1.8m SUVs sold in the UK in last 4 years

Over the same period, only 47,000 battery electric cars have been registered

The demand for sports utility vehicles (SUVs) is threatening the UK’s attempts to clean up the transport sector. Sales of new SUVs now outnumber electric vehicle sales at a rate of 37 to 1.

In its 2019 annual Review of Energy Policy, published today, the UK Energy Research Centre examines some of the challenges of meeting the 2050 net zero emissions target. It recommends ten policy actions the next government could take to help meet this target.

The Review highlights how the trend towards purchasing bigger cars is threatening the UK’s attempts to reduce emissions from the transport sector. The report has calculated the impact that the purchase of SUVs is having on UK carbon emissions.

Over the past four years, there have been 1.8 million SUV sales, compared to a total of 47 thousand for battery electric vehicles (BEV).

This equates to a staggering ratio of 37:1. 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 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.

The trend is not unique to the UK. The International Energy Agency has estimated growth in SUVs accounts for 60% of the increase in the global car fleet since 2010, concluding that “SUVs were the second-largest contributor to the increase in global CO2 emissions since 2010 after the power sector, but ahead of heavy industry (including iron & steel, cement, aluminium), as well as trucks and aviation.”

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.

The reasons for the increase in the number of SUVs require further research. They are likely to be a product of attractive car financing packages which divert attention from running costs. In 2018, over 90% of all private new car registrations in the UK were purchased using finance products such as Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) [6].

PCP deals wrap the first year of Vehicle Excise Duty into the monthly cost, effectively rendering the only clear policy signal to discourage high-carbon vehicles useless.

Source / Further information : UK Energy Research Centre

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