Don’t pick on EVs! All cars need better AC coolants

Some critics of electric vehicles, and even some supporters, are taking a little bit of unseemly satisfaction out of the reports that most electric cars, as well as most other cars on the market these days, use a problematic refrigerant in their air conditioners.

“America’s electric cars are better for the environment, but they share a dirty little secret,” according to a report from InsideClimateNews reprinted in the Detroit News this month. The secret is a liquid coolant that traps heat in the atmosphere when it leaks out.Leaf interior

“For automakers and advocates of green transportation, it poses an uncomfortable truth: vehicles touted as a solution to climate change carry a hairspray-sized canister loaded with a chemical that significantly contributes to warming of the earth’s climate,” the report noted.

No doubt, electrical-vehicle manufacturers will need to make the switch to more climate-friendly coolants. But the focus on EVs is really misplaced, when the real problem is the millions of cars of all types that haven't switched over yet.

In the Detroit News story, David Doniger, a policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council who has worked on ozone issues since the 1980s, said he is “more concerned about getting the overall transition to occur as quickly as we can.”

“All car manufacturers ‘have the opportunity to switch refrigerants, and they should do it as quickly as they can,’ he said. ‘From an environmental point of view, if you want to get the changeover happening at a large scale, I wouldn’t focus first on electric cars--I’d just be focusing on volume.’”

Just to put it in perspective, Nissan Motors, sold 1.2 million gas cars in the U.S. in 2013 and just 23,000 all-electric Leafs.