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Popularity of SUVs ‘makes a mockery’ of UK’s air pollution targets

Joanna Faith
Written By:
Joanna Faith

The popularity of SUVs is threatening the UK’s attempts to reduce its carbon emissions, a new report has warned.

While drivers have slowly warmed to battery electric vehicles in recent years, sales of new SUVs still outnumber those of electric vehicles at a rate of 37 to 1, the study said.

Over the past four years, SUV sales have topped 1.8 million while just 47,000 battery elective vehicles have been sold.

Last year, SUVs accounted for 21.2% of new car sales, up from 13.5% just three years earlier, while battery electric vehicles accounted for just 0.7% of sales.

The report by the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) says larger, heavier SUVs emit around 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 report said.

Professor Jillian Anable, co-director of UKERC, said: “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 added: “The decarbonisation of the passenger car market can no longer rely on a distant target to stop the sales of conventional engines. We must start to phase out the most polluting vehicles immediately.”

Simon Williams, a spokesperson for the RAC, said: “It’s important to remember that the SUV trend has been developing for around two decades, arguably really taking off in the mid-2000s, whereas the EV market is only just beginning to accelerate as battery technology improves along with the availability of public chargepoints.

“As a result there are some very strong EV sports utility vehicles on sale now including the Kia e-Niro, Hyundai Kona, Mercedes EQC and the Jaguar I-Pace. The desire among drivers to purchase SUVs is likely to continue for personal preference and lifestyle reasons so we imagine the EV market will simply mirror that.”