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The Accelerating Impact: How SUV Sales are Fueling the Climate Crisis and Reshaping the Auto Industry

by Violet Dawson
0 comment

Worldwide, more than one out of four cars on the road are SUVs and a majority of them are conventional ICE vehicles.

The SUV sales hit a new record in 2023, hence, more than half of the new cars fall into the SUV category, making them the major cause of the intensifying climate crisis. According to experts the rising sales in large and heavy vehicles is pushing up the carbon emissions that drive towards extensive global warming. As per the International Energy Agency (IEA), the ever larger cars are responsible for more than a quarter of the annual growth for oil and about 20% of the added energy related to CO2 emissions. 

These big cars strengthen and define automobile trends of the early 21st century. They take over about 48% of the global car sales, breaking all previous records. Up from 41.4% in 2020 and 20.58% in 2013, according to the data in the IEA’s report. There are various driving forces steering the trend, from making it as a status symbol , the potential of ideal comfort, to coming up with new strategies to lead the automobile market. 

Surpassing the market share of 50%, the sales have reached around 20 million last year in an advanced economy. The preference for a larger car simultaneously emerges and develops economies. Worldwide, more than one out of four cars on the road are SUVs and a majority of them are conventional ICE vehicles. While only 5% of these SUVs are electric, they are still responsible for the growing share of electric car sales. More than 55% of new electric car registrations were SUV, last year. 

Big in weight and size, a they weigh about 200-300 kg more than an average size car while taking up nearly 0.3 m2 more space. Naturally it emits roughly 20% more carbon dioxide emissions. The heavier and less fuel-efficient cars increase energy demand, including oil and electricity use. They also want the essential minerals and base metals needed to produce batteries. From the past year from 2022 to 2023, the global oil consumption by SUVs rose over 600,000 barrels per day. This accounts for more than a quarter of the overall annual growth in oil demand. 

Besides the continued demand for fossil fuels, more than 360 million SUVs on the road all over the world last year, resulted in combustion-related CO2 emissions of 1 billion tons, up by about 100 million tons from 2022. According to an analysis by the International Energy Agency, the rising emissions in 2023 made up 20% of the global increase in CO2, making vehicles a major cause of the intensifying climate crisis. According to the IEA, SUVs would release more CO2 globally than both Japan and Germany combined, making them the fifth-largest nation.

The annual increase in the CO2 emissions attributed to the rise of SUVs is equal to about half of the emissions growth emerging from the global electricity sector. When compared to smaller cars, SUVs are  associated with higher indirect emissions resulting from producing the materials used to manufacture them. 

Around 30 million SUVs with internal combustion engines are added to the global fleet in 2023. Until last year, about 60% of the 500 electric car models that were available worldwide, fell under the SUV category, totaling to an increased number from previous years. The fact that automakers want to release more electrified SUV models soon serves as another evidence of this trend.

Many countries such as France, Norway, and Ireland are exploring a legislative framework or have already established it to reign in demand for SUVs in order to respond to these challenges. Whereas major cities like Paris and Lyon are implementing higher parking charges specifically targeting SUVs in urban areas.

Using electric vehicles instead of fossil fuel-powered ones is a crucial tactic for achieving global energy and climate goals. However, measures such as rightsizing EV battery packs, tailoring fuel efficiency standards based on car size as well as lower material demand requirements, are also essential for a sustainable future. 

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