The Popularity Of SUVs Is Making A 'Mockery' Of Emission Legislation

The Popularity Of SUVs Is Making A ‘Mockery’ Of Emission Legislation

The Popularity Of SUVs Is Making A 'Mockery' Of Emission Legislation

The surge in popularity for SUVs is offsetting the benefits of electric vehicle uptake and legislation designed to tackle emissions…

Making A Mockery 

There has been an “immense” rise in the sale of SUVs around the world. In the UK alone, they outsell electric vehicles by 37 to 1. According to the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), this means exhaust emissions from new cars have actually been increasing over the past three years. It also claims that the popularity of sports utility vehicles  is testing the UK transport sector’s ability to meet EU-set emission targets.

Prof Jillian Anable of the UKERC has claimed the nation has been “sleepwalking” into the problem. She said, “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”. She added, “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”. UKERC was founded in 2004 and conducts research into sustainable energy.

The Situation At Hand

To put things into perspective, there have been 1.8 million sales of SUVs over the last four years; over the same period, only 47,000 battery electric vehicles have left forecourts. But the popularity of SUVs continues to grow further still. In 2018, they accounted for 21.2% of new car sales. That’s up from 13.5% just three years earlier. In a report, UKERC explained why sports utility vehicles are so problematic. It said, “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”. It added, “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 attributes the popularity of SUVs to attractive finance deals that distract consumers from long-term running costs. It’s warned politicians not to abandon EU legislation whilst acknowledging its limitations. For instance, it allows automakers of larger vehicles to factor in higher levels of emissions per km. A spokesman for the SMMT seemed to argue that SUVs are being made simply because drivers want them; and that this is sufficient. They said, “manufacturers respond to consumer demand and dual-purpose cars are an increasingly popular choice, available in a range of sizes, and valued for their style, practicality, higher ride and commanding view of the road”. They did add, however, that they were becoming increasingly efficient and cleaner since 2000 levels.


What the rise of the SUV really demonstrates is the limitation of governments and supranational bodies in combating emissions. Millions of consumers, many of them no doubt aware of the climate crisis, are choosing to buy SUVs. This may because of their practicality or perceived status. Much of the irony is that governments simultaneously working to reduce emissions are often giving automakers leniency to produce the most polluting vehicles. The RAC has argued that EVs simply haven’t had enough time to compete; that SUVs have enjoyed a rise starting nearly two decades ago. But the fact of the matter remains that legislators have a decision;  force change on consumers or fail to meet their emissions targets. For a politician, keen for popular support, such a move will undoubtedly come later rather than sooner.

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