SUVs: the killers of climate?

SUVs: the killers of climate?

Sport Utility Vehicles or SUVs are a type of car classification that combines conventional road using passenger cars with features of off-road vehicles such as raised ground clearance and four wheeled drive. Due to their rising popularity, in the UK alone emissions from SUVs have tripled in the last decade and have gone from making up 18% to 42% of the global market of new cars within the last four years. What are the reasons for these souring sales and could a way to save money whilst saving the climate simply be by not driving an SUV?

Their origin

The creation of SUVs began during World War 2 with Jeeps being used as military vehicles driving all around Europe and Asia before evolving over several decades. Change originally began in the 1960s when, to protect local farmers, West Germany blocked the import of American chickens leading to a trade war. America responded with a 25% tax in light trucks made abroad, so German trucks became more expensive. The tax influenced American automakers to focus production on light trucks since there was less competition from imports. This change affected the environment and climate for years to come as light trucks eventually became SUVs which are at their height of popularity today.

Could this be the car that kills the climate?

All vehicles emit carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere contributing to global warming. This happens as cars operate using internal combustion engines which work by converting energy stored in fuel into mechanical energy to drive the wheels in which the planet warming gas carbon dioxide is produced. So, needless to say, all drivers are guilty of damaging the environment. However, as SUV are heavier with more powerful engines than other cars, they consume more fuel. These popular four-by-fours emit approximately 134g of CO2 per kilometre which is an estimated 13g more than average emissions of other new petrol cars through fuel combustion alone. There are even more emissions involved in their manufacturing due to their larger size. As they have more materials involved in their making and usually come with many advanced technological features from screens in headrests to reversing camera monitors, more energy is needed in production than in smaller cars. To put their damaging impacts into perspective SUVs generated more carbon emissions than the aviation industry from 2010 to 2018. And as they use more fuel, along with the environmental damage, they are more expensive for owners to run than averaged sized cars.

Do emission restrictions prevent increasing SUV sales?

SUVs are more profitable for manufacturers than the majority of other vehicles even though the cost of production is not much higher but more is charged due to the perceived value of them. Hence additional money is invested in marketing SUVs making them even more desirable, increasing profitability further, making them more expensive for the consumer to buy.

Manufacturers are regulated by being required meet an average emission level across their fleet of cars sold therefore cannot just sell high emitting cars and have to sell an increasing proportion of both smaller and electric cars. Measure of average emissions of all vehicles sold allows manufacturers to simply offset selling profitable high emitting SUVs by selling cleaner car models suggesting this regulation style is not effective as essentially grants a continuing rise of the sales of high carbon emitting SUVs.

What else drives demand for SUVs?

As road transport accounts for 22% of total emissions of carbon dioxide in the UK, it might be expected that with societies growing knowledge and caution regarding environmental issues that SUVs would be an unattractive car to buy due to their known damaging environmental impacts. However, their increasing popularity proves otherwise and buyers suggest they prefer SUVs for their space, comfort and safety. Drivers often feel more confident in SUVs due to the higher seated position providing a better view of the road ahead. However, this perception of them being a safer, sturdier car is thanks to marketing when the reality is they are not any safer to drive than smaller passenger cars. The reality is that due to their high centre of gravity, they have increased risk of rollovers and take longer to break because of their mass so are not the ‘safer’ choice.

Perhaps SUV popularity is simply because of the comfort provided from the large seats, the prestige and status of driving a big car or people just following the latest trend. But, with extortionate purchasing and running costs, no improvement to safety and extreme damaging environmental impacts it seems like a better idea to jump off the SUV bandwagon to save your money whilst saving the climate.