Global SUV sales undo gain from electric vehicles

By Robbie Webber

Electric vehicles have the potential to significantly reduce emissions and the climate impact of transportation. But the global increase in SUV sales—led by but not exclusive to the U.S.—is more than neutralizing these reductions. That is the message from an analysis of the World Energy Outlook 2019, due out on November 13th.

Electric car sales are booming, from 2 million vehicles in 2018 to an expected 20 million in 2030. But the projected 2030 numbers will still only represent 7 percent of the global car fleet at that time. And electric cars tend to be small and medium-sized vehicles. Meanwhile, SUV sales are also booming. Today, 40 percent of global car sales are SUVs, up from 20 percent a decade ago. Two-hundred million SUVs are on the road, up from 35 million in 2010.

The analysis points out:

On average, SUVs consume about a quarter more energy than medium-size cars. As a result, global fuel economy worsened caused in part by the rising SUV demand since the beginning of the decade, even though efficiency improvements in smaller cars saved over 2 million barrels a day, and electric cars displaced less than 100,000 barrels a day.

In fact, SUVs were responsible for all of the 3.3 million barrels a day growth in oil demand from passenger cars between 2010 and 2018, while oil use from other types of cars (excluding SUVs) declined slightly. If consumers’ appetite for SUVs continues to grow at a similar pace seen in the last decade, SUVs would add nearly 2 million barrels a day in global oil demand by 2040, offsetting the savings from nearly 150 million electric cars.

We already have seen the dangers of larger vehicles with regard to the safety of those outside the vehicle. No matter how many electric vehicles are sold, climate goals will never be met if the world continues to love the SUV.

Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.