Saturday, September 09, 2023

Vehicle obesity is now a thing (and it's a problem)

A recent(ish) article in The Atlantic and another in the Globe and Mail just this weekend look at an aspect of modern vehicle production that has proceeded under the radar for years, but which requires some discussion (and some action).

SUVs and trucks - and even to a lesser extent regular cars - have been getting bigger and fatter in North America, and the switch to electric-powered vehicles is set to make this trend even more marked. As with people, this kind of obesity carries with it a plethora of problems, from road and pedestrian safety to infrastructure degradation to excessive tire wear.

Light trucks in general are about a third heavier than they were 30 years ago. EV versions of these trucks are about a third again heavier than their gasoline equivalents. For example, the EV version of the GMC Hummer - always a special case, to be fair, and a caricature of the macho road warrior truck - weighs in at over 4 tonnes (4,100 kg), and the battery alone weighs more than a Honda Civic! But the more commonly-seen F-150 Lightning is almost 3 tonnes, a third more than the gasoline equivalent, and its battery weighs over 800 kg, the weight of ten big men. My own Kona Electric, a small SUV I guess, weighs in at 1,690 kg, apparently.

Unlike in Europe, SUVs and trucks make up the majority of new vehicles sold on this side of the Atlantic. Yes, there are still too many cars on the narrow streets on Europe's towns and cities, but they are at least smaller and lighter. And, while there are a lot of new EVs on those streets, there is also a bigger proportion of 2-, 3- and 4-wheeled e-bikes and scooters.

Also, many European countries are realizing the additional costs associated with bigger and heavier vehicles. Norway (of course) is considering a weight-based tax to steer buyers away from the heaviest EVs and other vehicles. France already has one. Where France and Norway goes, North America usually follows - decades later, and kicking and screaming. 

A 4-tonne EV makes no sense, environmentally or in any other respect, so a tax on heavyweight vehicles to subsidize small urban EVs and electric bikes would be a good step in the right direction.

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