SUVs threaten to ‘sabotage’ net-zero 2050 goal

The UK’s growing demand for sports utility vehicles (SUVs) threatens to ‘sabotage’ the goal of having a net-zero emissions economy by 2050, according to a report from the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC).

The report reviews the UK’s energy systems and focuses on seven themes that will dominate UKERC’s research programme for the next five years, with a particular focus on the 2050 target.

In 2018, SUVs accounted for 21.2% of all new car sales, three times their share a decade earlier and up from 13.5% in 2015. 

SUVs emit about a quarter more CO2 than a medium-size car and nearly four times more than a medium-sized battery-electric vehicle (BEV).

The International Energy Agency estimates that SUVs were the second-largest contributor to the increase in global CO2 emissions since 2010 after the energy sector.

Assuming the majority of SUVs leaving showrooms will be on the road for at least a decade, UKERC estimates the extra cumulative emissions to total around 8.2 million tons of CO2.

The UKERC says attractive car financing packages are driving the growth of SUVs.

Until recently, 8 out of 10 plug-in electric vehicles sold were plug in hybrid electric vehicles (PEHVs), not pure battery electric vehicles. The majority of the PHEVs sold were also SUVs, specifically the Mitsubishi Outlander, showing that the popularity of SUVs exists within the EV market too.

This means that even the relatively small number of electric vehicles that have been sold in the UK are consuming more energy than they need to.

UKERC says the next government must bring forward the ban for sale of new diesel or petrol vehicles to 2030 and take ‘immediate action’ to counter the rapid increase in sales of SUVs.

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.’

An SMMT spokesperson, said: ‘Manufacturers respond to consumer demand and dual-purpose cars are an increasingly popular choice, available in a range of sizes, and valued for their style, practicality, higher ride and commanding view of the road.

‘Thanks to ongoing investment, like all vehicles, they’re also ever-more efficient, with average CO2 emissions from new dual purpose cars having fallen more than 43% on 2000 levels.

‘Further, as the body type lends itself well to new powertrain technology, consumers often see new fuel options available on these models earlier, with an increasing number offered as plug-in hybrids, and pure electric variants now coming on sale.’

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