A recent report by the Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI) has revealed that emissions from the automotive sector could have experienced a 30% greater reduction between 2010 and 2022 if vehicles had maintained their original sizes.
However, the surge in popularity of Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) led to an increase in the average size of cars. Consequently, the global annual rate of energy intensity reductions for light-duty vehicles (LDVs) averaged at 4.2% between 2020 and 2022.
The GFEI report highlighted that SUVs now constitute the majority (51%) of the new car market, contributing to an all-time high average weight for LDVs, exceeding 1.5 tonnes. The trend extends to larger car footprints, with the average new model occupying 4.2 square meters.
Automotive companies heavily promote SUVs due to their high-profit margins—sold at premium prices with comparatively lower manufacturing costs.
The authors of the report recommend government intervention to regulate vehicle sizes, reversing the SUV trend and mitigating the impact on emissions.
Sheila Watson, the deputy director of the FIA Foundation, an environmental and road safety charity, said: “Growing vehicle size is a huge problem which is threatening many aspects of sustainable mobility, from climate to road safety. This report shows that we must move away from these mega-vehicles if we are to achieve the GFEI goal of doubling the fuel efficiency of cars by 2030. Vehicle size matters – and in this case bigger is definitely not better.”
While emissions reduction in the automotive industry has been facilitated by the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs), reaching a 15% market share in 2022, the report emphasises the need for comprehensive measures.
Markets with robust growth in EVs, such as China and Europe, exhibited the largest annual energy efficiency improvements, approaching 6%. In contrast, North America, with lower EV market uptake, recorded a yearly improvement rate of merely 1.6%.
Dan Sperling, the founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, said: “Reversing the trend toward bigger and heavier vehicles is key to achieving more sustainable mobility. This applies also for electric mobility, to make the market for EVs more equitable and inclusive – and to reduce the need for critical minerals and more electricity.”
To further address emissions reduction, the report advocates for increased investment in renewables, the cessation of fossil fuel subsidies, carbon pricing, regulations mandating minimum EV charging infrastructure, and financial instruments facilitating affordable access to EVs. The multifaceted approach seeks to accelerate the transition to a more sustainable and energy-efficient automotive landscape.
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