As promised, here is a look at how cars compare across the world in terms of size, fuel economy, CO₂ emissions, and why this matters.
I think we should accept that SUVs are here to stay. There are some sacrifices that people will not make for the environment. People will not turn off their air conditioning in the summer, and they will not give up their SUVs.
We should solve the problems of carbon emissions and air pollution by moving to electric vehicles and green energy.
There is perhaps one additional factor and that is the size of the individuals in the vehicle. We yanks are larger and physically need more volume for equivalent comfort. Als you note, the stuff around making roads and parking larger is definitely a requirement. I have a Dodge Ram 1500 and it’s a beast to park.
Really interesting - thanks.
In the data about car mass over time, does it strip out EVs? They are significantly heavier than like for like petrol cars (a VW ID3 is about 1800kg; a Golf is about 1400kg), so in countries that have significant numbers of EVs it might skew the average up (though I’m pretty sure it won’t change the trend).
And a comment on the absence of small, cheap EVs. I think that is mostly because batteries are really expensive, so it is hard for manufacturers to generate profit in that market segment at a price point buyers can afford. For example, a new Fiat 500 starts at £18k in the UK, but the 500e EV starts at £28k. Running costs of the EV will be lower, but committing to the higher monthly payments on finance deals (how nearly all cars in the UK are purchased privately) is a barrier to uptake.
Here's a thought, we get rid of cars and EV's all together.
Achieving Zero Emissions with More Mobility and Less Mining
This report finds that the United States can achieve zero emissions transportation while limiting the amount of lithium mining necessary by reducing the car dependence of the transportation system, decreasing the size of electric vehicle batteries, and maximizing lithium recycling. Reordering the US transportation system through policy and spending shifts to prioritize public and active transit while reducing car dependency can also ensure transit equity, protect ecosystems, respect Indigenous rights, and meet the demands of global justice.
Otherwise, the MASSIVE demand for Lithium will set off a massive strip mining of the planet to meet that demand.
Demand for lithium is expected to skyrocket in the coming decades (up to 4,000 percent according to one estimate), which will require many new mines to meet it (more than 70 by 2025). The problem is, lithium comes with its own set of troubles: Mining the metal is often devastating for the environment and the people who live nearby, since it’s water intensive and risks permanently damaging the land. The industry also has an outsized impact on Native Americans, with three-quarters of all known U.S. deposits located near tribal land.
We have to give up on the idea of "private cars". There is no way that everybody gets an EV and we still have a future. We have to accept that transportation in the future has to be "public transportation" and start structuring the transition with that goal in mind.
People would love to have station wagons again for their families and elderly relatives and the cargo space for schlepping cargo, but the manufacturers won’t make them anymore because the profit margin is bigger on SUVs. Fix that.
It's hard for me to get around the fact that having grown up in the 50s and 60s, that cars today are bigger than they were then. Everybody I knew then had a bigger car than everybody I know today. I see the numbers, but they just don't add up to my lived experience. I understand that the weight of SUVs are more than sedans of a given area, but the footprint of a 1964 Pontiac Catalina (just one of many such examples) was huge compared to almost anything you see on the road today other than monster pickup trucks.
Maybe another factor related to #4 (Safety): a height/visibility arms race.
I keep hearing from SUV drivers that they don't like smaller cars anymore because they can't see around big cars when stopped at intersections. (And of course a taller car needs to be heavier for stability.)
But if I get a taller car to see over you, you have to trade up--and once we all trade up, I can't see over you any more. So the benefit is only ever relative. This is a classic arms race in the evolutionary sense: you're disadvantaged if you don't pay the costs to participate, but once we all participate, no one benefits.
All anecdotal, but I wonder if there is any market research on vehicle height preferences out there that could test this?
a big contributing factor on bigger vehicles is simply fatter passengers ... obesity is driving rigs which can carry all that bloat ... just look at the much bigger chair and couch sizes in USA ... total absence of self control
I assume the table of fuel consumption by country uses data from a standard test. Would it be possible to get an effective consumption rate so that we saw the effect of congestion and speeds? I wondered, for example, whether Germany should look so good with their much higher autobahn speeds.
There are many incentives to own a small kei car in Japan (I even had one when I lived there and I’m big: 190 cm/95kg). Lower fees for registration/insurance/safety inspections, lower highway and parking tolls, dedicated parking spaces, easier to maneuver on typical narrow winding streets, lower cost and use less highly taxed fuel. Even sumo wrestlers can fit in some because they are available with high tops for headroom and the interiors aren’t very plush.
Thanks for this excellent blog. I follow Tom Murphy at https://dothemath.ucsd.edu, but he posts less often these days. He also mentions David Mackay's book.
I commented yesterday on how there's a loophole in US fuel economy standards big enough to drive a truck SUV through. This is a feature, not a bug.
Best title ever. You other nerdos can't deny.
Loads of helpful, robust, well-analysed data as ever - thanks! It is the post on car size I've been waiting for - almost. I also wondered about data on embedded emissions (ie CO2 generated during manufacture) and on problematic extraction.
Are we also getting more cars in total? Or is there also a trend (maybe only in my own bubble) to get rid of your car?
Great insight! How did you retrieve this data? I’m a data analyst that is interested in sustainability and sociology! love your content