Quantcast

SUVs and Trucks Nullify Car Efficiency Gains

Insights + Opinion

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency increased safety and environmental standards for cars in the 1970s, automakers responded. Although they had to adhere to the new rules, they didn't base their entire response on safety or pollution concerns. Instead, they looked for loopholes.


Under the U.S. Clean Air Act, vehicle manufacturers were required to more than double fuel efficiency for cars over the following decade. Canada and other countries followed suit. But trucks, vans and SUVs weren't subject to the same regulations, so automakers started marketing them as family vehicles.

In many countries, greenhouse gas emissions have been falling in some sectors, thanks largely to a shift from coal-fired power. But they've been rising in the transportation sector. That's bad news. Transportation accounts for about 14 percent of global emissions and is now the largest source of CO2 emissions in the U.S., mostly from cars and trucks.

In Canada, the largest share of emissions is from the oil and gas industry, at 26 percent, but transportation, at 24 percent, is a close second. While emissions from electricity generation and heavy industry have been declining in Canada since 1990, emissions from oil and gas and transportation have been rising, by 76 percent for oil and gas between 1990 and 2015, and 42 percent for transportation. According to the Government of Canada, car emissions went down by 23 percent over that period, but "emissions from light trucks (including trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles) doubled."

Fuel efficiency, hybrid and electric vehicles and cleaner transportation options such as car-share programs, transit and cycling infrastructure are necessary to reduce pollution and climate change. But the growing worldwide market for trucks, SUVs and "crossover vehicles," which combine car and SUV design, are negating advances in those areas.

As the New York Times points out, "For the first time, S.U.V.s and their lighter, more carlike cousins known as 'crossovers' made up more than one in three cars sold globally last year, almost tripling their share from just a decade ago, according to new figures from the auto research firm JATO Dynamics." In the U.S., low gas prices spurred a boom in "light-duty" vehicles like SUVs, which accounted for 63 percent of 2017 vehicle sales.

In Canada, according to the government, "Since 1990, the increase in the number of light trucks has been more than three times greater than the increase in the number of the overall fleet of passenger on-road vehicles."

Pickup truck sales are also booming, with the Ford F-series poised to beat out the Toyota Corolla as the world's top-selling vehicle.

The UN Global Fuel Economy Initiative concludes that global fuel efficiency for new cars has to improve by three percent a year just to stabilize emissions. As the New York Times reports, "Between 2005 and 2008, the average fuel economy of new cars worldwide improved by about 1.8 percent a year," but the "pace has slowed to 1.1 percent in 2015." As countries like China and India accelerate their embrace of car culture, the problem will only get worse.

Even though trucks and other large vehicles are useful for many types of work, they're often unnecessary as personal vehicles. Too many SUVs on city streets often transport only a driver, and there's little evidence that many have ever been off-road. SUVs don't necessarily contribute to overall increased safety either, because they're more prone to roll over, and even though people in an SUV may avoid death or serious injury in a collision, people in smaller cars that collide with the larger vehicles are more likely to be killed or seriously injured than if they collided with a smaller car.

Bigger vehicles mean greater profits, and they help keep the oil and gas industry thriving. That both industries prioritize profits over the need to address pollution and climate change is unconscionable.

It's up to industry and governments to take the major steps to combat climate change and reduce pollution, but individuals also have a responsibility. Personal transportation choices can make a major difference. Driving SUVs and trucks when less-polluting options would serve as well or better is irresponsible. We owe it to ourselves and to the rest of the world to do better.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Natural Resources Defense Council

By Emily Deanne

Shower shoes? Check. Extra-long sheets? Yep. Energy efficiency checklist? No worries — we've got you covered there. If you're one of the nation's 12.1 million full-time undergraduate college students, you no doubt have a lot to keep in mind as you head off to school. If you're reading this, climate change is probably one of them, and with one-third of students choosing to live on campus, dorm life can have a big impact on the health of our planet. In fact, the annual energy use of one typical dormitory room can generate as much greenhouse gas pollution as the tailpipe emissions of a car driven more than 156,000 miles.

Read More Show Less
Kokia drynarioides, commonly known as Hawaiian tree cotton, is a critically endangered species of flowering plant that is endemic to the Big Island of Hawaii. David Eickhoff / Wikipedia

By Lorraine Chow

Kokia drynarioides is a small but significant flowering tree endemic to Hawaii's dry forests. Native Hawaiians used its large, scarlet flowers to make lei. Its sap was used as dye for ropes and nets. Its bark was used medicinally to treat thrush.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Frederick Bass / Getty Images

States that invest heavily in renewable energy will generate billions of dollars in health benefits in the next decade instead of spending billions to take care of people getting sick from air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels, according to a new study from MIT and reported on by The Verge.

Read More Show Less
Aerial view of lava flows from the eruption of volcano Kilauea on Hawaii, May 2018. Frizi / iStock / Getty Images

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
A couple works in their organic garden. kupicoo / E+ / Getty Images

By Kristin Ohlson

From where I stand inside the South Dakota cornfield I was visiting with entomologist and former USDA scientist Jonathan Lundgren, all the human-inflicted traumas to Earth seem far away. It isn't just that the corn is as high as an elephant's eye — are people singing that song again? — but that the field burgeons and buzzes and chirps with all sorts of other life, too.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A competitor in action during the Drambuie World Ice Golf Championships in Uummannaq, Greenland on April 9, 2001. Michael Steele / Allsport / Getty Images

Greenland is open for business, but it's not for sale, Greenland's foreign minister Ane Lone Bagger told Reuters after hearing that President Donald Trump asked his advisers about the feasibility of buying the world's largest island.

Read More Show Less
AFP / Getty Images / S. Platt

Humanity faced its hottest month in at least 140 years in July, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Thursday. The finding confirms similar analysis provided by its EU counterparts.

Read More Show Less
Newly established oil palm plantation in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay

By Hans Nicholas Jong

Indonesia's president has made permanent a temporary moratorium on forest-clearing permits for plantations and logging.

It's a policy the government says has proven effective in curtailing deforestation, but whose apparent gains have been criticized by environmental activists as mere "propaganda."

Read More Show Less