Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Those five words aren’t to disparage the research relating to global CO2 emissions, but merely to point out that statistics can tell any story you want, providing you ask the right questions, or the right people.

‘If all the world’s SUV drivers were a country, it would be the 7th largest producer of CO2 emissions’ is a reasonable headline, I’m not arguing the veracity of it, but perhaps add in the fact that by their very nature, it must mean that they’re one of the largest contributors to funding alternative transportation through taxing, both direct and indirect.

Or that the study only relates to carbon emissions from fuel combustion at point of use – nothing from the manufacturing processes (that includes aviation, shipping and other forms of transportation).

Second biggest cause of rising carbon

With some commentators using this report as an ideal vehicle to urge a ban on all SUVs and 4x4s, it’s important to clarify that despite the headlines, you can’t just make the decision to outlaw these vehicles based on such a report.

The fact that the global share of the SUV market has almost doubled to 39% of all car sales between 2010 – 2018 shows that manufacturers are making a product that the world wants to buy, even bucking the trend of declining car sales of around 2% in 2018; if the market wasn’t there, the manufacturers would stop making them.

Further, the same study shows that the average mass of a vehicle has risen by around ten percent since 2000, which ‘shows the trend for larger vehicles’, but says nothing of all the technology fitted by the manufacturers to improve emissions or safety, as regulations require.

From 2004, average vehicle CO2 emissions have fallen by around 23%, and fuel economy has risen by 29%, the equivalent of 5.6mpg. In the intervening years, fuel economy and CO2 emissions have improved in 11 out of 13 years (to 2016) and new records are constantly being set. Despite piling on the weight, their footprint has never been lighter.

Also, the report claims that CO2 emissions from SUVs alone is higher than shipping and aviation – 700 megatonnes for SUVs, 233 Mt for aviation, and yet some quick research shows that the UK alone produced around 80 Mt of CO2 in 2018, not including any other country.

New car sales

Of course, the fact that they’re the least efficient models typically on sale doesn’t help, but the real problem isn’t so much how much gas they guzzle, but the popularity of them – nearly 40% of all new car sales worldwide in 2018 were SUVs, or nearly 35 million vehicles all told. In Europe and the UK, one-in-three cars sold is an SUV, in America, that figure is closer to one-in-two.

Perhaps part of the responsibility of the popularity could be placed at the doors of the politicians and environmentalists who insist that modern cars should be super-efficient – small, 3-cylinder engines, lightweight body panels, minimal structural reinforcement (replaced with the crash cell), smaller wheels … all in a bid to raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) across the range of models offered by the big brands.

In all honesty, until we’re all driving the same electric vehicle, with our other article this week, charging only from sustainable power sources, there will always be one element of the motoring society that’s going to be victimised, penalised or hard done by.

We’ve discussed how the government needs to change the way they tax our usage of our cars, and even when we’re finally all-electric, the motorist won’t escape further taxes – just as we now pay VED, fuel duty, congestion or ULEZ, you can almost guarantee that a new element will be introduced, such as rubber pollution from our tyres, or air pollution from brake dust.

The good news is that once we’ve hit ‘Motoring 2.0’, at least we should (in theory) be treated equally; no more exemptions for the wealthy motorist who can afford the latest in technology, or penalising the poor for having the audacity to run a car that’s a few years old, and in that case, purely paying per mile of usage would be fair, and right.

What do you think to this latest report? Is it just another cheap shot at a specific group of motorists? Perhaps an early warning of impending taxation? Let us know in the comments.  

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