Apr 28, 2023 - Economy

EVs are much heavier than gas vehicles, and that's posing safety problems

Illustration of a car on a kitchen scale, the scale reads 0 lbs. 

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Vehicles are adding poundage as the auto industry goes electric — and that's problematic for traffic safety, parking garages and roads.

Why it matters: Gas vehicles are slowly giving way to electric vehicles as investors, regulators and consumers clamor for more environmentally sustainable transportation.

State of play: Electric vehicles can be anywhere from hundreds to thousands of pounds heavier than similarly sized gas vehicles because EV batteries are so much heavier than engines.

  • For example, the 2023 GMC Hummer EV, a full-size pickup, weighs more than 9,000 pounds, sporting a 2,900-pound battery. In comparison, the 2023 GMC Sierra, also a full-size pickup, weighs less than 6,000 pounds, according to Kelley Blue Book.
  • The average weight of U.S. vehicles has already increased from about 3,400 pounds to 4,300 pounds over the last 30 years as Americans have ditched passenger cars for pickups and SUVs, according to Evercore ISI analysts.

Threat level: Safety watchdogs are raising concerns after the recent deadly collapse of a parking garage in New York City called attention to the challenge of creaking infrastructure.

  • Traffic safety is particularly concerning. In crashes, the "baseline fatality probability" increases 47% for every 1,000 additional pounds in the vehicle — and the fatality risk is even higher if the striking vehicle is a light truck (SUV, pickup truck, or minivan), according to a 2011 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
  • "Since we’re seeing pedestrian and roadway fatalities at record levels, the introduction of more weight into crashes via EVs will complicate any attempts to reduce the ongoing fatality crisis that has showed no signs of abating," Center for Auto Safety acting executive director Michael Brooks tells Axios in an email.

Flashback: In a speech in January, National Transportation Safety Board chair Jennifer Homendy praised the effort to reduce carbon emissions by switching to EVs but warned of the "unintended consequences" being "more death on our roads," the AP reported.

  • While the Manhattan parking garage collapse in early April was not blamed on EVs, the disaster nonetheless underscored an issue of growing concern: whether aging roads and old garages can handle all the extra weight.
  • Less than two weeks before the collapse, a British Parking Association official recommended that parking structures integrate higher load-bearing weights amid concerns about more EVs, the Telegraph reported.

The big question: Can automakers make batteries more energy-efficient so that they weigh less yet still pack a powerful punch?

  • "Unless we see incredibly rapid advances in battery design and vehicle designs, and taking smart steps like using battery energy density gains to save weight rather than extend range, or opening the doors to battery swapping, we are likely to see many additional deaths and injuries attributable solely to the added weight of EV batteries," Brooks says.
Go deeper