The world has gone mad for sport utility vehicles. Say what you will about fuel economy, safety, or saving the planet, what car buyers want more than anything (except perhaps a Ford F350 Super Duper Duty) is an SUV. For those like Tesla Motors and regulators like the California Air Resources Board who want to lead the world into a bright, fossil fuel free future, the SUV craze threatens to undo all their carefully laid plans.
A new study by Edmunds.com finds only 27.5% of all hybrid and electric vehicle owners who traded in their cars in the first quarter of 2016 bought another hybrid or electric vehicle. That’s down from 38.5% in the first quarter of 2015. Wait. Don’t EV advocates say that those who drive an electric car will never want a car with an internal combustion engine again? What’s going on here?
What’s going on is that people prefer SUVs. Manufacturers can’t build enough of them. Sales of sedans are way down. Coupes and two seater sales are falling. Only SUV and truck sales are up. In fact, manufacturers are adding new shifts at their SUV and truck factories to keep up with demand. Saving the planet may be a worthy goal, but for now, large, multipurpose vehicles are what sell.
“The overwhelming popularity of SUVs trumps just about any other trend in today’s market,” says Edmunds.com Director of Industry Analysis Jessica Caldwell. “SUV sales are up 22 percent in the last five years, and almost every other segment has suffered as a result. It’s especially true for hybrids and EVs, which generally don’t offer the size that today’s shoppers crave.”
“This trend is not an indictment of the quality of these cars — hybrid and electric vehicles tend to be equipped with some of the most sought-after technology on the market today,” Caldwell says “This is an economics trend, since today’s low cost of gas no longer makes it worth paying the price premium of hybrids and EVs.
“And there are so many fuel efficient vehicles on the market today that environmental concerns weigh less than they might have in years past. When you’re buying a vehicle that can get over 30 mpg, you can still say you’re doing your part to help the environment.”
Would it make a difference if there was a large selection of plug-in hybrid and electric SUVs to choose from? That’s an important question. Every manufacturer in the world is pushing as hard as it can to get such vehicles into production. But will anyone buy them once they go on sale? The message from the Edmunds.com study is that people are not going to voluntarily shell out an extra $10,000 or more for a plug-in hybrid or electric SUV.
Is there a solution? Of course. Make the cost of fossil fuels equal their true cost to society. Eliminate the $5 trillion in direct and indirect subsidies the IMF says fossil fuel companies receive every year. But with 60% of Americans represented in Congress by people who are in the pocket of wealthy fossil fuel interests, such measures stand little chance of becoming law.
Is there anything that can be done? Yes. Move away from the coast and invest in real estate that is located on higher ground. Then you can watch as the seas swallow all those SUVs that have “acceptable” fuel economy.