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Tesla faces scrutiny over carbon costs of bitcoin and vehicle range

Tesla is riding high these days, but two developments could create reputational risks for the world's most valuable car company.

Driving the news: Tesla is beginning to face criticism over the climate effects of its big new investment in bitcoin and the decision to accept it as payment — even though electric vehicles are lower-CO2 alternatives to gasoline vehicles.

Why it matters: Bitcoin "mining" to process transactions is very energy-intensive, so promotion of its use could add to its carbon footprint.

What they're saying: Ben Dear, CEO of the sustainable investment firm Osmosis Investment Management, tells Reuters: “We are of course very concerned about the level of carbon dioxide emissions generated from bitcoin mining.”

  • He said Tesla should disclose energy consumption associated with its bitcoin ventures.
  • More broadly, some analysts see Tesla's decision to accept bitcoin as potentially widening its use in transactions more broadly.
  • Reuters says Tesla's bitcoin backing could "turbo-charge global use of a currency."
  • The Verge is also reporting on the climate angle.

Driving the news, part 2: New research from Edmunds finds that five Tesla models they tested showed less range per charge than the vehicles' EPA estimates.

  • The analysis, which Edmunds notes is designed as a "real-world complement to the EPA's laboratory-based process," found the vehicles had 2.5%-17.4% less range.
  • The one with 17.4% less was a 2018 Model 3 Performance edition, which had 256 miles of range instead of 310 in the EPA estimate.

But, but, but: Tesla still had two of the five longest-range vehicles among the 15 models Edmunds tested.

  • The biggest difference between the EPA and Edmunds findings was with the 2020 Porsche Taycan 4S, which went 59% further in the Edmunds test at 323 miles.

Of note: Gasoline-powered vehicles can also underperform their EPA estimates, and in general, mileage and range are influenced by all sorts of conditions and driving styles.

The bottom line: Tesla's on a good run, having become consistently profitable. But the EV market is getting more competitive, so these topics are worth keeping an eye on.

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