Report: Motor emissions could have fallen by over 30% without SUV trend

Global fall averaged 4.2% between 2010 and 2022 but would have been far more if vehicle sizes stayed same

Emissions from the motor sector could have fallen by more than 30% between 2010 and 2022 if vehicles had stayed the same size, a report has found.

Instead, the size of the average car ballooned as the trend for SUVs took off, meaning the global annual rate of energy intensity reductions – the fall in fuel used – of light-duty vehicles (LDV) averaged 4.2% between 2020 and 2022.

A report by the Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI) showed SUVs now represented a majority of the new car market (51%), and the average LDV weight had reached an all-time high of more than 1.5 tonnes.

Cars are also getting bigger, with the average footprint of a new model reaching 4.2 sq metres. Automotive companies market SUVs intensively as they provide the most profit: they are sold at premium prices but have a proportionally lower manufacturing cost.

The authors of the report called for governments to place restrictions on vehicle sizes to reverse the SUV trend.

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.”

The reduction in emissions from the motor industry has been driven by an uptake of electric vehicles (EVs), which reached 15% of market share in 2022. The report also said markets with strong growth in this area, such as China and Europe, had the largest annual energy efficiency improvements of close to 6%. North America, which has a lower market uptake of EVs, recorded a yearly improvement rate of just 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.”

The authors of the report are also calling for investment in renewables, a reversal of fossil fuel subsidies, carbon pricing, regulations on minimum EV charging deployment and financial instruments designed to facilitate affordable access to EVs.


Photograph: Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters