2019 was a good year for sport utility vehicles, or SUVs.
Rising demand for SUVs drove record sales for German carmakers such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
But some observers worry that their popularity could lead to more pollution from such vehicles and a reduction in the environmental benefits of electric cars.
BMW reported last week that it sold a record 2,168,516 vehicles last year. The Reuters news agency says the record resulted, in part, from a 21% increase in sales of the company’s “X” model SUVs. These models now make up around 40% of BMW’s sales worldwide.
At Mercedes-Benz, the world’s best-selling premium car line, every third luxury car sold last year was an SUV.
To try to meet stronger pollution rules, many automakers are investing a lot of money in electric vehicles. But it is unclear how many drivers will buy them.
The International Energy Agency, or IEA, warned in its World Energy Outlook 2019 report that large SUV sales could create a problem for the environment.
“Consumer preferences for SUVs could offset the benefits from electric cars,” the report said.
It added that “SUVs are more difficult to electrify fully, and conventional SUVs consume 25 percent more fuel per kilometer than medium-sized cars.”
SUVs were the second-largest contributor to the increase in carbon dioxide emissions since 2010, said the IEA. Carbon dioxide is found naturally in Earth’s atmosphere. But many scientists believe that it and other gases released by human activities are to blame for rising temperatures on our planet.
There are now more than 200 million SUVs around the world, up from about 35 million in 2010.
“If the popularity of SUVs continues to rise in line with recent trends, this could add another 2 million barrels per day to our projection for 2040 oil demand,” the IEA reported.
BMW and Mercedes-owner Daimler say their vehicles are among the most fuel efficient available. They add that people could also choose to buy smaller, less costly cars instead of SUVs.
Both German carmakers say they hope to set new sales records this year. They are preparing to launch fully electric SUVs, which they say shows their desire for a cleaner future.
While confirming the growing popularity of SUVs, Germany’s powerful automobile industry group VDA said much of the demand was for more efficient models.
Future sales trends
Electric and hybrid vehicles made up only 3.9 percent of new European sales in the three-month period from July through September 2019.
Peter Fuss, a partner at Ernst & Young, said German carmakers pushed sales of SUVs last year before stronger clean air rules took effect in Europe.
“We will not see the same growth rates in this segment as we did last year,” Fuss said.
Electric car registrations are expected to climb in the middle of this year, he added. But that will depend on drivers being prepared to buy them, and perhaps also on how low manufacturers are prepared to cut prices.
I’m John Russell.
Edward Taylor reported on this story for Reuters. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
benefit – n. something producing good or helpful results
premium - adj. of high or higher than normal quality
preference - n. a feeling of liking or wanting one person or thing more than another person or thing
consume – v. to spend or use up
contributor – n. someone or something that provides something
trend - n. something that is currently popular
compact – n. a small automobile
hybrid – adj. related to or involving a vehicle that powered by traditional motor fuel and electricity
segment - n. a part of something that is separate from the other parts or can be considered separately
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