US customers can now enjoy a seemingly ever-improving selection of new electric vehicles in a wide price range. But while these new EVs differ in cost and specs, they usually have at least one thing in common: they’re mostly trucks and SUVs.
According to the website Electrek, 6 of the 10 best-selling EVs in the US are considered SUVs by the maker or a government regulator. And these vehicles weigh a lot. For example, the basis weight of the all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning is about 6,000 pounds — about a ton more than the lightest F-150 with an internal combustion engine. Likewise, the GMC Hummer EV pickup, which weighs more than 9,000 pounds, is wider, taller and 50% heavier than the Hummer H2 from 20 years ago.
The problem? With all that size comes more risk. As detailed in a research by Consumer Reports last year, pickup trucks and SUVs conspired the high hoods, large rear blind spots and hefty weight (more than 4,000 pounds) together to create a more dangerous situation for pedestrians. And the problem is only getting worse: Pickup hood heights have increased by 11% in the past two decades, according to Consumer Reportsand vehicle weight has increased by almost 25%. Add to that the fact that the number of pedestrian fatalities has increased by 8% in the last 10 years – and that by 2022 the number of fatalities hit highs not seen in some 20 years – and it’s fair to say that increasingly bigger and bigger vehicles pose more risks to pedestrians, cyclists and drivers of smaller vehicles.
Size and weight are also forcing road authorities to rethink restrictions on certain highways and bridges. According to Reuters, Congress will have to decide whether these restrictions should not only take into account the fact that some roads have more car traffic, and even heavier traffic, but that many roads new EVs weigh about 1,000 pounds or more than their combustion engine counterparts. The trend even poses a problem for the vehicle carriers that transport the EVs from factories and ports to dealers.
Now, to be fair to EVs, almost all vehicles today are bigger and heavier, as they are generally equipped with more comfort, soundproofing and safety equipment than in years past. Many also have to meet safety requirements in other countries, which can add weight or change vehicle design.
But specifically, the weight of EV battery packs (especially in vehicles that can travel 300 or more miles on a full charge) can pose a bigger problem, as all that extra mass increases power in the event of a collision with a pedestrian or cyclist. And while agencies and organizations like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have argued for years that it’s safer to sit in a heavier car during a crash, trucks and SUVs have almost never fared as well in pedestrian crash tests as cars closer to the road. away.
None of this should come as a surprise, though. Thanks to a long-standing loophole in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, there are separate targets for passenger cars (sedans, coupes, convertibles, etc.) than for light trucks (any truck-shaped or SUV-shaped vehicle that weighs less than 8,500 pounds). And while most SUVs today are little more than tall station wagons or hatchbacks, they are still hugely popular.
That’s not to say there aren’t small EVs for sale in the US these days. Carmakers from Mercedes-Benz to Mini are already offering them, and others come from Hyundai and Volkswagen. But even these companies admit that their smaller cars play second fiddle to their bigger brethren.
The current Leaf will stick around for another year or so before it is replaced by something that is probably slightly bigger. And think about the Tesla Model 3 compact sedan: While it’s still the best-selling non-SUV EV (weighing just 3,648 pounds), it’s no longer Tesla’s flagship vehicle. That distinction goes to its compact SUV Model Y, which weighs 4,416 pounds.
Automakers claim that many EVs weigh more than gas-only vehicles because they have added structural protection to channel forces that would normally have been absorbed by an engine. She and federal regulators also say that accidents of all kinds will soon be prevented or mitigated by advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), especially systems that include pedestrian and cyclist detection.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – which oversees federal motor vehicle safety standards and road safety and fatalities – found in a study this year that many of the current ADAS are doing poorly to avoid crashes, let alone fatalities. Still, some of the new EVs that hit the market don’t have much more sophisticated systems than those used in cars that are several years old.
So far, the solutions presented do not concern building smaller EVs. For example, Elon Musk announced earlier this year that he had given up building a smaller, cheaper Tesla in favor of the long-delayed Cybertruck and other more expensive models; even Porsche will make a large three-row electric SUV later this decade. Meanwhile, according to Reuters, no congressional committees have addressed the truck industry’s concerns about shipping heavier and heavier EVs.
Despite government and individual safety authorities warning for decades about the dangers trucks and SUVs pose to occupants and others compared to cars, little has been done to allay the concern. Cameras, radars and other sensors are tasked with preventing collisions, forcing pedestrians and cyclists to push for better-designed roads.
Since most vehicles are replaced approximately every six or seven years, many electric trucks and SUVs run with outdated crash prevention technology or designs that are not compatible with some parts of the US. And because the average age of a car on our roads is about double, the proliferation of heavy and large EVs is inevitable – and the country may not be ready for it.