SUVs Are Back, and They’re Spewing a Boggling Amount of Carbon

By Nathanael Johnson (@savortooth on Twitter), Grist’s senior writer and the author of two books. Originally published at Grist

How can we end our love affair with sport utility vehicles?

Sure, I get it: They carry more people than sedans, and they look cooler than minivans. But consider the facts. A new analysis from the International Energy Agency shows that there are 35 million more SUVs on the road today than in 2010. The number of electric vehicles increased by just 5 million in the same time period. The result: The business of driving humans around is guzzling more gas. So, while greenhouse gas pollution from regular passenger vehicles actually declined since 2010, emissions from SUVs and trucks have increased enough to wipe out those gains, and then some. SUVs, counted alone, are now warming our planet more than heavy industry.

These gas guzzlers could single-handedly eliminate the possibility that the world achieves the climate goals set in Paris in 2016 by insuring that transportation emissions continue to swell. The new IEA analysis concludes: “If consumers’ appetite for SUVs continues to grow at a similar pace seen in the last decade, SUVs would add nearly 2 million barrels a day in global oil demand by 2040, offsetting the savings from nearly 150 million electric cars.”

If you aren’t motivated by the long-term threat of climate change, perhaps you may learn to dislike SUVs if they threaten to kill you. As Kate Yoder pointed out, every one of these vehicles that goes on the road makes the world more dangerous for everyone but the people in them. Pedestrian deaths have reached the highest levels in decades, thanks largely to the influx of bigger vehicles packing heavier punches.

So more deaths and more emissions. We got a preview of this trend in recent numbers coming out of California, where SUVs are also threatening to leave state climate goals broken and bleeding into the gutter.

The fact that beefy vehicles make their drivers a little safer, while endangering everyone around them is a hint as to why it’s been so hard to end our toxic relationship with SUVs. The people making the choice reap the benefits, while everyone else bears the cost. That’s the larger problem popping up here, in the form of surging SUV sales. It’s the problem that runs, and ruins, the world.

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  1. John A

    Maybe it’s time to ban power steering in cars. It would certainly encourage efforts to cut the weight of vehicles and eliminate these hateful SUVs. Even small cars are obese compared to previous generations. Such as the original Mini and today’s bloated version and the original Fiat 500 compared to the ‘monster’ Fiat 500s on the roads today.

    1. Ignacio

      That would be the task of a GND. There are very few real limits to consumption/emissions. Yes there are some but yet this article demonstrates that repressive legal measures are lacking and needed. The voluntary way doesn`’t work.

      1. Stadist

        But but… What happened to solving the climate crisis by everyone taking personal responsibility and actions? Nothing happened to it, because it was just fairy talk that never existed. People are extremely adept at justifying their own choices to themselves, and these choices tend to be more of a momentary urges rather than deeply considered processes.

        Only real solution is government led action combined with personal choices, basically making most consumption hugely expensive. But there are huge obstacles to this, because neither the wealthy elite or the working plebs like this, so nothing happens. The needed changes aren’t probably possible in democratic society as long as the climate change costs aren’t falling on that democratic society right now and heavily. Sorry for cynicism, but I’m deeply critical of the open market democracies we are living in. Also the modern internet and social media is making politics far more vocal and populistic, just look at the amount of people being climate change pessimists or outright denialists even in supposedly western countries. And said western countries and actually large parts of the populations could easily reduce their consumption enormous amounts. We aren’t as smart in here as we commonly like to think.

        1. eg

          The “open market democracies” are operating exactly as neoliberalism designed — by not pricing “externalities”

        2. jrs

          OTOH for things to get any better people are darn well going to have to start taking *personal responsibility* and actions for changing the political system – because it’s not going to change itself.

          I really do agree that the modern internet and social media is making things worse and worse. I didn’t always think so but ..

          It has some uses of course including actual organizing, but overall it has not been a force for good.

          1. Theo LeSieg

            “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
            Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

    2. jrs

      Ordinary cars like sedans are larger but they don’t necessarily use more fuel as there have been efficiency improvements and so they often use less. This is not a good use of efficiency improvements, to just make cars bigger in response. Yea really, I know.

      1. Math is Your Friend

        “Ordinary cars like sedans are larger but they don’t necessarily use more fuel as there have been efficiency improvements and so they often use less. This is not a good use of efficiency improvements, to just make cars bigger in response.”

        What do you mean, ‘sedans are larger’? They got small, and have stayed small for decades.

        When I look at a sedan today, more often than not, I think about how tiny it is… I think most are now smaller than a compact car I used to own.

        1. JBird4049

          I was gifted with a full size 5 passenger sedan, which is often dwarfed by SUVs on the road. It feels like the shadow of some gigantic dinosaur is upon me.

          There are some good, even necessary, reasons for the more off-roady SUVs akin to the older Land Rovers and large Jeeps. Some people work or live in some rough country with bad roads.

          However, seeing some commuters whizzing by me while driving all alone in the latest Uber-Sized Luxury SUV is annoying. Or driving around puddles of water in the parking lot.

  2. John Beech

    I love my SUV despite having no redeeming social value. That it’s the size of a Hyundai, weighs more than a Suburban, and only gets 10mpg around town? Doesn’t bother me. Neither does the premium-only label when I top it up. Third row seat? Doesn’t have one (never did) and the back seats are permanently folded to make room for model airplanes. I’ve even been toying with the idea of removing them. Don’t laugh, the attic at my office have hosted the third row seats for a Sequoia I once owned, which the buyer didn’t want, since 2004. There’s probably room for the back seats of my present SUV as well. Hmmm, maybe that’s what I’ll do today since it’s raining too much to go fly.

    1. Merf56

      Remember when we thought they age of big cars was over during the oil embargos?

      We own a 2002 Chevy Suburban we bought new when we lived in AZ. We had family constantly coming in to visit and wanted to be driven around the state. It has 82,000 something on it and runs well getting 25 miles to the gallon. I also did and do ALL my own home repair and do some custom cabinetmaking and woodworking and used and use it to bring home the supplies. We also tent camped with our kids until they went to college…

      . But… we have always garaged it, kept it in top notch shape and only used it when it was clearly needed. in other words… We weren’t baja-ing the three miles to soccer practice in it. That’s what our little Corolla was for… if and when I stop doing woodworking and home repair et al it’s getting sold.
      It is or was it essential to my life ? Of course not but it was And still is extremely useful and used judiciously. I think if others did the same there would be less giant polluters and gas guzzlers on the roads on a regular basis.
      What ever happened to a little basic restraint regarding ‘dangerous’ items? Pesticide use would be another example. Certain instances are nearly unavoidable but most is unnecessary and even the necessary uses can be done with great care and precision…
      just sayin’…….

  3. Carla

    Hate the goddamned things. Almost every time I see a driver doing something REALLY stupid, that driver is barely in control of an SUV, and as a bonus, s/he invariably is driving (or maybe I should say, attempting to drive) one-handed because the other hand is holding a cell phone. Hate ’em. Great piece.

