The Paradox of EV Sales Up but Emissions Rising

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Since 2011 when there were practically no EVs on the road, that number has risen  to nearly 1.2 million in the U.S. That would be great news, except the public has a voracious appetite for SUVs that are jeopardizing meeting climate goals.

  • Although EV sales are up, pollution is increasing.
  • Customers’ love affair with SUVs has increased sales, overriding gains made by electric vehicles.
  • Since auto manufacturers make big profits on SUVs, there’s no incentive for them to pull them from the lineup.
  • If customers were properly educated about an SUV’s impact on the environment, perhaps they would choose a cleaner model.

According to the UK Energy Resource Centre (UKERC), SUV sales in Britain have skyrocketed. to 1.8 million, while just 47 thousand battery electric vehicles (BEVs) hit the streets. The stats are very concerning: for every 37 SUVs sold, there’s just one BEV.

Although there are more electric cars on the road, such as this Nissan LEAF, SUVs dominate sales. (Photo: Nissan)

If sales continue at that rate, the U.K. won’t be able to meet climate targets set by the European Union (EU), as reported by the BBC.

Climate targets threatened

“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, Prof Jillian Anable of the UKERC was quoted as saying in the BBC article. “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.”

According to UKERC, the sale of SUVs jumped from 13.5 percent in 2015 to 21.2 percent in 2018. Since SUVs are larger and heavier than a standard car, they emit about 25 percent more CO2  than a medium sized car – almost 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 UKERC noted.”

As the SUV market is so hot and profit margins high, luxury manufacturers are now putting offerings in their lineups, like this Bentley Bentayga. (Photo: Bentley)

U.S. appetite for SUVs

The news is even more grim in the U.S. As reported by Lawrence Ulrich in the New York Times, SUVs dominated sales, capturing 70 percent of sales in 2019 through June. That translates to 5.9 million more SUVs on the road compared with 2.5 million for cars. And, the desirability for a car has dropped  precipitously, from 3 million in 2012 to 1.9 million in 2018.

Of cars sold in 2012, 20 percent were midsize sedans versus 10 percent in 2018. People obviously love their SUVs and profits are just too enticing for automotive manufacturers to give up producing or reducing SUVs in their lineup. Despite obvious knowledge of the climate crisis. The market is so hot that high end manufacturers such as Porsche, Bentley and Maserati now offer SUV models. In addition, there’s the public perception that electric cars will provide a silver bullet to pollution issues, most blissfully unaware how an SUV purchase will impact the environment.


As long as consumers buy SUVs, manufacturers will continue to build them. Education might convince buyers to make more environmentally friendly choices.

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