🖤 Donations of all sizes power our public service journalism Give Now

SUVs are major sources of greenhouse gasses, but the world’s drivers keep buying them

Matt Levin Mar 1, 2023
Heard on:
HTML EMBED:
COPY
While car sales overall dropped last year, sales of SUVs actually grew. They’re now 46% of the global auto market. Mike Pellinni/Getty Images

SUVs are major sources of greenhouse gasses, but the world’s drivers keep buying them

Matt Levin Mar 1, 2023
Heard on:
While car sales overall dropped last year, sales of SUVs actually grew. They’re now 46% of the global auto market. Mike Pellinni/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Sport utility vehicles released nearly 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere last year, according to a new report from the International Energy Association. The global SUV fleet is now a bigger greenhouse gas emitter than entire countries like the U.K.

But while car sales overall dropped last year, sales of SUVs actually grew. They’re now 46% of the global auto market. So, what’s behind the appeal? It can be boiled down to one word: Crossover.

Americans’ love affair with big cars is well-documented. But SUVs now account for nearly 50% of the European market. Yes, Europe—home of the MINI Cooper and $7 per gallon petrol.

Enter the crossover.

“They look great, they give you the advantages of a typical SUV with some of the traditional advantages and maneuverability of a sedan,” said Doug Mehl, an auto industry analyst for the consulting firm, Kearney.

For the unfamiliar, crossovers are basically smaller SUVs like a Toyota Rav4 or Hyundai Tucson.

Mehl said they typically have pretty decent gas mileage, even compared to regular sedans. That’s if they use gas at all.

“Crossovers and SUVs are about 55% of new electric vehicles sold,” Mehl said.

Here in the U.S, past stigma around SUVs as gas guzzling totems of machismo have given way to something more family-friendly.

“I think if you go into [an] elementary school parking lot that you would see them today filled with mostly sport utility vehicles versus minivans,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst with Cox Automotive.

Crossovers and traditional SUVs are still loathed by pedestrian safety advocates, who argue there’s just no need for dangerously big cars. But Thomas Hundal at the car news site The Autopian said that isn’t really impacting sales. Although, he thinks crossovers may not have the same appeal for Gen Z buyers.

“You had people who wouldn’t be caught dead in a station wagon or a minivan,” Hundal said. “You’ll soon have young adults who wouldn’t be caught dead in crossovers.” 

He added that no one wants to drive the same car their parents drove — at least until they have kids of their own.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.