SUV sales undermining UK’s low carbon transport plans

Demand for SUVs (sports utility vehicles) is threatening attempts to clean up the UK transport sector according to a report published by the UK Energy Research Centre.  

SUV sales
SUVs account for almost a quarter of all UK new car sales Oleksandr via stock.adobe.com

The report, which calls for immediate action to reduce the sales of larger cars, notes that over the past four years there have been 1.8 million SUV sales, compared to a total of 47 thousand for battery electric vehicles (BEV). In 2018, SUVs accounted for 21.2 per cent of new car sales, up from 13.5 per cent just three years earlier.

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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. 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 reasons for the increase in the number of SUVs require further research. They are likely to be a product of attractive car financing packages which divert attention from running costs. In 2018, over 90 per cent of all private new car registrations in the UK were purchased using finance products such as Personal Contract Purchase (PCP).

Commenting on the report Professor Jillian Anable, UKERC co-director, called on government 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. “The rapid uptake of unnecessarily large and energy-consuming vehicles just in the past few years makes a mockery of UK policy efforts towards the ‘Road to Zero’,” she said.

The report makes a number of recommendations including more ambitious policies to support renewable energy generation, increased investment in local energy systems, and a clear plan for upgrading UK housing stocks. It also calls for the phase-out of fossil-fuelled vehicles to be brought forward to 2030.