SUV Versus EV: Will Big Cars Kill Net Zero Targets?

Mon 9th Dec 2019

While sales of electric vehicles are booming the progress is being undermined by the demand for large SUVs says new research.

A study by the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) has found that SUVs are outselling electric cars by 37 to 1, a problem which threatens to make a ‘mockery’ of the Government’s low-emission targets.

UKERC, which is funded by UK Research and Innovation, the UK government’s research and innovation funding agency, was set-up to investigate sustainable future energy systems.

While electric vehicles were something of a novelty when UKERC was founded in 2004, the past 15 years have seen a steady rise in the uptake of EVs across the UK, but the rate of interest is nothing compared to the fashion for SUVs.

"Effectively, we have been sleepwalking into the issue," said Prof Jillian Anable of UKERC.

"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."

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-sized 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 .

UKERC is urging the government to retain the EU’s emissions targets despite the prospect of Brexit possibly seeing an end to cooperation. None of the major political parties have promised to stick with the EU on this issue.

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 electric vehicle (EV) market is only just beginning to accelerate as battery technology improves, along with the availability of public charge points.

"As a result, there are some very strong EV sports utility vehicles on sale now."