    1. rd

      They make up a high percentage of vehicles buried up to the hood in a snowbank in our area. The drivers think they are invulnerable but don’t put winter tires on them. So I get to see them spin out in front of me regularly (usually after cutting around other cars) and end up in the median.

      1. Lord Koos

        Same here. Driving over the mountain passes in our area in the winter, most of the spun-out vehicles I see on the side of the road are SUVs. They think 4 wheel drive makes them invulnerable, but when it’s icy on the roads, all vehicles are created equal. I routinely drive in winter with a front-wheel drive car with all-season tires and don’t have any problems.

        There is some argument that SUVs are not actually safer, as they roll over more easily that conventional cars, and handle poorly in comparison.

        1. Math is Your Friend

          “They think 4 wheel drive makes them invulnerable, but when it’s icy on the roads, all vehicles are created equal”

          A very common theme in vehicle advertising is “our 4 wheel drive lets you ignore winter when everyone else is stuck”. I’ve heard variations of that from half a dozen models and makes of vehicles, not all of which are SUVs – sedans and light trucks get the same claim. People need to learn to distrust marketing claims.

          If you know how to use it, a manual transmission is almost as useful as 4 wheel drive on an automatic. And if you have the right winter tires, you don’t normally get stuck until the body hangs up on the snow.

    2. Big Tap

      Agree. I despise SUV’s as they make road obstructions and traffic patterns hard to see over them and around them. Far more blind spots for me now when driving than years prior. Of course if you collude with an SUV you have a far greater chance of death or injury. If I were king of the world I’d outlaw them. Goes without saying they waste fuel vs. cars.

      1. GM

        That isn’t even unique to SUVs — a lot of sedans these days are as tall as what used SUVs used to be back in the 1980s.

  4. timbers

    A car article. Expect lots of comments!

    I drive a Prius C. It’s recently discontinued by Toyota. That’s a same for me as I love it as it suits my need perfectly size wise and it gets 60 mpg consistently not the 50 mpg it claims.

    Here’s my beef with big cars. They are too tall. I can’t see ahead of me when they are in front of me, or right/left of them at intersections and am sometimes forced to wait as theycut the line.

    When I come to an intersection I used to be polite and favor the right or left side so a second care could pull alongside me should it be going a different direction, to benefit traffic – for example if I’m turning left, I drive to left center at the inspection, stop, and look for oncoming traffic. That way someone turning right or going straight could pull next to me at the same time, helping traffic move along more efficiently.

    No more.

    Now I center my car in the middle making sure to occupy the fullest lane possible so as to prevent those behind me from pulling alongside my vehicle. Why? Because many vehicles are much taller – too tall – than my car and I can not see thru them for oncoming traffic, blocking my view. Thus, I have to wait for them to get out of my line of vision even though I was ahead of them, with right of way to turn.

    Another point: Are turning signals being degraded? I find many vehicles have so many lights so close to each other, it’s become harding to notice a blinking turning signal. Maybe I’m getting old and reduced sight perception?

    1. mpalomar

      Agree re: visibility, definite safety issues if you can’t see past these great hulking tanks from many angles.
      Also similar dangerous visual problems with darkened car windows. I don’t understand how that is legal and is actually not legal in some jurisdictions but never enforced, as with noise levels on chopped motorcycles and hot rods.
      Man’s inexplicable love affair with internal combustion engines; don’t get me started on ATVs.

      1. Dwight

        I hate the bright white LED lights, usually seen on SUVs. Blinding and obnoxious, whether from behind or oncoming. As bad or worse than regular brights. Should be illegal.

        1. Jason Boxman

          I remember when I started seeing those. I’m sure they’ve killed people. Glad I don’t drive anymore. I don’t miss it; loathe it, in fact. And with cell phones and distracted driving, it’s probably more dangerous than ever.

    2. Carla

      timbers, I drive a Honda Civic and know all the problems you stated all too well. Well, except I’m not getting old! ;-)

    3. xkeyscored

      Try being a pedestrian or cyclist on the same roads as these thugs. The same line of vision problems, twice the vulnerability.

    4. hemeantwell

      From time to time I marvel at the level of cooperation achieved among car drivers. True, there are lots of shared incentives baked into the situation, but it’s still impressive.

      SUVs? Their drivers protect themselves at the life-threatening expense of others. Comparing bumper heights reveals a finger being given to everyone in a lower car. Factor in mass differentials, it’s passive-aggressive homicide. Back when, going lethal was more a matter of poor driving, perhaps augmented by speed made available with a larger engine. No more.

    5. Yves Smith Post author

      Haha, but that is not my biggest size beef.

      People who drive trucks and SUVs are WAY more likely than drivers of normal cars to ride your bumper on the highways. They know they look intimidating in a rear view mirror.

      This particularly drives me nuts since I regularly drive 10 MPH over the speed limit. I’m judiciously breaking the law but that’s not good enough for you? And that’s before getting to how hazardous it is to drive that closely spaced.

      My usual trick is to play flying roadblocks if on a 2 lane highway. I match the pace of a car in the right lane and let them stew.

      I only do this in states not noted for road rage shootings.

      1. Carolinian

        When aggressively tailgated I slow down further. Often they get the message and back off unless genuinely road rage material. Most people, though, tailgate unthinkingly or think they are giving you some sort of helpful reminder. Slowing down tells them you know they are back there.

        Bad drivers are a pet peeve. Whatever happened to one car length for every ten mile per hour?

      2. Math is Your Friend

        Those people in a hurry can be really useful.

        Let them by, then follow at a sufficient distance that they will trigger a speed trap without involving you.

        Obviously that only works if you feel comfortable driving as fast as they do, but I often find my vehicle and driving experience would limit my speed less than considerations of fines and demerit points.

    6. GM

      Why? Because many vehicles are much taller – too tall – than my car and I can not see thru them for oncoming traffic, blocking my view

      It’s a perverse self-reinforcing feedback loop.

      One of the purported advantages of SUVs is that they make you “safer”.

      But, even if they indeed do that, it is at the expense of everyone else who is not driving an SUV and now has to deal with your monstrosity hogging the road, blocking people’s views, and making everyone afraid of getting run over

      Then, after being in a situation where they have four SUVs surrounding them on the road and not being able to see past any of them one too many times, people decide that enough is enough and their next car will be an SUV too, the bigger the better.

      So now you have even more SUVs on the road, which makes the drivers of regular cars feel even more unsafe, so more of them switch to SUVs.

      Rinse and repeat, and eventually most of the cars on the road are SUVs, “small” cars that are the size of an 1980s SUV, or sedans that while not yet as long as the land yachts of the 1970s handily beat them in terms of their volume due to how high and bulky they are.

      P.S. This makes the road unsafe not only for drivers of small cars but also for pedestrians and those on bikes. I personally use a bike to commute. I have been hit by a car twice, it is kind of inevitable once you spent enough time on the road, but had no injuries either time, first, because it was not at speed but at an intersection where the car just took off when it should not have, and second, and most important, because it was not an SUV but a regular car. If you get hit by a regular car, your center of mass is above the hood so you end up rolling on top the hood and if you are agile enough, you can get away without any damage. But if it is an SUV that hits you, you end up going straight under the wheels because of how huge it is…

      1. xkeyscored

        There was a fad for having bully – sorry, they say bull – bars on them to make sure they dragged you under.

