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SUVs are conquering the world as car buyers ignore climate message

Scott Carpenter, Forbes

SUVs are conquering the world. That’s a problem for efforts to reign in emissions from the global transportation sector, which accounts for roughly 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

For the first time ever in the U.S. last year, sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) likely accounted for half or just over half of all vehicles sold, according to recent data from IHS Markit, a data and analytics firm. Others are rapidly catching up. Between 2010 and 2019, the share of SUVs in overall car sales in China jumped from 14% to 44%. In Europe the SUV share climbed from 10% to 36%. 

The SUV’s popularity is effectively negating the annual fuel efficiency gains from better technology and tightening fuel economy standards. The average fuel efficiency increases of light-duty vehicles per year has slowed to only around 1.3% in recent years — down from the roughly 2% per year in the handful of years prior, and well below the roughly 3% needed merely to keep total global emissions from cars from rising.

“Consumer demand for larger vehicles has risen significantly,” says a report released last year by the Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI), a partnership between the United Nations, the International Energy Agency, and others. This “has led to a slackening – or in some cases even reversal – of national rates of fuel consumption improvements.” […]

SUVs are also harder to electrify than sedans and other passenger cars, presenting another challenge to reigning in auto sector emissions. Their larger bodies and powertrains require bigger batteries capable of pumping out more electricity.

Of the roughly 27.5 million SUVs sold around the world last year, only 1.8% were pure electric (excluding hybrids), said Felipe Munoz, a senior analyst at JATO Dynamics, an auto data provider, in an email. “Bear in mind that most of the current SUV offers do not feature pure electric versions, and the very few are quite expensive.”

If they offer any electric SUVs, major automakers so far offer only about one apiece, a minuscule number compared to the array of traditional SUVs on offer. 

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