Global sales of polluting SUVs hit record high in 2023, data shows

Global sales of polluting SUVs hit record high in 2023, data shows

In rich countries, almost 20 million new SUVs were sold in 2023, surpassing a market share of 50% for the first time. Globally, 48% of new cars were SUVs and, including older cars, one in four cars on the road today are SUVs, according to the IEA.

SUV sales rose 15% in 2023, compared with a 3% rise for conventional cars.

The analysis, by the International Energy Agency, found that the rising emissions from SUVs in 2023 made up 20% of the global increase in CO2, making the vehicles a major cause of the intensifying climate crisis. If SUVs were a country, they would be the world’s fifth-largest emitter of CO2, ahead of the national emissions of both Japan and Germany.

The IEA said the main reasons behind the surge in SUVs were the “the appeal of SUVs as a status symbol”, marketing by automakers, and perceptions that they are more comfortable. The IEA also said SUVs caused greater injury to pedestrians in collisions, due to their higher front-ends, and took up more space in cities than regular cars.

About 20% of the new SUVs sold in 2023 were pure electric or plug-in hybrids. But the IEA said the larger vehicles needed bigger batteries, putting more pressure on the supply of critical minerals and requiring more electricity to run.

There were more than 360 million SUVs on the roads worldwide in 2023, producing 1 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions, up about 10% on 2022. As a result, global oil consumption rose by 600,000 barrels a day, more than a quarter of total growth in oil demand, the IEA said. SUVs weigh 200-300kg more than an average medium-sized car and emit about 20% more CO2.

Sales of electric cars are rising rapidly and 55% of these were SUVs in 2023, the IEA data showed. “Shifting from fossil-fuelled cars to electric vehicles is a key strategy for reaching international energy and climate goals,” Cozzi and Petropoulos said. But they said using fewer materials to produce cars was also “essential for a sustainable future”.