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IEA: Global SUV sales rebounding post-lockdown, offsetting EV gains

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has published a new analysis of global car sales, revealing a 10% year-on-year uptick in SUVs for 2021 that could undermine the electric vehicle (EV) revolution.

 SUVs consume, on average, 20% more energy than a mid-sized car

 SUVs consume, on average, 20% more energy than a mid-sized car

According to the analysis, global car sales rose 4% year-on-year in 2021 amid the ongoing economic recovery from Covid-19 and the lifting of lockdown in many nations. This increase in sales came after a 16% year-on-year decline in production in 2020, as recorded by the International Organisation of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (OICA).

The IEA has highlighted how SUV sales have weathered the Covid-19 pandemic more strongly than sales for other kinds of road vehicles, with a 10% year-on-year increase in sales in 2021. This is equivalent to 35 million additional vehicles which, over their lifetime, will generate some 120 million tonnes of carbon emissions. SUVs consume, on average, 20% more energy than a mid-sized car and almost all of them (98%) are not fully electric.

While more than 30 countries have set deadlines for ending new petrol and diesel car sales, such as the UK (2030) and the EU (2035), the IEA acknowledges that many nations have not sent this clear policy signal. Its analysis reveals record SUV sales in markets including the US and India, in terms of both volume and market share.

The IEA is calling on nations to set clear deadlines for ending new petrol and diesel car sales. Indeed, its 2050 net-zero pathway recommends that sales are ended globally from 2035. Also recommended are additional policies in the interim such as increased taxes on large, high-emissions cars, and robust grant schemes for EV buyers.

But, a note of caution; the analysis notes that simply electrifying SUVs is not the most efficient way of tackling the challenge, not the method most accepted by consumers. To this latter point, the analysis states that e-SUVs only accounted for the majority of electric car sales in one major market, the US. Globally, people are more likely to choose other models.

To the former point, the analysis notes that larger cars consume more energy and “ drive up demand for critical minerals because battery-powered electric SUVs are equipped with a much larger battery (70KWh) than the average battery-electric car (50KWh)”.

Experts believe there is not enough cobalt in the world to replace every working petrol or diesel vehicle on the roads with fully electric alternatives. Bloomberg has forecast that the global demand for cobalt could increase more than 47-fold by 2030, against a 2018 baseline.

UK forecast 

In related news, consultancy New Automotive is forecasting that EV sales in the UK (encompassing new and second-hand purchases) will almost double in 2022, from 2021 levels. 

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) estimates that some 163,000 EVs were sold in the UK between January and November 2021. New Automotive, meanwhile, is forecasting at least 300,000 sales in 2022. 

This forecast takes into account increasing EV sales throughout the pandemic, compounded by increasing intent to buy in 2022 being recorded in consumer research. To this former point, EV sales were more than twice as high in November 2021 than November 2020.

New Automotive is also accounting for policy changes such as the forthcoming zero-emission vehicle mandate. From 2024, this mandate will require manufacturers to ensure that electric cars and vans account for a set proportion of their sales. Also considered are recent changes to the Plug-in Car Grant and Van Grant schemes. 

“This rapid growth is welcome news, but an additional 300,000 electric cars set against some 32 million internal combustion vehicles on the road in 2022 falls well short of what is possible and what is necessary,” said New Automotive’s head of policy and research Ben Nelmes. 

“It is crucial that the government’s plans for a zero-emission vehicle mandate sends a strong policy signal that enables manufacturers to scale up the production and sale of electric cars so that more motorists can benefit.”

Sarah George

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