Pickup Trucks and SUVs Are Taking Over the World

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©. AutoEvolution/ what the market wants

For all our talk about Teslas and Sami’s talk about how rapid decarbonization is the only choice we have (and about his electric Leaf), the depressing fact is that we appear to be going in the opposite direction. The latest report (PDF here) from Brandon Schoettle and Michael Sivak of The University of Michigan/ Sustainable Worldwide Transportation shows that more and more light trucks (pickups, minivans, SUVs) are being sold in America every year, and looks at the reasons why people drive them, in "Consumer Preferences and Motivations for Owning Light Trucks versus Passenger Cars."

Furthermore this trend is likely to continue as gas prices will probably stay low, and the CAFE standards are likely going to be loosened. They write: “Extremes in gas prices influence new-vehicle sales, with less fuel-efficient models (including light trucks) being purchased more frequently as gas prices decrease (and vice versa).”

But the focus of this latest report is a look at the reasons people buy light trucks- the preferences and motivations. They surveyed 1230 light truck owners across the country and found that a serious majority used them for general transportation or commuting (even though they are designed as “utility vehicles”)

Top Reasons People Drive Trucks


© The University of Michigan Sustainable Worldwide Transportation

“Greater general utility” and “need larger vehicle due to family size” are the two top ones, even though families are smaller. Greater safety is also high on the list, even though they are generally not as safe as conventional cars, particularly for those around them. Perhaps the most interesting finding is that people love their light trucks and would hang on to them even if fuel prices went up significantly.

All of Schoettle and Sivak’s questions are rational, and the responses sound sensible; who knew that almost half of America had so much stuff to carry around all the time for such big families, and that they had such a great need for “greater general utility” out of their vehicles that they cannot get out of a car. In China, where trucks are becoming really popular, one F-150 buyer is perhaps more honest: “I like this model because it is very masculine and powerful.” It’s not legal to drive a pickup truck, considered a farm vehicle, in some cities in China, but he is going to do it anyway. According to the New York Times,

Mr. Liu lives in the southern city of Guangzhou, in Guangdong Province, which has not changed its rules. He said that while he owned other vehicles, he planned to drive his pickup around town sometimes as though it were a car and would see whether the police tried to stop him. “As long as the local authorities don’t ban me from driving it here,” he said, “I’ll drive it.”

The Rise of Big Vehicles

Suv In inda

CarDekho.com/Screen capture

The same thing is happening in India, where according to Quartz, After years of driving small cars, Indians are now snapping up brawny SUVs.

After years of obsessing over small vehicles, car-makers in Asia’s third-largest economy are turning to the bigger and brawnier sports utility vehicles (SUVs) and multi-utility vehicles (MUVs). Over the past five years, their sales have ballooned, accounting for one in every four passenger vehicles sold by India’s $74-billion automobile industry.
Lincoln Navigator

© Lincoln Navigator

Meanwhile, back in the USA, Bill Vlasic writes in the New York Times, SUVs and trucks are dominating the New York Car Show. Headline: Bigger, Faster, More Lavish: Americans Crave S.U.V.s, and Carmakers Oblige

...the new vehicles are all about muscle. Ford Motor released a more powerful version of its extra-large Lincoln Navigator. There were high-octane offerings in the Jeep and Mercedes-Benz lines. And General Motors moved to cement its leadership in the category with a midsize model capable of towing a 20-foot speedboat. In short, with oil prices half what they were three years ago, and President Trump vowing to cut back on fuel-economy regulations, automakers are raising the stakes in the S.U.V. segment.
statistics on deaths

© New Scientist

The Environmental Toll of Trucks and SUVs

Vlasic notes that “The trend worries environmentalists because S.U.V.s generally burn more gas than smaller cars, generating more of then harmful emissions believed to cause global warming.” It also should worry anyone who cares about pedestrian safety, because these vehicles are dramatically more deadly than cars.
Back on TreeHugger, Sami writes that “we also have to move rapidly towards a truly low carbon economy.”

car sales

© Statista

Meanwhile, in 2015, 9,860,900 pickups, SUVs, and minivans were sold in America. In his post, Sami says “we have to start any conversation about sustainability from the understanding that rapid decarbonization and an eventual goal of zero (or preferably negative) emissions are non-negotiable. And simple math suggests that the longer we wait, the steeper the emissions cuts we'll have to make will become.”

In the comments on his post at time of this writing, two of the three claim that climate change is not a serious issue. And every sale of every pickup truck and SUV in America, China and India is a big step backward. We really are living on a different planet.