  5. deschutes

    I would say that over 95% of the time I see a massive Escalade, Yukon, Expedition or Sequoia there is only one person in it.

    1. Monty

      In my experience, SUVs are usually being driven by a lone small woman who is busily chirping on her cellphone or texting.

      Around here, the men (always wearing a baseball cap) all drive those ridiculous lifted pick ups.

      1. Lord Koos

        I have read that SUVs sell more to women as they feel safer in a large vehicle, but in reality an SUV is more difficult to maneuver than a car and they tip over more easily.

        A bigger danger in our little town is 80-year old men driving huge fancy pickup trucks.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Wow, people are weird.

          I don’t feel safe in a high up car (I’ve rented big to very big vans sometimes when transporting a group) for that very reason, they are harder to drive and I sensed they were tippy. So I was not nuts.

          I feel more in control lower to the ground but then you can’t see anything.

          1. petal

            I used to have to drive one of those enormous Dodge Ram pickups around the orchards and farm, especially during apple season. It was hard because I couldn’t tell how close I was to anything, and it sat up so high that I had trouble seeing in front of it. I had to drive on faith because I couldn’t see what was in front-not a good thing! Sometimes I had to drive my mother’s Chevy Silverado and had the same problems. It was downright scary in the winter with the lake effect snow. Sitting so high up felt very out of control and out of touch. These trucks were really the first two vehicles I had experience driving. In the last year I have gone from the Forester I had for 8 years to a Volvo S70. I feel a lot more in control in the S70 than I ever did in the trucks, and am a lot more comfortable and confident to handle anything that comes at me because it’s lower to the ground.

      2. polecat

        I’m the proud owner of a buckboard, otherwise known as a ‘pickup’ .. Now, I will say that it certainly is not ‘lifted’, nor is it a humongously large model, but instead, would have been considered some decades ago as a regularly sized ride. Paint scratched and dented, it has served me well all these years in the process of moving stuff, or hauling compost, or commandeering junk and/or yard waste to the local transfer station. I put, at the most, maybe 20 miles .. a week ! .. on the ol’ steed. It gets washed .. only by the rains, gathering moss like a chia pet .. and hath no swinging trailer-hitch dingle balls to affect review pearl-clutchers. It is by no means a ‘vanity truck’… hauling only ATVs, and it Never spys on me. It is the last and only vehicle I will ever drive … and all you hippie virtue-signalling snobby prius people can have my buckboard when you rip my cold, dead, hamburger-greased fingers from it’s steering wheel !

      3. Dan

        Around here, (S.F. Bay Area and Los Angeles) older SUVs, like Ford Explorers and even large vans, are used to carry immigrant families with five or six children. These are vehicles that didn’t make it to the Cash for Clunkers program and are spewing high levels of pollution.

        Used cars like this are favored as they are cheaper, can be handed off to other alleged immediate family members, if same last name, without the requirement for smog certification with change of owners and are easier for mechanics to work on, or fraudulently pass smog tests since there’s less identification of the vehicle through embedded computer chips, therefore a different better tuned vehicle can be substituted to do the actual test.

        Further compounding this, these vehicles are often used to travel from older suburban homes, so lots of mileage per day.

        Get behind one of these with window down and you will gag. Modern cars, for all their expense, stupid screens and poor quality are considerably cleaner and less polluting plus get far better mileage.

    2. xkeyscored

      I was going to say the same thing.
      “They carry more people than sedans, and they look cooler than minivans” should read
      “They can carry more people than sedans, and they look ugly and brutal as hell.”

  6. Fraibert

    In the U.S. at least, I suspect a lot of the suvs are in the so-called crossover genre (unibody chassis underneath like a car instead of body on frame like a traditional truck type suv). The crossover can be fairly efficient–not too much worse, if at all, than a medium sedan.

    In fact, it appears the author should have done a bit more reseach before praising minivans. The base trim of the Toyota Sienna, a benchmark minivan, is rated on the EPA cycle at 19/27 versus a Toyota RAV4 at 28/35. For a family of 3 or 4, this means that a small SUV may be a more fuel efficient choice than a minivan anyways.

    However, I bet there is also a resurgence of the traditional truck type SUV. My guess is this is probably 20% or less of new sales in the U. S. but probably higher abroad where the largest flagship SUVs (think Cadillac Escalade and such) are truck type.

  7. John B

    We need some class action lawyers to sue the manufacturers for causing pedestrian death. Or at least a personal injury suit against an SUV owner or two.

    1. MoBee

      Yes. It seems hitting and killing pedestrians (and cyclists) is the way to get away with murder (provided you stay on scene), at least in my town. Deaths rise every year, and there are absolutely no consequences.

      It’s horrifying.

    2. xkeyscored

      It’s not just the deaths. These monsters make pedestrians and cyclists stay indoors, and make our built environments even more unlivable.
      What parent would allow their kids to play on their bicycles on the streets, like we did fifty years ago?

  8. inode_buddha

    Asked my coworker about what the hell is wrong with US automakers a few years ago. He had retired from GM, and I was trying to get myself a decent work truck. He said the whole thinking nowdays is the the automakers no longer view trucks ans SUV’s as a work vehicle. Instead they are “prestige” vehicles, for suburbanites to show off with.

    As opposed to guys like me who actually need one for work, that is *not* made out of plastic, fully loaded with DVD players and power ass scratchers. Actual working vehicles made out of metal, owner serviceable, and maybe able to haul half a dozen kids to bible camp with all their gear a few times a year. In addition to say 60 kilos of tools every day, occasional 1200 lb loads, occasional trailer, and groceries for 3 weeks. When you can only afford *one* vehicle, and it has to do it all.

    I told him I want to go back to 1979 because that was the last time any of them made a truck that was worth owning.

    1. petal

      If I remember correctly, when my mother needed to replace her truck(it was her single vehicle and needed to do everything including carry a full load of hay), she wanted a basic work truck, and for that it had to be special ordered. All the ones available on the local lots were full of bells and whistles. This was in 2004.

      I’m still laughing out loud at the “power ass scratchers”. My friend’s wife is all about status(for literally everything) and so just had to buy an at the time 2 year old Volvo XC90 that cost them nearly 40k to replace her much smaller Honda SUV. The thing is loaded to the gills, and she had to have it. Now whenever I see him occasionally driving it I’ll think “Welp, must be one of those days!”. Hopefully I won’t drive off the road from laughing so hard. Funny, but when his car had to be unexpectedly replaced a couple months later, they couldn’t afford to and had to borrow a car from his parents. Eventually they gave it to him. It’s at least 15 years older than her XC90. Around here, the higher end SUVs are all about status. Nothing more. Definitely a signal to me.

      And Carla, agree with you on your observation the big ones are driven by women that can barely handle them and have one hand on the wheel and one hand with the phone. Have had so many run-ins with those. It’s scary.

