Demand for sports utility vehicles (SUVs) is threatening the UK’s attempts to clean up the transport sector, with their sales outnumbering electric vehicle sales at a rate of 37 to 1, according to new research.
The 2019 annual Review of Energy Policy, published by the UK Energy Research, highlights how the trend towards purchasing bigger cars is threatening the UK’s attempts to reduce emissions from the transport sector.
It says over the past four years there have been 1.8 million SUV sales, compared with a total of 47,000 for battery electric vehicles (BEV). In 2018, SUVs accounted for 21.2% of new car sales, up from 13.5% just three years earlier.
SUVs are larger and heavier than a standard car, emitting about a quarter more CO2 than a medium-size car and nearly four times more than a medium size battery electric vehicle. Assuming the majority of these SUVs will be on UK roads for at least a decade, it is estimated the extra cumulative emissions to total around 8.2 million tons of CO2.
Professor Jillian Anable, UKERC co-director, said: “The rapid uptake of unnecessarily large and energy consuming vehicles just in the past few years makes a mockery of UK policy efforts towards the ‘Road to Zero’.
“Effectively, we have been sleep-walking into the issue. The decarbonisation of the passenger car market can no longer rely on a distant target to stop the sales of conventional engines. We must start to phase out the most polluting vehicles immediately.
“It is time to enact a strong set of regulations to transform the entire car market towards ultra-low carbon rather than focusing solely on the uptake of electric vehicles.”
Dr Christian Brand, UKERC co-director, said: “There is now overwhelming consensus that achieving net-zero requires the phase out of fossil-fuelled vehicles to be brought forward to 2030 and this must include hybrids.
“At the same time government should take action to counter ‘unintended consequences’ such as the recent trend in the UK to buy larger, heavier cars such as SUVs. This trend is global so will require policy and industry action across all global markets including the US, EU and China.”
Responding to the report, RAC spokesman Simon Williams said: “It’s important to remember that the SUV trend has been developing for around two decades, arguably really taking off in the mid-2000s, whereas the EV market is only just beginning to accelerate as battery technology improves along with the availability of public chargepoints.
“As a result there are some very strong EV sports utility vehicles on sale now including the Kia e-Niro, Hyundai Kona, Mercedes EQC and the Jaguar I-Pace. The desire among drivers to purchase SUVs is likely to continue for personal preference and lifestyle reasons so we imagine the EV market will simply mirror that.
“The only thing holding drivers back from choosing an electric as their next vehicle is the high purchase price, the number of miles they can do on a single charge, charging infrastructure and the choice of vehicles on the market.”