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The weighty issue of electric cars [Part 1]
The average EV is heavier than the average gasoline car, but lighter than many gasoline SUVs.
Part 2 of this two-parter is published here.
I’ve written a lot about the benefits of electric cars in the past. They are much more efficient than petrol or diesel. Have a smaller carbon footprint – yes, even if the battery is produced in Asia. And they’re improving in terms of range, price, and technology much faster than the internal combustion engine.
One challenge with electric cars that I haven’t yet addressed is their weight.
I’m not here to analyse the engineering of bridges or car parks, but I do want to look at how the weight of EVs compares to petrol and diesel cars.
How heavy are EVs? And since the world has been quickly moving towards SUVs anyway, can EVs really be much weightier?
The average electric car is heavier than a petrol equivalent but is lighter than an SUV
To get the full picture we need to look at the full distribution of weights. Getting the average is fine, but we want to know how heavy EVs can be; and if it’s possible to have a ‘light’ electric car.
In blue in the chart below I’ve plotted all of the electric cars in the My EV Review database. There are 355 of them. I did a comparison to the cars you find on the UK’s EV Database. It has fewer models, but the results are very similar. You can check out the numbers at the end of the post.
The median weight is 2145 kilograms. The mean was almost identical: 2133 kg.
But you can see that the cars span a wide range. You have the GMC Hummers, which weigh a whopping 4200 kilos. As we’ll see in a follow-up post, this is mostly a vanity buy: despite being a huge vehicle with a battery that weighs as some cars, the range and specs of the GMC Hummers are relatively poor.
And at the low end, you have very small city cars that are under 500 kilos. If you’re curious, you can see what they look like here. A bit like a golf caddy, which I guess is fine for people that only drive in the city and don’t have kids or friends to cart around.
The question, then, is whether these numbers are ‘heavy’ or not.
We can compare them to the weights of petrol and diesel cars, which are shown in red. I haven’t plotted the full span of vehicles on the market. Instead, I’ve shown the average weight of cars across a range of countries, plus some of the lightest and heaviest cars, for perspective.2
The average car in the UK weighs around 1500 kilograms. In the US – which has the heaviest cars – it’s closer to 1800 kilos. Both are lower than the average weight of electric cars.3
That’s one conclusion we can reach: the average electric car is heavier than the average gasoline one. In the case of the UK, France, and Germany, the difference is more than half a tonne.
The average EV is, however, lighter than many SUVs. A Range Rover comes in at over 2200 kg; a BMW M60i at almost 2700kg.
But you can also see that there are lots of EVs that are in that range or are heavier.
We can summarise this chart with a few key points:
The average electric car is heavier than the average petrol or diesel one.
A world that switched to EVs would have heavier cars on the road.
The average electric car is a bit lighter than many gasoline SUVs.
Electric SUVs easily match – or exceed – the weight of gasoline SUVs.
The distribution of electric cars is skewed towards heavier weights: just 7% of EV models weigh less than the average weight of cars in the UK.
Electric cars are getting heavier over time
Cars have been getting heavier across the world. I covered these trends in another post.
Electric cars are no exception. The chart below, which comes from the researcher Robbie Andrew, shows the change in the weight of new cars in Norway. If you’re into charts, he has a whole page on EV trends in Norway.
Early EVs – which were short-range and unpopular – weighed in at around 1000 kilograms. There was a big bump in weight when the Nissan LEAF came on the market. Since then, the weight of EVs has climbed year-on-year.
You can see that the ‘All’ line tracks the ICE (internal combustion engine) line until the 2010s, when EVs start to take off. Now, the ‘All’ line is very close to the ‘BEV’ one since nearly all new cars sold in Norway are electric.
What you’ll notice – which ties in well with our chart above – is that the average petrol or diesel car weighs around 1600 kilograms. The average electric car is around 2000 kilograms.
And while petrol cars have been getting heavier, EVs have been getting heavier, faster.
Why are electric cars heavier? And does it have to be this way?
I’ll look at this question in my next post.
The distribution of weights of electric cars
In the table below you can find the stats and distributions of electric cars from two databases:
My EV Review has models from a range of markets.
EV Database (UK), which only has models sold in the UK.
The numbers are very similar.
Read Part Two of this two-parter here.
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The weight being used here is the 'curb weight', which includes the weight of the car and battery but without passengers or cargo.
The average weight of cars in these countries will, technically, include electric cars, as well as petrol and diesel cars. But, EVs in these markets were so rare that it's basically a measure of petrol and diesel only.
Here I’m also comparing on the basis of ‘curb weight’, which is the weight of the car plus fuel and fluids for petrol and diesel. It doesn’t include passengers or cargo. Sometimes car weights are not consistently reported, so if you see any errors where it’s not the curb weight shown, then please let me know.
A better comparison to use here is the weighted-average for electric cars. That means cars are weighted by their sales numbers. If lots of people are buying the lightest EVs, then the average weight of EVs on the road would be much lower.
Unfortunately, I don't have this resolution of sales data to calculate the weighted-average.