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IEA analysis shows growth in bigger and heavier cars a major factor in CO2 emissions increase

Tue 12 November 2019 | Back to news list

A commentary from the International Energy Agency (IEA) linked to the publication of the latest World Energy Outlook, highlights the growth - across all the main international car markets - in the size of vehicles chosen by car buyers since around 2010. The IEA says that Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) were the second-largest contributor to growth in greenhouse gas emissions from 2010 to 2018, emitting over 700 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide over the last decade.

It comments that SUVs were second only to the power sector as the biggest emitter, and ahead of industries such as iron and steel, cement, trucks and aviation.

The IEA's data shows that a dramatic shift towards bigger and heavier cars has led to a doubling of the share of SUVs over the last decade. As a result, there are now over 200 million SUVs around the world, up from about 35 million in 2010, accounting for 60% of the increase in the global car fleet since 2010. Around 40% of annual car sales today are SUVs, compared with less than 20% a decade ago. 

The IEA says the trend is common across all the main car markets. Today, almost half of all cars sold in the United States and one-third of the cars sold in Europe are SUVs. In China, the researchers say, SUVs are considered symbols of wealth and status. 

According to IEA energy modellers Laura Cozzi and Apostolos Petropoulos, writing a commentary on the agency’s website, passenger cars account for nearly a quarter of global oil demand and are a major source of emissions and air pollution. They say that an SUV consumes about 25 per cent more energy than a medium-sized car on average and, being bigger and heavier, is harder to electrify.

Greater demand for SUVs around the world, including Europe and China, was one factor that worsened the overall fuel economy of cars, negating efficiency improvements in smaller models, which saved over two million barrels of oil a day, and electric cars, which displaced about 100,000 barrels of oil a day, the analysts wrote.

LowCVP's Managing Director, Andy Eastlake, commented: "SUVs (sports utility vehicles); crossover; lifestyle activity vehicles…there are many different marketing names for the new types of vehicles that consumers are buying. In a challenging market, product differentiation is a standard commercial approach.

"While the wider adoption of these vehicles has been criticised - and certainly there can be fuel economy penalties - the technologies seen to be successful in improving fuel economy are also being widely adopted in these vehicles too. Hybrid, stop-start, sophisticated multi-speed transmissions all help to mitigate the impacts. Car buyers can choose the option to have the SUV styling but can eschew the 4-wheel drive option to keep fuel costs down.

"It should also be noted that the top five selling vehicles in the UK so far this year are all hatchbacks of 'conventional' models. While 2018 sales figure certainly showed big increases in the SUV sectors, the biggest segment loser was not family hatchbacks but the MPV sector."

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