Europe Is Doing Great With EV Sales, But It’s Messing Up Royally On Something Else

The European electric car market has been going bonkers. It’s been one of the biggest cleantech stories of the past two years — if not the #1 cleantech story. Approximately 20% of new car sales in Europe are now plugin car sales, and nearly 10% of new car sales are fully electric vehicle sales. This is a dramatic rise from the 1% to 3% of a few years ago.

However, as great as that story is, there’s another story well underway in the European auto market that is negating a good chunk of those emissions gains and screwing up our climate and air quality. I lived in Europe from 2008 to 2018 and could clearly see this trend on the ground, but I honestly didn’t realize it was this bad until I saw the graph above.

From 2010 to 2021, SUV sales in Europe increased from a bit more than 10% to nearly 50%! That dwarfs the increase in sales of fully electric vehicles. From Poland to the Netherlands, Europeans have decided they don’t care about those narrow streets and small parking spaces after all — they’re getting bigger vehicles (SUVs).

Of course, the problem is that large vehicles (i.e., SUVs) are less efficient and thus create more CO2 emissions and more air pollution. So, while Europe is cutting emissions with a strong shift to EVs, it is going fast in the wrong direction with its newfound obsession with SUVs.

Transport & Environment, which created the graph above, aptly notes, “engine-driven SUVs are the fastest growing car segment.” Ugh.

The European nonprofit more eloquently words it:

“Those tuning in to Europe’s biggest car show this week would be forgiven for thinking that carmakers had undergone a Damascene conversion, seen the error of their polluting ways, and were now dedicating themselves to spreading the gospel of sustainability. Electric cars of all shapes and sizes are being unveiled as carmakers look to combine the desires of drivers with the needs of our warming planet. […]

“But behind these sermons on ‘sustainable mobility’, sales data analysed by T&E paints a different picture. While EV sales continue to grow, they are being worryingly outpaced by SUVs, which are still primarily polluting, engine-driven cars. […]

“While only a third of the cars on display have a combustion engine, most carmakers are still expected to rely on these for the majority of their sales in the coming years. This makes a heavy transition period seriously bad for the planet. In fact, carmakers can still comply with the CO2 emission targets until 2030 with the fully electric car sales close to today’s levels. That means millions and millions of cars sold will remain with diesel and petrol engines.”

Two steps forward, one step back. Or are we pulling a one-step-forward, two-steps-back pattern at this point?

Non-electric SUVs rose from 39% market share to 42% market share this year.

“Medium and large combustion SUVs emit between 15% and 28% more CO2 than hatchback equivalents. For PHEVs, SUVs emit close to 40% more than hatchbacks.”

Not cool. Not cool at all.

I would like to say “Let’s hope that this SUV craze dies down quickly,” but I have almost no faith in it. Plus, who’s going to listen to me. Alas, this is the situation we’re facing.


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