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Can an SUV ever really be green?

24th Jun, 2022

You don’t need to be an expert to know that SUVs, or Sports Utility Vehicles, aren’t great for the environment. In fact, that’s an understatement – they’re actually downright disastrous for the environment. Unfortunately, they’re also a firm mainstay on roads across the world; the International Energy Agency estimates their numbers to be in excess of 200 million. (For reference, there’s still less than 10 million electric cars on the face of the planet.)

Obviously, there’s a sizeable proportion of SUV owners who are probably going to be fairly reluctant to give them up, even as we all continue staring down the barrel of an ever-worsening climate crisis. But could new technology offer the answer? If you’re an SUV owner yourself, you might be wondering: is there a way I can minimise my impact on the environment without having to scrap my car?

Electrification is already being touted as the potential solution to the issue. But can it work for Sports Utility Vehicles too? Can an SUV ever really be green?

Why are SUVs such a problem for the environment?

To be honest, there are quite a lot of viable answers to that question! We’ll keep it fairly brief for the purposes of this post though, and keep it contained to two main categories. Basically, they’re dirty, and they’re numerous.

SUVs are polluting

Let’s get right down to it – the average modern petrol SUV emits over 10% more CO2 per kilometre than an average petrol car. They’re big and they’re heavy, and even when they’re nice to look at, you’d be hard pressed to say that they’re terribly aerodynamic. That fuel inefficiency is reflected in their carbon footprint, and the price drivers pay at the pumps.

To put it in different terms, if SUV drivers were a nation, they’d rank seventh in the world for carbon emissions – below China and the US, but above South Korea and Indonesia.

SUVs are more widespread than ever

According to another figure from the IEA’s link above, about 40% of annual global car sales are SUVs, which puts it at double what it was a decade ago. In the US, they account for almost half of all cars sold, and in India one in every three cars sold is an SUV.

For a long time, they were resisted in the UK. In 2007 though, consumers found themselves drawn to brand new models with more svelte silhouettes than the traditional hulking US trucks. Now, they’re as popular here as they are everywhere else; although the average vehicle is driven less than 20 miles a day, SUVs account for about one in every three new cars sold in Britain.

Now, with their lower fuel efficiency and much higher emissions than normal cars, the meteoric rise of SUVs is even encompassing the positive benefits of the growing electric car market. The experts at the IEA highlighted that SUVs alone were the second largest contributor to the increase in global CO2 emissions between 2010 and 2018, behind only the power industry.

OK, so here’s a simple solution; make SUVs electric. Problem solved, right? Well, not quite.

Can SUVs be electrified?

Technically, yes. But it’s not easy, and that’s clear to see even from a brief glance at the way the market’s been going so far. Compared to other types of cars, SUVs have been relatively resistant to electrification. Between 2010, overall emissions from passenger cars fell by 75 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, but emissions from SUVs grew by 544 metric tonnes in the same timeframe. To put that in perspective, that’s a bigger rise than that of heavy industry, aviation, trucks or the shipping sector.

So why are SUVs so resistant? Well, as you might expect, some of the biggest obstacles are practical; SUVs are bigger and heavier, so they require more fuel to shift them. And that in turn also makes them more difficult to electrify.

But crucially, not impossible. While electrifying bigger crossover SUVs is undeniably more difficult, it’s significantly easier for more compact crossovers, so this is likely the section of the market where we’ll see the most growth. So far, the stats are supporting that view: in 2019, the sales of midsized SUVs dropped by 8.2%, while small SUVs and crossovers continued to grow by 13% in the first half of the year. So far, some observers are cautiously optimistic that this trend will continue, which will paint a slightly less worrying picture of the future (but only slightly).

The electric SUV market is being re-energised… but is it enough?

It’s worth bearing in mind that most car manufacturers aren’t necessarily transforming their lucrative models into electric variants due to an attack of conscience – they’re doing so because the European Union is bringing in stricter mandates that set limits for average emissions across a company’s entire fleet of cars. The original aim for 2021 was for the fleet-wide emission target for new cars to be set at 95 grammes of CO2 per kilometre. The CO2 emissions of the UK’s most popular SUV – the Nissan Qashqai – stands at 106 grammes per kilometre. There’s still quite a lot of work to be done.

Like it or not though, SUVs are key to the success of the global car market’s electrification strategy. You’ll struggle to get millions of SUV owners to simply give up their treasured vehicles, however expensive or inefficient they might be, so some academics have suggested that the best way to get people into electric cars is via small and compact SUVs. Already we’ve reached a tipping point at which certain types of climate damage are becoming irreversible – so two big questions remain. Will the world make the switch in time, and will it be enough?

We can’t definitively answer either of them for you just yet here at Scrap Car Network. When it comes right down to it, only time will tell. But we’re certainly determined to do our bit for the climate crisis by recycling scrap cars in the most efficient, environmentally friendly way – so if you’re considering scrapping your car (SUV or not) then you can always trust us to be able to help.

We’ve made sure that the entire process couldn’t be easier – just enter your car reg into our homepage to get a free, no obligation instant online quote. It only takes a few seconds. Curious to find out how much your car is worth?

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