SUVs are taking over – the underreported story of what the world really buys

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I have a bad habit of reading the news, it’s compulsive and very hard to break. It would be nice to be able to; modern hyper-coverage can addle the brain. I once took a screenshot of the Reuters commodity news page that had three consecutive headlines: one explained why oil prices were down, one explained why they were holding steady, and one why they were up. They had been written over the span of several hours, and made sense if you were trading commodity futures by the minute. For the rest of us it just looked stupid. News it’s not.

Other times, things don’t appear stupid, but in fact are. Take this collection below, the first page of headlines found by a simple google search about soaring EV sales:

Electric vehicle and PHEV sales soar, more than 3 million on the road

 

European electric car sales soar by 39 percent in 2017

Germany’s EV sales soar with the Kia Soul topping the charts

Diesel tax: Electric car sales SOAR as fumes crackdown forces road revolution

Toyota clings to hydrogen bet while electric sale soar

What’s so bad about these headlines? Well, in the absence of studying overall vehicle sales, the impression one gets from this tidal wave of new stories (the Google search “electric vehicles soar” came up with 6 million hits; “electric vehicle sales jump” netted over 20 million) is that Electric Vehicle sales have all but taken over. This is part of a narrative that is being pushed mightily through the news feeds, that fossil fuels are on the run and that gasoline powered cars are becoming obsolete.

This is unfortunate, because it is untrue and ridiculously misleading. That would be fine if nothing were at stake, but there is a lot at stake. When people in the wrong places, like policy makers, start believing this stuff nothing good will come of it, and policy mayhem ensues. Yes, the world would be a better place if we consumed no fossil fuels, but we fall into the trap of making policy decisions thinking that that is about to happen.

Back to the headlines: A few things are of greater significance than the pant-wetting enthusiasm of these headlines. Most significant is the blaring false messaging due to the implications of scale. Say you move into a city of five million people and open a bakery. On the first day, you sell 3 loaves of bread. On the next you sell five. Are your sales “soaring”? They are up by more than 66 percent! Call the press.

This is what’s happening with electric vehicle sales reporting. One headline above notes that there are more than three million on the road. That is true, but also includes a decade of EV sales, and in comparison, there are two billion internal combustion cars on the road.

What makes these headlines even more devious is the Trojan-horse style key-message smuggling. These headlines are designed to support and amplify the narrative that fossil fuels are on the way out. A factor seldom mentioned though is that these “electric car” headlines include hybrid vehicles, which run on both gasoline and electricity, and are actually just highly efficient internal combustion vehicles. Few are true electric. Tesla is, and the way Tesla dominates the news one would think they dominate the market, but annual sales are in the order of 100-200,000 per year out of global auto sales of nearly 90 million.

Compounding the misery of trying to achieve environmental enlightenment is the fact that the world is turning to SUVs far more than to electric vehicles, and SUVs tend to be about 30 percent less fuel efficient than regular cars. Even in Europe, SUV sales account for more than a quarter of all sales. Chinese SUV sales are booming. In the US, of course, it’s game set and match for SUVs and light trucks. Globally, about 1 in 3 vehicles sales is an SUV.

In the past, readers have taken any criticism of EV sales coverage with venomous responses; proponents love their EVs and are convinced the narrative needs to be won. The realities on the ground are different, from a global scale. It is apparent that if we are to limit CO2 emissions, we are going to have to find far better ways than convincing the world that EV sales are “soaring”. Year after year, oil consumption continues to rise, and the real statistics say why as opposed to the fairy-tale ones that prefer to not talk about that irritating reality.

 

 

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