      1. Thor's Hammer

        Look at the bright side. I guarantee that in 40 years soccer moms won’t be driving SUV’s. There is a real world out there, and in that world the pace of discovery of new conventional oil deposits peaked in 1970. Fracking has been the primary source of new oil supplies in the US, but it’s business model closely resembles a Ponzi scheme and in no way provides a sustainable path to even a short range future.

        And a future populated by hundreds of millions of electric SUV’s is as delusional as Musk’s dreams of populating Mars by a colony of 20 breeding females with him as Master.

  9. rob

    I agree with you that the author of this article did a poor job in distinguishing types and sizes of suv’s, and their actual impact.
    Most of the SUV’s around me are “compact” suv’s…. These are sitting on frames no larger than a camry.. or other sedan. A large percentage of cars people seem to be riding in are these compact suv’s whose milage isn’t really too much worse than a sedan, probably no worse than a minivan(which isn’t a small vehicle).
    While I do think people are fools to be buying and fueling the big SUV’s just to drive around town.. and do their daily commute… The case for an all wheel drive vehicle in places that have seasonal weather to contend with where the municipalities don’t do much for road conditioning… i.e “the south” of the USA…,.. makes these vehicles a good choice for many.
    What is needed is more options for hybrids engines(gas/electric) and other electric only options for the commuters with shorter consistent distances.

    1. inode_buddha

      Not just in the South either…

      The only reason I made it thru was my 30 year old jeep. Yes, the original army style…. snow tends to be a regular feature here

      Of course there’s always some yuppie from the city in their first 4×4, we usually find them in the ditch a while later… LOL for us country boys we grew up driving tractors and 4×4 and maybe we actually know a few things

      1. Ian Perkins

        Where I live, a bridge on a national highway was down not so long ago. While Toyota Camry taxis made it on the detour via rice fields, the 4×4 SUVs (very popular here as a status symbol) were backed up in a long queue, awaiting repairs to the bridge. One suspects they imagine 4×4 refers to the thing’s size, or possibly its effects on their egos and prestige.

  10. inode_buddha

    One issue I tend to have with these types of articles, is that I think they ignore the elephant in the room.

    A single container ship puts out as much crap as 50,000 cars in a single day. This, and jobs is the reason I stopped buying anything that arrived on a container ship. Meaning, boycott WalMart, Amazon, etc etc. they operate fleets of them. Buy local and/or used only.

    And yet I see all the virtue-signallers driving their priuses at wally-world. Its like ringing up $250 in plastic crap, getting $60 off in coupons, and then hauling out a Mastercard. You’re not saving anything.

    Makes no sense at all.
    In the same way, I discourage others from flying if it can be at all avoided. Haven’t got on a plane since 1986.

    1. xkeyscored

      True enough, but I don’t notice fifty container ships threatening to hospitalise me every time I go to work.


      Yes, but bunker fuels aren’t counted, so you’re not doing anything to reduce our country’s emissions. Just kidding. Thank you.

    3. Anon

      Doesn’t the graph in the article indicate that “shipping” produces much less CO2 than other sources?

      1. Yves Smith Post author


        The chart is % change, not the base line.

        And this may not capture international shipping. It’s not included in the Paris Accords, for instance.

        The articles I looked at were Not Happy re trends in maritime shipping due to

        1. More shipping volumes

        2. Many carriers increasing speed of their vessels, which increases fuel use and therefore emissions.

        1. Math is Your Friend

          “Many carriers increasing speed of their vessels, which increases fuel use and therefore emissions.”

          Perhaps, perhaps not.

          Maersk has been the largest container shipping firm for 25 years.

          Below is a wikipedia quote that you can find if you search “maersk container ship”. They have ordered 20 of these ships. Please note that larger ships are generally more fuel efficient when you base the measure on a per unit carried basis.


          The name “Triple E” is derived from the class’s three design principles: “Economy of scale, Energy efficient and Environmentally improved”.

          The ships are 399.2 metres (1,310 ft) long and 59 metres (194 ft) wide. While only 3 metres (9.8 ft) longer and 4 metres (13 ft) wider than the Mærsk E class, the Triple E ships are able to carry 2,500 more containers. With a beam of 59 metres (194 ft), they are too wide to traverse the Panama Canal, but can transit the Suez Canal.

          One of the class’s main design features is its dual 29.68-megawatt (39,800 hp) ultra-long stroke two-stroke diesel engines, driving two propellers at a design speed of 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph). This class is by design slower than its predecessors, using a strategy known as slow steaming expected to lower fuel consumption by 37% and carbon dioxide emissions per container by 50%. The Triple E design helped Maersk win a “Sustainable Ship Operator of the Year” award in July 2011.

  11. Karen

    I purchased a 2015 Prius wagon that is very spacious, quiet, drives really well, and gets 45 mpg. What’s not to like?

    I recently learned that vehicle was discontinued (probably due to the SUV craze–what??!). So purchased its replacement in a 2017 version so that my husband could stop driving his truck and my daughter can follow in our footsteps. Toyota, we love you, why did you do that??

  12. DJG

    I note: “beefy vehicles make their drivers a little safer”

    Beefy is the operative word here. I see SUVs as a further physicalization of the U.S. obesity epidemic. They ride high, because their drivers often cannot lower themselves into the seat of a sedan. From the rear, well, they are a wide load.

    I’m not sure of a solution. But SUVs (yeah, sports utility) are tied in with many adaptations in U.S. culture to obesity: See portion sizes. See clothes sizes and styles. See the overwhelming culture of takeout food and takeout milky beverages.

    1. Barbara

      Interesting viewpoint. As a grandmother who frequently chauffeurs grandchildren to after school activities in an ordinary sedan, I see SUVs and their drivers as steroid-driven bullies who are a menace to civilized driving.

      What I see on TV is ads promoting fantasies of power and speed (even as they tell you not to try to replicate their stunts). Maybe the fat is between their ears.

      1. Ian Perkins

        Main Entry:beefy
        1 a : heavily and powerfully built *a beefy thug* b : SUBSTANTIAL, STURDY *beefy shock absorbers*
        2 a : of or suggesting beef *a beefy flavor* b : full of beef *a beefy steak*

  13. Ford Prefect

    Oil use is a primary reason why the US is fighting in the Middle East. SUVs are a major oil user. Basically, SUV drivers are supporting the need to send troops to the Middle East. A dramatic reduction in oil usage with electric and hybrid cars and trucks would make the Middle East largely irrelevant to the US.

    1. diptherio

      You’re apparently unaware that the US military is the largest consumer of fossil fuels on the planet. It’s a self-licking ice cream cone. We could all switch to horse-and-buggy and our military would still be fighting to control the world’s oil supply.

      1. Anon

        Actually, if we all went horse and buggy the US military would be able to operate solely on the petrol produced in the US. But then we’d have to transport it to all the far flung military bases around the world necessary for Empire.

  14. bassmule

    Guilty as sin, Your Honor. After surfing through potholes and scraping my front bumper on steep driveways for six years, I sold my Fix and bought an H-RV, which is built on the same frame. Just having bigger wheels has made a huge difference. It holds all my musical gear (bass players have to carry a lot of it) and gets 29 mpg. And I hate Escalades and Suburbans just as much as you do.

