The Problem With Big Electric Trucks and SUVs
Big EVs are worse for the environment than small EVs. We should design transportation policy accordingly.
American cars, like many other things in this country, are uniquely big. One way to see this is by comparing the top-selling vehicles in the United States compared to other places in the world.
Last year, the best-selling vehicle in America was the Ford F-150. In Europe, the top seller was a Peugeot 208. If you’re like me, and live in America, you’ve probably seen countless F-150s in your life and never heard of a Peugeot 208. So here’s what the French-made hatchback looks like:
At about 2,300 pounds, the Peugeot 208 is half as heavy as an average F-150. That enables the car to get twice the fuel efficiency of America’s best-seller and put half as much carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere per mile.
The number one best-sellers in America and Europe aren’t rare exceptions either. Last year, 8 of the top 10 best-selling vehicles in the U.S. were a truck or SUV. Meanwhile in Europe, just two SUVs made the top 10 list. Not a single truck cracked the top 100 list.
As I wrote in the first installment of this story, the supersizing of American cars is both a recent and environmentally disastrous phenomenon.
In 1990, SUVs accounted for 6% of light-duty vehicles produced in the United States; today, they account for closer to 50%. Due to SUVs’ poor fuel efficiency, this trend has resulted in billions of tons of additional carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere.
It’s tempting to think that the problem of oversized vehicles can be solved by simply swapping out gas engines for batteries. But as we enter the age of electrification, big cars will still cause big problems.
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Why big EVs are worse for the environment than small EVs
At every stage of their life, big EVs create more environmental damage than small EVs. Nowhere is this more true than in the production of the battery.
Take General Motors electric Hummer for example. At about 3,000 pounds, the Hummer’s 200 kWh battery is almost as heavy as an entire Nissan Leaf. A battery this big results in a lot of nasty environmental impacts.
According to a recent review of studies on EV manufacturing emissions, the average battery is responsible for 120 kg of CO2 per kWh of battery capacity.
At that emissions intensity every Hummer battery would be responsible for about 24 metric tons of CO2 pollution, more than the average American’s annual carbon footprint. (GM, like most automakers, doesn’t release data on the embodied emissions of its vehicles).
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