May 28, 2020 - Energy & Environment

SUVs top 40% of new car sales worldwide for first time

Adapted from IEA; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

SUVs reached a milestone last year, crossing 40% of worldwide new car sales for the first time, according to newly released International Energy Agency data.

Why it matters: The popularity of big, heavy cars and pickups is one challenge around decarbonizing transportation, even as fuel economy improves and electrics gain a beachhead.

  • Transportation is the largest greenhouse gas source in the U.S. and accounts for roughly a fourth of energy-related CO2 emissions worldwide.

The big picture: SUVs' share of new car sales has doubled over the last decade. There are now more than 200 million on the road and they account for 60% of the increase in the worldwide vehicle fleet since 2010, IEA said.

  • The increase in SUVs' market share accounts for 500,000 barrels per day worth of growth in oil demand for passenger vehicles between 2010 and 2019, per IEA.

The intrigue: Their popularity in the U.S. is well-known, but IEA notes that growth markets include China and other places where "SUVs are often considered symbols of wealth and status."

Where it stands: A number of legacy automakers and startups are bringing new electrified SUVs to market in the coming years. That includes GM's upcoming revival of the Hummer, and the startup Rivian's upcoming release of its SUV.

What we're watching: The fate of U.S. fuel economy standards. The Trump administration has substantially weakened Obama-era mandates that run through the mid-2020s.

  • But Wednesday attorneys general from two dozen states sued to thwart the weakened rules.
  • The election will matter too. The court fight will continue past November, and if Joe Biden wins he'll seek to implement much tougher standards.
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