    1. RMO

      I think there are two factors driving the move to crossovers like the H-RV and RAV-4: 1: seat height and roof height – go compare them to a late 40’s American sedan or coupe and you’ll notice they are similar in this regard and this makes them considerably easier to enter, exit, load, unload and deal with child seats than a modern day sedan and 2: somewhat increased ground clearance and (very important) increased tire sidewall height which lets them cope better with the deteriorating roads. The same things apply to full size SUV’s and another appeal of them is the idea of using someone else’s vehicle and body as a crumple zone to save their own skin. Short of a substantial increase in fuel prices I don’t see things changing much in the near future. At least decades of increasing CAFE standards and emissions regulations have blunted the impact somewhat.

      I’ve switched to a much smaller car recently after 500,000KM in two Honda Elements in a row – I still manage to carry an upright bass around when needed but now it has to go in the front seat.

  15. Andrew DeWit

    Thanks for articles with real data rather than wishlists. Over here in Japan, SUV sales for the first half of 2018 were 22% of the total, less than half US share of SUVs. And traffic fatalities are at a record low 2.79/100,000 people.

    1. Geo

      The key difference I would think is this: “Every one of these vehicles that goes on the road makes the world more dangerous for everyone but the people in them.”

      The person in the car is safer. That’s American-style rugged individualism at its finest. Protect yourself at the expense of all others. It’s why we don’t have single payer healthcare, argue about whether poor kids should be allowed to starve, and will overturn the government if any nation that threatens to increase the price of bananas in order to pay their citizenry above slave wages or invest in their own country.

      I can’t speak for Japan and it’s people but expecting Americans to sacrifice anything for the sake of others is only possible if you tell them God will buy them a McMansion for doing so.

  16. diptherio

    Used to have a mid-90s Honda Accord wagon. Roomy, comfortable ride, and got 35+ mpg on the highway. ‘Twas great until some 19 year old ran a red light, t-boned me, and totaled it. The 91 Subaru Loyale that finally gave up the ghost on me was getting 30+ mpg on road trips, despite having over 275,000 on the odometer. Auto design has done nothing but go backwards for at least the last two decades, imho.

  17. MoBee

    We must prioritize public transportation within our towns and cities and between our cities and states that is safe, accessible and affordable/free.

    1. Barbara

      That’s a great idea. The problem is suburbia in the NY Metro area was designed for city dwellers who wanted their children to grow up in the “country” where it was safe. Therefore, the nice grids that big cities tend to have don’t exist here in suburbia. The long roads are few and not convieniently located. Where people actually live are little mazes of street that go for 2 block, max 3, and you turn on to another street that goes for 2 to 3 short blocks and you turn again . . . repeat . . . repeat.

      NJ has great transportation to NYC, but virtually unusable transportation within state. They thought it was good planning in the ’50s but today you’d have to redesign the layout of houses and streets with eminent domain in the mix. It’s bad enough when roads have to be repaved or utility work needs doing.

      It’s terrible for the poorest workers because very few of them live close to their work so they have to have a car to be employed.

  18. Phacops

    Have a SUV that we use for outdoor recreation (I’d love to have a Miata). Frequently we are hauling a couple of recumbent trikes, canoes/kayaks, or both. And I recognize that it is how access to recreation is organized.

    That said, a problem with a lot of SUVs as a fashion statement that I’ve seen is the use of stylish, wide, low profile tires. In the winter they provide a source of amusement as those tires have a tendency to “float” on snow, negating any AWD and winter tires. Plus, our rural back roads are seldom plowed on weekends and cars without sufficient clearance sometimes compact the snow under their body, lifting the tires off the road surface.

  19. WobblyTelomeres

    My 84yo Mom has a compact Honda SUV because, after two hip replacements and two knee replacements, she cannot get in/out of a car.

    1. MichaelSF

      2014 Mazda CX5 “compact SUV” owner here. It was the only thing my wife was able to get in/out of and sit in the passenger seat without provoking her back issues. 30-32mpg at 75mph on the freeway with the air-conditioning on (a trip to AZ) so the fuel economy is comparable to the previous 70/80/90s small Civics/Accords/Integra/Mazda 131 (Ford Festiva), Dodge Colts that we’d used since the mid 1970s.

      This class of cars are cars with the look of a SUV, not SUVs, which (to my eyes) ought to be a term confined to vehicles built on actual truck platforms.

  20. neighbor7

    “High and MIghty: The Dangerous Rise of the SUV,” by Keith Bradsher, former Detroit editor of NYT–an early, NC-depth warning. With a frightening chapter on how deep research was done on how to appeal to the lizard brain of potential consumers.

  21. shinola

    The chart/graph in the article indicates the largest emitter is “power”. I assume this means power generation – as in producing electricity. So, if there were to be a switch, en masse, to electric vehicles (plug-in rechargeables) what would the increased demand do to the emissions from that sector? I would think that could increase those emissions, perhaps significantly. Would there be an overall net reduction? Could the existing power grid handle the increased demand on a hot summer day?

    As for SUV’s, if I had to replace my subcompact hatchback, I would give serious consideration to a compact SUV if for no other reason than self-preservation.

    1. RMO

      The most detailed, in depth study I’ve seen on full-cycle CO2 emissions concerning gasoline, diesel and electric was from Europe a few years back and it concluded that even at today’s state of the art and when charged by coal-fired powerplants an electric car was at worst even with the average European ICE private car.

      Decreased individual car use from better public transit and town planning needs to be pursued intensively though if we want a chance at not totally flushing the planet down the toilet.

      1. earthling1

        Here is reality
        I just drove my all electric Leaf 77 miles and plugged it into my level two charger and the meter indicated 21 kilawatt hours of energy to recharge it. It did take 4 hours to charge.
        My electric service provider charges 8 cents per kwh.
        That comes to $1.68 for 77 miles.
        Or about the price of one half gallon of regular gas.

  22. Jeremy Grimm

    A person’s vehicle is a primary status marker, especially for people who cannot afford to purchase a large home. I believe many people identify their own presence with the weight, power, and size of the car they drive. [Of course others mark their status differently with electric and hybrid vehicles, or particularly expensive vehicles, or high performance speedy vehicles.]I have no idea how to change this. Humankind has long needed ways to proclaim status and thrash about for a higher spot within a hierarchy, and this is not a strictly human trait. Perhaps this is one more flaw in the present design of Humankind.

    Why are there such strong feelings about SUVs and their gas guzzling and carbon spewing? The levels of air pollution in this country now are noticeably less compared with the times when air pollution was the environmental poster child of the moment. The state emissions goals may suffer, and SUVs may add a little more CO2 and Ozone to the air than compact sedans. But the SUV “carbon spewing” does not adequately explain the acrimony about SUVs and SUV drivers. The lumbering size and dangers to other vehicles, and gas guzzling, of SUVs are not endearing traits but even when added to carbon spewing this does not adequately explain for me the acrimony expressed about SUVs and SUV drivers, and add in the men driving raised-up dolled-up pick-up trucks.

    There is something more at play in this discussion of SUVs and “those people who” drive them.

    1. cnchal

      > and “those people who” drive them.

