to the manufacturer’s own figures.” 

Reviewing the Volkswagen claim

The claim about the e-Golf has been around for a while and has been debunked many times. Dr Simon Evans of the website ‘Carbon Brief’ has calculated that when all the erroneous assumptions were corrected, the e-Golf would actually only need to operate for 25,000 kilometres before its carbon footprint was smaller than a diesel-powered Golf – significantly less than the 77,000 miles [125,000 kilometres] stated by the Daily Mail

Let’s look back at where that higher figure came from. This is a comparison made by VW between its e-Golf and the diesel-powered Golf TDI, which was published on the company’s website in April 2019. It suggested that over the entire lifetime of the two cars, assuming each runs for 200,000 kilometres before it is recycled, the diesel TDI would emit 140 grammes of carbon dioxide per kilometre while the e-Golf would emit 119 grammes per kilometre. VW stated that during the production phase of the e-Golf, emissions would be 57 grammes of carbon dioxide per kilometre, compared with 29 grammes per kilometre for the diesel car. The company added a web page, long since deleted, which claimed the e-Golf would need to operate for 125,000 kilometres before its average emissions per kilometre were lower than the TDI’s.  

Dr Evans investigated in February 2020 the assumptions made by Volkswagen in its calculations. He found many were questionable. For instance, the company had used the laboratory measurements of emissions per kilometre to work out the footprint of 111 grammes per kilometre during its use on the road (i.e. not including emissions from its production and recycling). But Dr Evans pointed out that numerous studies have found that actual on-the-road emissions are usually significantly higher than laboratory figures. This is backed up by a review by the International Council on Clean Transportation published in January 2019 which concluded: “Data on approximately 1.3 million vehicles from 15 data sources and eight countries indicate that the divergence, or gap, between official and real-world CO2 emission values of new European passenger cars increased from approximately 8% in 2001 to 39% in 2017.” 

In addition, Volkswagen’s calculations assumed that the electricity used by the e-Golf had an emissions intensity equivalent to the average for the 27 Member States of the European Union. According to the European Environment Agency, this figure was 255 grammes per kilowatt-hour in 2019. This is 40 per cent higher than the average emissions intensity of electricity of 182 grammes per kilowatt-hour in the UK recorded by National Grid in 2022.  

Dr Evans’s calculation that the e-Golf’s carbon footprint would fall below that of the diesel Golf after only 25,000 kilometres is in line with a review by the International Council on Clean Transportation which concluded in 2021 that “the life-cycle emissions over the lifetime of BEVs [battery electric vehicles] registered today in Europe, the United States, China, and India are already lower than a comparable gasoline car by 66%–69% in Europe, 60%–68% in the United States, 37%–45% in China, and 19%–34% in India”. 

All of this was completely irrelevant to the newspaper’s readers anyway because Volkswagen stopped production of the e-Golf more than three years ago, in early 2020. 

Inaccuracies on vehicle range and grid infrastructure 

This entirely bogus attempt to mislead readers into believing that electric vehicles are not much better for the climate was not the only inaccurate article in the 3 July edition of the Daily Mail. Elsewhere, under the headline ‘That’s a shock…charging a car can be pricier than filling up’, the newspaper stated: “To make matters worse, consumer group Which? found that the range of 70 electric cars it tested was nearly 20 per cent lower than advertised, meaning motorists could end up having to recharge more regularly.” 

This was also inaccurate. When I contacted the press office at Which?, they said they did not recognise the newspaper’s claim and directed me to an article they had published in July 2022 in which they reported that, based on tests of 60 electric vehicles since 2017, on average the range was 18 per cent lower than that indicated by the official Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure. Many vehicles had a range that was much closer to the official estimate, and one, the BMW iX model, actually exceeded the official estimated range. 

Other articles published by the newspaper as part of its campaign have been similarly inaccurate and misleading. On 8 July 2023, the newspaper published an error-riddled article by Viscount Ridley under the headline ‘I’ll be buying a brand new petrol car just before the 2030 ban’.  

Viscount Ridley, who is a member of the “Academic Advisory Council” of the Global Warming Policy Foundation and has a track record of promoting misinformation about climate change, made numerous false claims in his article. For instance, he wrote:  

“Nor can Britain’s electricity infrastructure be adapted easily or quickly to cope with the extra demand implied by the transition – without further subsidies. 

“Just to supply the extra electricity for a fully electric fleet would mean a near doubling of the number of wind farms (plus necessary gas-fired back-up), or an equivalent new supply from nuclear a technology that takes decades to build.” 

This is nonsense, as National Grid has pointed out. An article published on its website in August 2022 titled ‘Busting the myths and misconceptions about electric vehicles’ included as Myth 1: “The electricity grid won’t be able to handle the increase in EVs.” National Grid states: 

“The most demand for electricity in recent years in the UK was for 62GW in 2002. Since then, the nation’s peak demand has fallen by roughly 16% due to improvements in energy efficiency. 

“Even if we all switched to EVs overnight, we believe demand would only increase by around 10%. So we’d still be using less power as a nation than we did in 2002 and this is well within the range of manageable load fluctuation.” 

According to the latest statistics published by the UK Government, 24.6 per cent of electricity generated last year was provided by onshore and offshore wind, so Viscount Ridley’s claim that a doubling of wind farms would be required is wrong. 

Elsewhere, Viscount Ridley stated: “Meanwhile, an optimistic estimate of the emissions savings of electric cars over petrol or diesel is 25 per cent per vehicle.” As the 2021 review by the International Council on Clean Transportation showed, this is completely incorrect. 

And of course, Viscount Ridley repeated the same falsehood about the Volkswagen study that appeared in the newspaper a few days earlier. He wrote: “Volkswagen compared a diesel Golf with an electric Golf and estimated that the electric car has to be driven 80,000 miles before its emissions are lower than the diesel car in a typical European country.” 

Misalignment with the newspaper’s owners 

While the Daily Mail is obviously willing to mislead its readers into rejecting electric vehicles, the newspaper’s owners obviously do not believe a word of the campaign. 

The Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT) boasts on its website about its progress in cutting its carbon footprint, including its efforts to boost the use of electric vehicles. It states: 

“DMGT aims to actively reduce its energy consumption across its offices and printing facilities through implementing operational efficiency enhancements and building modifications. Some of the initiatives undertaken that are helping DMGT to reduce its carbon footprint and the carbon footprint of its employees include the upgrade of building management systems, migration to LED lighting and the installation of electric car charging points at the three printing plants acquired by DMGT during FY 2021.” 

DMGT also recently joined Ad Net Zero, which is described as “the advertising industry’s drive to decarbonise the production, distribution, and publication of advertising”. Its action plan includes a pledge to “[Avoid] Misleading Environmental Claims and Greenwashing’. 

The new campaign against electric vehicles by the Daily Mail is not only hypocritical but also a violation of the principles of Ad Net Zero. 

Keep in touch with the Grantham Research Institute at LSE
Sign up to our newsletters and get the latest analysis, research, commentary and details of upcoming events.