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How Green Is That Electric Car? And When It Hits 100 M.P.H.?

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They only look like conspicuous polluters.

A new breed of electric performance cars, including Porsche’s Taycan and the Tesla Model S P100D, shows how environmentally minded fans of horsepower might square their circles.

A supercar with a carbon footprint that seems closer to a jet engine’s than to a Prius’s may feel irresponsible in the face of climate change. But what about electric vehicles that can keep pace with or even outperform the likes of Lamborghini?

The Tesla Model S can sprint to 60 miles per hour in slightly more than two seconds, making it one of the quickest machines on the market. Is it notably cleaner than a comparably fast gasoline-fueled car like the BMW M5, which is powered by a fuel-hungry 617-horsepower twin-turbo V8?

The numbers say yes. The Tesla is convincingly the green choice, but there’s more to the story.

Even small, less powerful electric vehicles haven’t always been cleaner than the most efficient gas-powered autos. A 2012 article in The New York Times summarized a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists that found the environmental benefits of subcompact, modestly powered electric cars like the Nissan Leaf depended on where they were charged.

At the time, many states still relied heavily on coal-fired plants for electricity, and the investigators found that in some areas, electrics were no cleaner than efficient gasoline-powered cars when factoring in the emissions resulting from electricity generation.

E.V. technology has advanced considerably since then, and electricity generation in America has shifted, as well.

The latest report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, in a February article by David Reichmuth, its senior vehicles engineer, is much more optimistic than the one eight years ago. After analyzing all emissions — including those from fossil fuel production, along with conventional vehicle tailpipe emissions and power plant emissions — the group found that electric vehicles were responsible for about 10 percent less overall emissions in 2018 than they were just two years earlier. Emissions generated during vehicle and battery production or in the mining of lithium for E.V. batteries were not part of the calculation.

In this study, the average electric vehicle in the United States was found to be responsible for emission levels equivalent to those generated by a gasoline vehicle that gets 88 miles per gallon. In areas where a lot of coal is still burned to make electricity, the electric vehicle m.p.g. equivalency number can fall to as low as 49 miles to a gallon, but those areas are few and less densely populated than regions with clean power.

OK, but what about electric supercars like the Model S and Taycan? Since they produce mammoth horsepower, doesn’t it follow that their emission levels are high as well?

“A very powerful electric performance automobile is less efficient than a hyper-efficient E.V. but still far cleaner than a comparably powerful car that burns gasoline,” Mr. Reichmuth said in a telephone interview. He added that a Model S driven in California, which has some of the nation’s cleanest electrical power, is about equivalent to a gasoline vehicle that achieves 120 m.p.g. In other words, in an area with relatively clean electric plants, this extremely powerful machine can be cleaner than even the most efficient gas car.

The numbers Mr. Reichmuth cited assume that the Model S is driven responsibly. With the throttle held wide open, a Model S will gobble up the watt-hours. While Tesla doesn’t provide data for aggressive driving, some Tesla owners have explored the extremes. One estimate on Tesla’s web forums claims that at full throttle the car will use about 869 watt-hours of electricity per mile and have a range of about 88 miles on a full charge. In simple terms, that means driving 30 miles at full throttle would require about the same amount of electrical energy that an average American home uses in one day.

Driving at wide-open throttle at length would quickly heat the Tesla’s battery, triggering electronic safeguards that would slow the vehicle. So the Tesla isn’t going to take on gasoline rivals in an endurance race. But its fun-to-drive factor is very high, and in short sprints, it is nearly unbeatable. In one 2016 drag race captured on YouTube, a Model S takes on a 707-horsepower Dodge Challenger Hellcat, and emerges the victor.

The Taycan, according to Car and Driver magazine, is rated even quicker, but the magazine editors recorded identical 70 MPGe power consumption with both cars on a 300-mile trip at 75 miles an hour. (MPGe is an acronym for miles per gallon equivalent, and it’s the government’s way of quantifying the efficiency of electric vehicles. The Environmental Protection Agency, officially, pegs the Tesla at 97 MPGe combined city and highway driving, and the Porsche at 68 MPGe combined.)

The discrepancy in the Tesla and Porsche E.P.A. ratings is likely due to the structure of the test and appears to indicate that the Tesla has an efficiency advantage over the Porsche in stop-and-go city driving. No gasoline-powered high-performance car can be driven anywhere near as economically as the Tesla or Porsche electric.

A comparison of E.P.A. ratings suggests that the least economical gasoline-powered cars emit more than twice the emissions of the most economical gas car. For example, the Mitsubishi Mirage G4, with its three-cylinder engine, is E.P.A. rated at 35 m.p.g. combined, while a Ford Shelby GT 500 Mustang earns a 14 m.p.g. combined rating.

The spread between the electric extremes is much narrower. The Hyundai Ioniq Electric, one of the most efficient electric vehicles, is E.P.A. rated at 122 MPGe, yet the Tesla Model S Performance car earns a 98 MPGe rating.

Choosing a high-performance E.V. over a mild-mannered electric comes with much less of an efficiency penalty.

The way E.V.s are charged adds to their worth. When asked if electric cars were overtaxing the electrical grid, Mr. Reichmuth said, “A high-performance E.V. is not like an appliance with a cord that draws electricity in real time.”

He added, “Oftentimes, they are plugged in at night. So a high-performance model is going to be plugged in longer, but it doesn’t take more power at any one time.”

Consider, too, that charging stations are turning to renewable power sources like solar, in combination with a battery storage system. Tesla has promised that its Supercharger high-speed charger network will eventually be powered exclusively by renewable energy.

It’s all good news for performance enthusiasts. Now you can go fast and go green. You may have to play to an artificial soundtrack, but play you can.

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The Trump campaign celebrated a growth record that Democrats downplayed.

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The White House celebrated economic growth numbers for the third quarter released on Thursday, even as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign sought to throw cold water on the report — the last major data release leading up to the Nov. 3 election — and warned that the economic recovery was losing steam.

The economy grew at a record pace last quarter, but the upswing was a partial bounce-back after an enormous decline and left the economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The White House took no notice of those glum caveats.

“This record economic growth is absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country,” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign said in a statement, highlighting a rebound of 33.1 percent at an annualized rate. Mr. Trump heralded the data on Twitter, posting that he was “so glad” that the number had come out before Election Day.

The annualized rate that the White House emphasized extrapolates growth numbers as if the current pace held up for a year, and risks overstating big swings. Because the economy’s growth has been so volatile amid the pandemic, economists have urged focusing on quarterly numbers.

Those showed a 7.4 percent gain in the third quarter. That rebound, by far the biggest since reliable statistics began after World War II, still leaves the economy short of its pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery has also slowed, and now coronavirus cases are rising again across much of the United States, raising the prospect of further pullback.

“The recovery is stalling out, thanks to Trump’s refusal to have a serious plan to deal with Covid or to pass a new economic relief plan for workers, small businesses and communities,” Mr. Biden’s campaign said in a release ahead of Thursday’s report. The rebound was widely expected, and the campaign characterized it as “a partial return from a catastrophic hit.”

Economists have warned that the recovery could face serious roadblocks ahead. Temporary measures meant to shore up households and businesses — including unemployment insurance supplements and forgivable loans — have run dry. Swaths of the service sector remain shut down as the virus continues to spread, and job losses that were temporary are increasingly turning permanent.

“With coronavirus infections hitting a record high in recent days and any additional fiscal stimulus unlikely to arrive until, at the earliest, the start of next year, further progress will be much slower,” Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note following the report.

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Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.

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The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.

Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.

Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.

“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”

The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.

The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.

“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.

Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.

“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.

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Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.

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As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

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