Spacious and comfortable sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are the top choice for many car enthusiasts, but recent studies indicate that these large vehicles are one of the culprits hindering the global automotive industry's carbon reduction efforts.
“Growing vehicle size is a huge problem, which is threatening many aspects of sustainable mobility, from climate to road safety,” said Sheila Watson, deputy director of the FIA Foundation, an environmental nonprofit.
The latest report from the Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI) reveals that if all vehicle sizes had remained the same between 2010 and 2022, carbon emissions from the automotive industry could have reduced by over 30%. However, the actual reduction in carbon emissions was only 4.2%, mainly due to the growing popularity of SUVs and other large vehicles.
Statistics show that global SUV sales accounted for 51% of new car sales in 2022, surpassing conventional cars. Due to lower production costs and higher selling prices, SUVs have become the mainstream choice for manufacturers, leading to increased production and marketing efforts.
Although electric vehicles consume 3 to 6 times less energy than internal combustion engine vehicles for the same distance, their demand for batteries and energy remains considerable. The market acceptance of electric vehicles is still relatively low, with electric cars representing 15% of global car sales in 2022. Notably, China and the European market showed the most significant growth, with energy efficiency improvement by nearly 6%, while North America only grew by 1.6%.
“Reversing the trend toward bigger and heavier vehicles is key to achieving more sustainable mobility. This applies also for electric mobility, to make the market for EVs more equitable and inclusive – and to reduce the need for critical minerals and more electricity,” said Dan Sperling, founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies of the University of California, Davis.
The report calls on governments worldwide to implement policies restricting vehicle size and accelerating the development of small electric vehicles. Cities like Paris are considering stricter environmental and safety regulations for heavily used vehicles such as government vehicles, corporate fleets, taxis, and shared vehicles. Additionally, the report recommends phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, increasing investments in renewable energy, applying carbon pricing, enacting regulations for deployment of minimum EV charging infrastructure and introducing financial tools to make electric vehicles more economically viable.