      The way they are driven, if you can call it driving, is they are a form of weaponized transportation. My observation is that, because they can see over the top of my sedan or long roof (that’s a station wagon for those not in the know, which hauls my ass, and ass too) is that it is entirely appropriate to drive less than a car lenght behind me at eighty miles per hour.

      Then, when I compensate by keeping a bit of extra distance to whatever is in front of me, the doofus has to jump in another lane and go ninety to end up tailgating the next vehicle in front of them.

      Were I a cop, their punishment would be to pull four spark plug wires off the engine, and cut them in half.

    2. xkeyscored

      Without a doubt, and I speak as one who wholeheartedly hates them, and the dolled-up pick-up trucks (I don’t really distinguish between the two).
      I think they flaunt the occupants’ wealth and contempt for those disposable mortals without one, which they would prefer to call concern for their own safety.

      Someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the ancient Athenians granted status to playwrights and sponsors of public events. How we change our current bauble-fetishising mindset to something less destructive is another question. The coming intensification of the climate and environmental crises might do the trick, but I’m far from convinced. SUV owners could just switch to fireproof super-raised pick-ups to get them through the floods and wildfires.

  23. elissa3

    Where we live, our Honda CRV is a necessity–a mile of dirt road with steep inclines; some snow in the winter. Also, the need to haul something large from Home Depot every month or so. Agree though that monsters like the Escalade and extended cab pickups are a menace. And one has to use simple common sense about driving a SUV. Yes, better traction climbing hills and in the mud, but, no, nothing gained, and maybe even lost in braking distance.

    Given that 90-some-odd percent of vehicle trips are less than 40-50 miles (too lazy to look up the exact mileage), isn’t there a screaming market for a low cost ($10K) small electric or even hybrid that could cover nearly all travel for most households? With a “regular” car or SUV in reserve (or shared with neighbors) for the occasional longer trips. Waiting for the free market to deliver. . .

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      If you find one of those vehicles I might be interested in one — as long as there were a safe way for them along the roads. The present number of large heavy vehicles speeding and pushing make me feel unsafe in my little sedan.

      I’ve looked at electric bicycles, and various sorts of three wheel vehicles like I see in the Japanese cartoons and like the vehicle in the movie “Brazil” but they all seem less than satisfactory, difficult to find, and priced unjustifiably higher for their novelty and virtue signaling values. I just want safe way to get around that doesn’t break the bank.

  24. 3.14e-9

    My beefy SUV gets 29-30 mpg. It’s a 2009 Ford Escape hybrid, the second year of a new “beefier” body style and hybrid gas/electric option for the Escape. A friend sniped it for me on eBay at about half the NADA value. I was skeptical, as I’d driven his 2008 model and didn’t like the higher center of gravity others have mentioned. I’d been driving a ’93 VW Passat, which I loved and would have driven into the ground, but two years ago, I moved from the Seattle area to upstate New York and needed a vehicle I could drive in snow. So I let him talk me into it.

    The hybrid actually gets better mileage in the city and in stop-and-go traffic than on the highway, as the gas engine shuts off and goes to battery power. In the two years since I’ve had it, I’ve rarely spent more than $30/month on gas (not counting the cross-country trip, of course), and I live in a fairly rural area. I manage my driving habits, combine errands, walk whenever possible, etc. I’ve grown to love my FEH and wouldn’t trade it for anything. I even like the “beefier” style over the newer models. Someone here commented a while back that the newer SUV body styles look like they should come with gargoyles. Ha!

    One would think that someone writing about SUVs, especially for an environmental publication, would be aware that many models now have hybrid or plug-in electric models. Also, as someone mentioned above, there are monster SUVs versus the compact crossover category (in which the FEH falls). It’s hard to know whether the author intentionally neglected to mention this, but it would have detracted from making his case against SUVs and SUV drivers. The safety hazard is still there, but it’s a different issue (addressed in recent NC links). Piling it on as evidence that SUV drivers are selfish status-seekers who could give a [family blog] about the environment is disingenuous, at best.

    FWIW, the friend who found the FEH for me often comments that when gas prices go up, SUV prices nosedive and sales surge. Then when gas prices spike, there’s a rash of sub-prime defaults. I don’t know whether this is true, but there must be data somewhere. Anyone?

  25. Anon

    I manage my driving habits, combine errands, walk whenever possible, etc.

    Bless you , my Son! That is an essential observation. (Electric bikes are proliferating in my town.)

  26. Aumua

    Hey. As long as gas is cheap, people are going to buy it up. When gas creeps up to $5.00 and beyond, you will see another resurgence of fuel efficient/electric/hybrid vehicles on the roads. It’s simple short-sightedness.

  27. Nels Nelson

    Vehicle manufacturers i.e. Ford, Toyota, VW, GM, etc. develop platforms or architectures which are shared across numerous makes and models. For example the Ford Focus, Escape and C-Max Hybrid and Lincoln MKC are all built on the Global C Platform. This platform is of unitized construction which means it all one piece. This differs from trucks and SUVs (Sport Utility Vehicles) which have a separate body and frame. The body and frame are assembled separately and are usually joined in a process called the body drop where the body is lowered onto the frame and they are bolted together. This type of construction is better suited for hauling and towing heavy loads where forces are isolated to the frame. They are also heavier which is advantageous in a collision with a smaller and lighter vehicle which are usually unitized bodies but more deadly in single vehicle crashes where their mass and construction work against them. Unitized vehicles are much safer in a single vehicle crash or a crash with a vehicle of similar size and weight because the unitized body is better at “riding down” the collision.

    Most of the technology incorporated in vehicles does not come from the OEM, original equipment manufacturer. It come from their suppliers. A supplier will develop a new technology and then go out and shop it to the OEMs. An excellent example is the Toyota Prius. The gas/electric drivetrain in the Prius was developed by a Japanese transmission manufacturer called Aisin. Aisin was originally a joint venture with an American company, Borg Warner and was called Warner Aisin. Aisin sold the technology for the hybrid drivetrain to Toyota and Volvo. Ford acquired Volvo and which also gave them the technolgy. Ford used it in the previous generation Escape and Fusion and the Mercury Mariner and Milan. It is currently used in the Ford C-Max and Fusion and the Lincoln MKZ. All of these vehicles are being cancelled. The hybrid drivetrain used in these vehicles will continue to be used in the new Ford Escape and Lincoln Corsair. Both of these crossovers, CUVs use Ford’s Global C platform.

    I bought a C-Max Hybrid in 2015 and it has been an outstanding car. I honestly can’t understand why the majority of drivers need anything more. I won’t go into all of the advantages I’ve found with this vehicle but I can say I will never buy anything less than a hybrid and will probably move up to a plug-in hybrid or EV.

    This brings me to one final comment, I love cars but I recognize how damaging they’ve been in so many ways. I read all of the car periodicals I can get my hands on. I’ve noticed that the journalists upon having experienced electric vehicles really like them and are saying so. With greater range and reduced charging times, people currently driving fossil fuel powered vehicles will feel the same.

    1. cnchal

      > I’ve noticed that the journalists upon having experienced electric vehicles really like them and are saying so.

