The conventional wisdom is that technology and stricter emissions laws have made cars ever cleaner. In theory, a new car purchased today should emit less harmful emissions than one sold 10 years ago. However, a new study has found the opposite is true, due to the increased appetite for SUVs.
Published by the climate action group Possible, and reported on by The Guardian, the study finds that the average new internal combustion car in 2023 is a worse polluter than the average new car sold 10 years ago. That’s because consumers have been increasingly buying SUVs instead of cars. Those vehicles are heavier and burn more fuel. As a result, they are less efficient and emit more CO2 than cars.
That may not be surprising in itself, but the fact that the market shift is so drastic that it has caused average emissions from ICE vehicles to increase is. Furthermore, the study, which was U.K.-based, found that the wealthiest fifth of consumers bought the heaviest polluters.
SUVs were more prevalent in affluent areas such as Chelsea and Kensington, both urban areas where off-road utility isn’t much of an issue. Range Rovers and such are jokingly called “Chelsea tractors” in Britain. Possible argues that such buyers would be able to afford electrified cars, and is thus calling for lawmakers to institute a vehicle tax based on emissions.
Of course, the legal landscape is much different in the U.S., where SUVs and crossover are classified as “light trucks,” which means automakers are not subject to the same emissions rules when building them as they would be with cars. It’s why so many companies have abandoned sedans altogether. Until this legal loophole is closed, automakers will continue to push taller-than-necessary vehicles onto the public.
Add to that the threat of increasing pedestrian injury, frontover deaths, a higher risk of rollover, hampered visibility for other drivers, and more tire particulates being shed from heavy vehicles, and there are many reasons SUVs make less sense than cars. For what it’s worth, Possible found that, on average, the least polluting ICE car you can buy in the U.K. in 2023 is a seven-year-old used car.