Global Shift to Larger Cars Damages Environmental Gains, Report Finds

Global Shift to Larger Cars Damages Environmental Gains, Report Finds

Philadelphia, PA – November 25, 2023

The negative impact of passenger vehicles on the climate could have seen a reduction of more than 30% over the past decade if not for the increasing global preference for larger cars, according to a recent report by the Global Fuel Economy Initiative.

As SUVs now constitute over half of all new car sales worldwide, their growing size and popularity contribute significantly to carbon emissions and environmental concerns.

The International Energy Agency, using a more specific definition of SUVs, estimates that they account for nearly half of global car sales. The report highlights that carbon dioxide emissions from gas-powered cars are closely linked to fuel use, with larger vehicles emitting more carbon than their smaller counterparts.

Transportation, responsible for about one-quarter of climate-warming gases from energy, faces a significant environmental challenge due to the dominance of passenger transport.

The Global Fuel Economy Initiative, a global partnership of cleaner vehicle groups, suggests that the negative environmental impact from SUVs could have been reduced by over one-third between 2010 and 2022 if consumers had continued purchasing cars of the same size.

One potential solution to mitigate this environmental impact is the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). George Parrott from West Sacramento, California, shifted to cleaner vehicles in 2004 with a Toyota Prius hybrid and later embraced pure-electric cars like the Genesis GV60 electric SUV and Tesla Model 3. Parrott emphasized that his decision was driven by broad environmental concerns and a desire to minimize air quality impact in his region.

However, despite the global increase in EV sales, the United States lags behind, with only 7.3% of the market share in 2022. This is in contrast to the global figure of 15%. The decline of smaller vehicles, or sedans, in the U.S. market over the past decade is evident, with sedans’ market share dropping from 50% in 2012 to 21% in 2022, while SUVs rose to 54.5%.

Eric Frehsée, president of the Tamaroff Group of dealerships in southeast Michigan, noted that consumer preferences are shifting toward larger vehicles with more passenger capacity, contributing to the popularity of SUVs. Despite the efficiency gains of compact SUVs, there remains a challenge to address the overall environmental impact of these larger vehicles.

Efforts by the “U.S. Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration” aim to improve gas-powered vehicle fuel economy and tailpipe emissions. However, the industry is grappling with the balance between larger EV types, heavier batteries, and the overall environmental footprint.

As the automotive industry races to advance battery technology and reduce critical mineral dependency, figures from the Global Fuel Economy Initiative are anticipated to play a crucial role in discussions at the upcoming COP28 U.N. climate change talks next week.

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