      Sure they do. Ever wonder why? From Bought Journalists

      Of course we were bought. We were bought in several ways. In your situation: when you buy a car or something else, you trust consumer tests. Look closer. How well is the car tested? I know of no colleagues, no journalists, who do testing of cars, that aren’t bribed – maybe they do exist.

      They get unlimited access to a car from the big car manufacturers, with free petrol and everything else. I had a work car in my newspaper, if not, I might have exploited this. I had a BMW or Mercedes in the newspaper. But there are, outside the paper, many colleagues who only have this kind of vehicle all year round. They are invited to South Africa, Malaysia, USA, to the grandest travels, when a new car is presented.

      Why? So that they will write positively about the car. But it doesn’t say in these reports «Advertisement from bought journalists».

      Imagine you were an auto journalist, and you severely criticized what you were testing because it was terrible. Where would the money come from to put food on the table the next day?

      1. Nels Nelson

        Have you experienced an EV? Tesla was operating a ride sharing service in southern California? For $39 dollars in my case, I was driven from Palm Springs to L.A. The vehicle was a Tesla Model X. I was very impressed and I wasn’t paid to be. I did it to see what an EV was like. The vehicle had accumulated over 100,000 miles and was still going strong.

        The advantages of electric motors are significant. They convert 90% of the energy consumed into work whereas an ICE at best can convert only 35%. The rest is lost in waste heat which is captured in the atmosphere by GHGs contributing to warming. Did you know that Diesel locomotives are actually Diesel electric and use electric traction motors because of their superior pulling power? Ford is working on a F150 EV and recently did a demonstration where the truck pulled a freight train.

        The future of the personal vehicle is electrification.

        1. Math is Your Friend

          “They convert 90% of the energy consumed into work whereas an ICE at best can convert only 35%. ”

          This is grossly misleading, as you are starting with the electricity.

          To get the real number, you need to multiply the efficiency of the car’s conversion by the efficiency of the form of electricity generation used, plus losses in transmission, conversion, and storage. Remember to multiply serial efficiencies, do not add or subract.

          Most people don’t even know the efficiency of their charger units, which must change the incoming AC current into DC at a different voltage.

          Even then you may be getting a spuriously good number for the EV because you may not be counting the energy needed for defogging / defrosting / deicing / heating in the half of the year when temperatures go below 10 degrees (obviously that’s defogging windows, icing will only occur when the temperature drops below zero, and that only happens in 4 to 7 months unless you live significantly north or up a mountain).

          Note that if you live signifcantly north there’s a fair chance you electricity comes from a municipal or corporate diesel generator in the first place, and there may be a few months when the sun does not rise,

          That heat is essentially a free byproduct of the ICE engine, but that energy must come from the battery of an EV.

        2. cnchal

          The point was that journalists are venal.

          > Have you experienced an EV?

          I have not driven one, but I did see a Tesla with the “Ludicrous Speed” option accelerate from arounf 70 MPH to 100 MPH in what seemed like two or three seconds, going for a gap slewing through a few lane changes, treating cars driving at 70 MPH as rolling pylons, and cutting a bunch of other drivers off. It was impressive, if a bit reckless. I was half expecting a gullwing door to fly off.

          I did go to check a Leaf out, but the Nissan dealer started playing I need your name, telephone number and email address, just to give me a price, game, so I got lost quickly.

          > Did you know that Diesel locomotives are actually Diesel electric and use electric traction motors because of their superior pulling power?


          > The future of the personal vehicle is electrification.

          For sure. For me however, I am sticking with older cheap used cars with a standard transmission that cost at the most $5000 to buy and I can repair myself. I keep my cars for at least a decade or more. I don’t do a lot of driving (my commute is a few seconds) but when I do go somewhere it’s up to a 500 mile trip one way. I want to get there in one shot, so electric is out of the question, even if I wanted to spend a completely stupid amount of money virtue signalling. My neighbor got a BMW I3. It looks like a clown car, and I would run out of juice before my first rest stop.

          If you know what to look for, there is a boatload of great driving cars at $5000 or less. Usually they have a Honda hood emblem. The sweet spot is the Accord (1998 – 2002) four cylinder 5 speed stick, smooth, durable, great fuel mileage, and a fun ramp blaster.

          Besides, all new cars are crap, basically e-waste after the lease and warranty expire, they spy on you as you drive, and are not repairable by the owner when an electronic gremlin inevitably bricks some part of the system, whether its electric or ICE, necessitating a tow to the dealer. Nobody accounts for that colossal waste either.

          1. Nels Nelson

            I’m attaching a link to a book by David JC MacKay titled “Without the Hot Air” that can be downloaded free. It is a bit old now given the rapidly advancing technology but it will address many of your comments,

            Here’s an example:

            “You’ve shown that electric cars are more energy-efficient than fossil cars. But are they better if our objective is to reduce CO2 emissions, and the electricity is still generated by fossil power-stations?
            This is quite an easy calculation to do. Assume the electric vehicle’s energy cost is 20 kWh(e) per 100 km. (I think 15 kWh(e) per 100 km is perfectly possible, but let’s play skeptical in this calculation.) If grid electricity has a carbon footprint of 500 g per kWh(e) then the effective emissions of this vehicle are 100 g CO2 per km, which is as good as the best fossil cars (figure 20.9). So I conclude that switching to electric cars is already a good idea, even before we green our electricity supply.”


            “in a standard petrol car, 75% of the energy is turned into heat and blown out of the radiator!”

            This from MIYF

            “That heat is essentially a free byproduct of the ICE engine, but that energy must come from the battery of an EV.”

            from MacKay

            “I live in a cold place. How could I drive an electric car? I demand power- hungry heating!
            The motor of an electric vehicle, when it’s running, will on average use something like 10 kW, with an efficiency of 90–95%. Some of the lost power, the other 5–10%, will be dissipated as heat in the motor. Perhaps electric cars that are going to be used in cold places can be carefully designed so that this motor-generated heat, which might amount to 250 or 500 W, can be piped from the motor into the car. That much power would provide some significant windscreen demisting or body-warming.”

            “Without the Hot Air” is almost 400 pages and contains a lot of math.

            From my perspective, the point of the article by Nathanael Johnson and we must not lose sight of it, is why do so many people feel they need a 2.5 to 3.0 ton vehicle and all the waste that entails for their transportation needs when their needs could be satisfied by something far more efficient and less wastefuel.

  28. none

    Smaller SUV’s have been described as just a way to make a minivan look masculine. In other words they’re compact or subcompact cars with box bodies. Fuel efficiency is not much different than my older subcompact 3-door which gets around 31mpg. Huge SUV’s on truck bodies are a different story of course, but those aren’t so popular.

