Globalist Factsheet

SUVs: No Longer King of the Road

Can the United States’ SUV craze survive gas at $4 a gallon?

Takeaways


  • The amount of corn grain required to fill a 25-gallon SUV tank with ethanol could feed one person for a year.
    (World Bank)
  • An SUV in Norway costs four times what it costs in the United States. This is due in part to a road tax, carbon tax and an additional energy tax.
    (Norwegian Environment Ministry)
  • In October 2007, nearly 55% of U.S. car sales were accounted for by trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) — while hybrid fuel cars accounted for 2% of all car sales.
    (Autodata Corp.)
  • SUVs release 43% more global warming pollution and 47% more air pollution than the average car.
    (Sierra Club)
  • Sales of SUVs account for 6% of new sales in Europe and are projected to grow to more than 10% by the end of the decade — compared to less than 3% in 1998.
    (Wall Street Journal)

For the last couple decades, SUVs have dominated U.S. highways — and the Big Three U.S. automakers turned large profits on the gas-guzzling and CO2-belching vehicles. But as gasoline prices in the United States top $4 a gallon, it seems clear that the halcyon days of SUVs are drawing to a close. Our Globalist Factsheet examines the saga.

In the United States, how much more popular are SUVs than hybrid cars?

In October 2007, nearly 55% of U.S. car sales were accounted for by trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) — while hybrid fuel cars accounted for 2% of all car sales.

(Autodata Corp.)

Were SUVs always so popular?

Back in 1980, light trucks — SUVs, minivans and pickups — accounted for just 22% of U.S. vehicle sales.

(Wall Street Journal)

Why is the trend so alarming?

SUVs release 43% more global warming pollution and 47% more air pollution than the average car.

(Sierra Club)

But what’s a sign that U.S. car-buying trends may be changing?

Americans bought more Toyota Prius hybrid petrol-electric hatchbacks in 2007 than Ford Explorer SUVs — the top-selling SUV for more than a decade. Toyota began selling the Prius in North America in 2000, the same year Explorer sales reached a record 445,000 units.

(Financial Times)

What accounts for the shift?

Filling the fuel tank of a Ford Explorer SUV cost about $70 as of early 2008 — compared with $30 five years ago.

(Financial Times)

How strict are U.S. fuel efficiency standards?

As of 2007, the United States has fuel efficiency standards of 27.5 miles per gallon for cars and 22.2 miles per gallon for SUVs and small trucks.

(Pew Center on Climate Change)

Will these standards become more stringent?

In December 2007, U.S. lawmakers mandated that automakers increase their industry-wide vehicle fuel efficiency by 40% to an industry average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

(Associated Press)

What’s one curious measure of the energy that SUVs consume?

One tank of gas from a typical SUV has the energy equivalent of more than 60,000 man-hours of work — roughly 100 men working around the clock for nearly a month. At $70 a tank, if gasoline were a person, he would be paid about ten cents an hour for his labor.

(Vanity Fair)

How detrimental are SUVs to the environment?

The amount of carbon emissions released from sport utility vehicles in the United States has increased from less than 5% in 1975 to 30.3% (as of 2005). Meanwhile, the amount of emissions from cars has decreased from 80% over that time period, to 42.1%.

(National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)

Is ethanol the answer?

The amount of corn grain required to fill a 25-gallon SUV tank with ethanol could feed one person for a year.

(World Bank)

Why were U.S. carmakers so fond of big SUVs?

Each luxury SUV earned U.S. car manufacturers as much as $11,300 — compared with $5,500 for a luxury crossover.

(University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute)

What’s the downside?

Because of the commercial success of the SUV in the 1990s, U.S. automakers were able to continue paying very generous labor contacts to the United Auto Workers union. These generous contracts became a main contributor to the current financial woes of the Big Three U.S. automakers.

(Salon.com)

Did the Bush Administration try to make reforms?

When the Bush Administration proposed a 7% increase in fuel economy for sport utility vehicles and pickups in 2002, General Motors submitted a 300-page rebuttal — an argument that dwarfed the combined filings of its competitors and that said the change would hurt the company.

(New York Times)

What’s one reason large vehicles are so popular in the United States?

Under U.S. fuel economy regulations, the heaviest SUVs and pickup trucks are exempt from mileage requirements — but they are still subject to emissions rules.

(New York Times)

Are SUVs safer than passenger cars?

Mid-size SUVs — among the most popular models on the U.S. market — have on higher average fatality rates than passenger cars and minivans of similar weight.

(National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)

Are SUVs big sellers in Europe?

Sales of SUVs account for roughly 6% of new sales in Europe and are projected to grow to more than 10% by the end of the decade — compared to less than 3% in 1998.

(Wall Street Journal)

Why are SUVs much less popular in Europe?

An SUV in Norway costs four times what it costs in the United States. This is due in part to a road tax, carbon tax and an additional energy tax. In addition, Norway has the highest car taxes in Europe.

(Norwegian Environment Ministry)

What’s another example?

The city of London will triple its daily “congestion charge” to £25 ($49) for the most-polluting cars and sport utility vehicles in a plan to cut carbon emissions by making driving into the capital more expensive.

(Bloomberg)

What’s the situation in China?

The SUVs sold in China tend to be smaller than those in the United States — and frequently use car-based designs, which are lighter and require less gasoline to move than truck-based designs. However, large SUVs are increasingly popular.

(International Herald Tribune)

And finally, is the Chinese government cracking down on fuel-guzzling SUVs?

The Chinese government is taking steps to encourage fuel efficiency. One such measure is to vary vehicle taxes based on engine size, with cars using the smallest, most fuel-sipping engines paying only a 1% tax — while cars and SUVs with the largest engines pay a 20% tax. In addition, vehicles are required to meet stringent standards for minimum fuel efficiency for each engine size, with additional taxes of 5-15% imposed on models that fail.

(International Herald Tribune)

Responses to “SUVs: No Longer King of the Road”

If you would like to comment, please visit our Facebook page.

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary Cookies

The use of certain cookies is required for the site to function correctly.

Advertising

Analytics

Improve content and site performance.

Other