    1. likbez

      2019 model of Toyota RAV 4 hybrid SUV gets over 40 miles (41-43) per gallon (more if you use higher tire pressure, say, 4.0 PSI)

  29. barrisj

    Telly adverts are heavily biased toward SUVs, either showing a smirking hipster proudly behind the wheel of his hulkmobile, or busy mum with a carload of no-necks going to soccer practice, the message from the auto manufacturers is that the SUV is the only game in town. Whether the vehicle is shown to be integral to family life, or as a cool ride for trendy singles, other alternatives seemingly don’t exist, certainly if one considers ad budgets.
    Simply from a profit standpoint, SUVs are pure gold, and why indeed should manufacturers advertise other less energy-consuming or less expensive-to-operate models? It follows the pickup truck sales positioning, another gas-guzzler class but a huge profit-maker. Unless Congress introduces punitive fuel economy standards, pickups and SUVs are here to stay.

  30. Kevin Bell

    Yes. SUV’s are a serious problem. Most people don’t need them (the flood of two-wheel drive SUV’s tells you everything that you need to know). They aren’t any safer (the evidence shows that nimble small cars are better at avoiding accidents than clumsy big SUV’s). They represent massive, carbon spewing overkill, in a society that really doesn’t care much about the future of human civilization. Trump is just making it worse.

    That said, though there’s been an uptick recently, the basic issue as been around for 20 years now. The reality a little more nuanced:

    First, if you ignore the overkill factor, the biggest SUV and pickup truck pigs are actually not bad for their size. Many of them have genuinely interesting advanced features (e.g. shutting down unneeded cylinders if the extra power isn’t required) that haven’t trickled down to smaller SUV’s and affordable cars yet.

    Second, there’s a significant efficiency and economic benefit to people who buy smaller, more efficient cars, *if* mileage standards are enforced. Efficiency standards are based on a fleet average (SUV’s up to gigantic are included in the fleet average calculation, pickup trucks, unfortunately are not). Most SUV’s have a high enough profit margin to justify subsidizing smaller, more efficient cars. The effect is that more efficient cars (including smaller hybrids) are more affordable for people who can’t afford an Escalade. Because most of those more efficient small cars run fine on regular gasoline, they are a lot cheaper to run as well.

    So there’s that. It remains to be seen if California manages to hold the line on fleet efficiency standards, though.

  31. converger

    Yes. SUV’s are a serious problem. Most people don’t need them (the flood of two-wheel drive SUV’s tells you everything that you need to know). They aren’t any safer (the evidence is clear: nimble small cars are better at avoiding accidents than clumsy big SUV’s). They represent massive, carbon spewing overkill, in a society that really doesn’t care much about the future of human civilization. Trump is just making it worse.

    That said, though there’s been an uptick recently, the basic issue has been around for 20 years now. The reality is a little more nuanced:

    First, if you ignore the overkill factor, the biggest SUV and pickup truck pigs are actually not bad for their size. Many of them have genuinely interesting advanced features (e.g. shutting down unneeded cylinders if the extra power isn’t required) that haven’t trickled down to smaller SUV’s and affordable cars yet.

    Second, there’s a significant efficiency and economic benefit to people who buy smaller, more efficient cars, *if* mileage standards are enforced. Efficiency standards are based on a fleet average (SUV’s up to gigantic are included in the fleet average calculation, pickup trucks, unfortunately are not). Most SUV’s have a high enough profit margin to justify subsidizing smaller, more efficient cars. The effect is that more efficient cars (including smaller hybrids) are more affordable for people who can’t afford an Escalade. Because most of those more efficient small cars run fine on regular gasoline, they are a lot cheaper to drive as well.

    So there’s that. It remains to be seen if California manages to hold the line on fleet efficiency standards, though.

    1. none

      Most people don’t need them (the flood of two-wheel drive SUV’s tells you everything that you need to know). They aren’t any safer (the evidence is clear:

      They’re not that often for off-road: they’re an alternative to a pickup truck or station wagon when you need to drive shit around from point A to point B and it won’t fit in your little subcompact. I might get one at some point, as mentioned above. Not one of the huge gas guzzling truck-framed ones, but the kind that is really just a normal compact car with a different body shape. About the same gas mileage but much more cargo space.

    2. likbez

      What you do not understand that modern compact SUVs are sedans in disguise and as such are no less efficient (wind drag is higher on speed above 50 miles/hour, but roll loses are less due to larger tires.)

      They also are better suited to low quality roads with large potholes, which became more and more prevalent

      This is just a more practical in the current circumstances form factor that people tend to prefer. They all have the same engines as sedans and often the same frame.

      The majority now are 4 cylinder (the dominant SUV in the USA is 4-cyl Honda CRV which gets over 30 miles per gallon 28/34 according to the government stats).

      The personage of large SUV on US roads is shrinking with the deterioration of the standard of living of population and loss of well paying jobs. Also many people who buy large SUVs and a small tracks gets some income as subcontractors; so for them this is a work horse, not only ride to work car.

      Another fact is growing percentage of older people (17% I think as of 2019) in the USA who own the car but do not drive much (say less then 3K a year). For them the issue of fuel efficiency is moot, but issue of reliability is important. As such they are better off with a larger engines and larger SUVs.

      1. Lambert Strether

        Has anybody taken a survey of people living out of their cars to find a sedan/SUV breakdown?

        (I must say my reaction to SUVs is very negative on aesthetic grounds: They seem to be to me emblematic of the bloated and empty aggressiveness so characteristic of what America has become; and of course the morality of making everybody else less safe so that you can become more safe is neoliberalism writ small.)

  32. Ook

    I’m surprised to see these things described as a safe alternative. SUVs have a higher center of gravity than sedans, which actually makes them more likely to roll or lose control unless you have a highly skilled driver who is aware of this.

    1. likbez

      It depends. Hybrid SUVs have a heavy battery that lower the center of gravity considerably.
      Higher position of driver in SUV actually is a safe measure in and by itself. as it improves visibility.

  33. Anarcissie

    I think it’s odd for y’all to deprecate SUVs. The SUV is no more than a slightly more extreme case of the ordinary automobile, which is also a gas-guzzling, overpowered, dangerous monster which almost everyone worships as both a status symbol and a necessity of life. But they’re going to take care of themselves: if current climate science is correct (and I suspect it is) anyone alive 30 or 40 years from now (the twinkling of an eye, if you recall the last 30 or 40) will be living in a world where tooling around in an auto will be utterly unintelligible. Not ugly; not bad; unintelligible. It will be a weird thing from a suddenly distant past, not just another country but another planet. Seriously. Enjoy gassing while you can.

    1. George Job

      Anarcissie, I often have had that thought as well. Long before the oceans rise or crop failure brings it’s famine, the air will become unbreathable. I see it like the earth as one big garage with the door slowly closing and all these engines puttering on. Thanks.

  34. Basil Pesto

    SUVs are gross, as articulated in the comments

    I don’t drive very often but when I do, I drive an unusually long station wagon and while it’s not the most exciting car to drive, for utility it’s pretty much unparalleled for a regular consumer vehicle. I’m not sure in terms of emissions and safety how it compares (though it’s certainly shorter than SUVs, probably a bit taller than sedans?), but it comfortably seats 5 and with the rear seats down, can fit loads in the back. I’ve used it for moving house and loading furniture, it fits my bicycle easily in the back, I’ve even slept in the back at music festivals with an inflatable mattress (and I’m 6’3”). I don’t understand why they’re not more popular.

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