On Sunday President Joe Biden directed his hugewatt smile towards a worthy cause: encouraging Americans to get rid of their gas-powered cars. He tweeted pushed the $7,500 federal tax credit Americans can get by purchasing an electric vehicle. A picture showed him smiling from inside of one of GMC’s new all-electric Hummers.
There were some problems. The first is that the EV has a MSRP of approximately $110,000 and is not eligible for the tax credit. It is also a lot heavier than a gas-powered sedan at 4.5 tons. Another reason is that it is not an environmental standard-bearer. A recent study has shown that it is actually more dangerous for climate change than a gasoline-powered sedan. Finally, imagine being hit by that thing.
The president is not as forward-thinking as the country he leads in addressing America’s changing climate. It’s not about how how cars work. How big are they?
How can we fix that? By being a little more like Norway.
Norway is the global leader of electric vehicles, with fully 87 percent of new cars purchased last year at least partially powered by electricity. Norway’s embrace for EVs is not accidental. Buyers have the benefit of attractive government incentives such as a 25 percent exemption from the standard car tax. This has delighted EV carmakers. Elon Musk tweeted, Tesla CEO, said last month that he would like to thank Norway for its support of electric vehicles. “Norway rocks! “Norway rocks!”)
But the Nordic nation is now changing its course. Norway introduced new taxes this month on car purchases. These taxes are based on vehicle weight. Although gas guzzlers pay much more, EV buyers have to pay them as well at a rate of NOK 12.50 ($1.26) a kilogram. The first 500 kilograms of EVs are exempt from tax. For larger EVs, the added expense can be significant: An Audi e-tron, one of Norway’s most popular models, now costs around $2,600 more than it did before.
Slapping new taxes on EVs might seem like a head-scratcher, especially since around 4 in 5 cars on Norwegian roads are still gas-powered. The new weight-based fees on EVs are a sensible way to address two major drawbacks of oversized EVs. These models exacerbate climate change and endanger everyone on the streets. Norway’s example should be followed by other countries and the U.S. states.
To be blunt, all large cars cause significant social problems regardless of their power source. Because heavier vehicles require more energy to propel them, gas-powered SUVs or trucks have a pitiably low fuel economy compared to sedans. The Ford Bronco gets 22 mpg highway, while the Toyota Camry gets 39. Additionally, larger SUVs and trucks generate more force in a crash, which can pose a danger to anyone not inside. Researchers have found a link between the rise in SUV deaths and the increasing number of pedestrian deaths in America. This increased death rate reached a 40-year high in 202.
. In the United States, federal officials encouraged the rise in gas-guzzling SUVs, pickups, and trucks in 1975. They created a fuel efficiency loophole large enough to allow a truck to drive through. 4 out of 5 new American cars today are either SUVs or trucks, a rise from 1 in 2 in 2000. European car buyers are slower than Americans to embrace vehicular enormity because gas prices are higher in Europe. However, SUV sales in Europe have risen 900 percent over the past 20 years and now account for over 40% of the European car market. (Pickups are still a peculiarly American obsession.
Electrification of cars solves some, but not all of the problems that large models pose, but it also creates new ones. Electric cars don’t use gasoline so the previously poor mpg of trucks and SUVs is no longer an issue. However, EVs still need energy to move and generate emissions. Bigger electric vehicles demand more electricity, which produces significant greenhouse gases–potentially more per mile than gasoline-powered sedans.
Another environmental risk makes giant EVs even more of a problem. Because heavier cars require more power to move, the size of an EV’s battery is affected by vehicle weight. The largest EVs are powered by huge batteries, such as the 3,000-pound Hummer EV’s battery. Gigantic batteries consume larger amounts of critical minerals like graphite and lithium that are in short supply worldwide.
“If we can redistribute these resources–instead of putting them in a Hummer, put them in smaller cars or e-bikes–that’s preferable,” said Jay Turner, a professor of environmental studies at Wellesley College and the author of the book Charged: A History of Batteries and Lessons for a Clean Energy Future. Supporting his point, a recent study found that SUVs are so inefficient that electrifying them instead of smaller vehicles could actually worsen climate change.
Largely because of their batteries, electric vehicles are typically around 30 percent heavier than equivalent gas-powered models. Another concern with larger EVs is the extra force they exert during a collision. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety has already revised its crash safety tests to take into account the unusual weight of certain EVs. As National Transportation Safety Board chair Jennifer Homendy warned in a recent address, the tonnage of goliath-like EVs portends danger for any road user not inside one–especially those walking and biking.
A recent study found that SUVs are so inefficient that electrifying them instead of smaller vehicles could actually worsen climate change.
To sum up: The purchase of each oversize EV makes climate change harder to mitigate, while placing other road users at greater risk. These societal costs are what economists call “externalities”. This is a type of market failure that leads to skewed purchasing decisions. Buyers see only their own costs and ignore those of others. A tax or fee that forces consumers consider the impact of their choices on others. This is the beauty of weight-based car fees like Norway’s: They nudge buyers away from the most massive and damaging car models and toward those that are smaller.
Norway’s new fees land especially hard on anyone buying an oversize car that runs on gas, potentially adding tens of thousands of dollars to the purchase price. This is understandable given the inefficient use of fossil fuels by large SUVs. But gigantic EVs impose costs too–something that Norway now acknowledges.
France, by contrast, also charges weight-based car fees, but EV buyers don’t have to pay them. A 2019 policy brief by a French research group recommended that the exemption be removed. Pierpaolo Cazzola is the director of European Transportation Research Center at University of California-Davis. He stated that climate-focused European officials are now considering weight-based fees for EVs. He said, “It’s an argument about resource allocation.” “There is growing awareness that we’re talking about a limited battery supply chain.”
But in the United States, the federal government has shown no signs of taxing cars by weight, despite Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s declaring the rising number of traffic deaths “a national crisis” (which enormous cars make harder to solve) and President Biden’s setting a goal that EVs comprise half of all new cars sold in 2030 (which will be harder to reach if massive EVs hog battery resources).
“Given the politics at the national level, it’s almost impossible to imagine the federal government implementing weight-based vehicle fees,” said Turner. It’s easier to imagine a state doing this.”
The District of Columbia offers an example. The District of Columbia offers a model. Last year, the city changed its car registration fee schedule. It charges owners of cars over 6,000 pounds $500 per year. This is almost seven times more than what it costs to register a small-sized sedan. Acknowledging the added weight of electric batteries, the District offers EVs a 1,000-pound credit that preserves the incentive to go smaller.
Carmakers, which have grown reliant on pricey SUVs and trucks, were less than pleased by D.C.’s move. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, an industry group sent
to D.C. Councilmembers warning that the new policy “will capture a growing amount of EVs that will come to the market in the next few years and act as a disincentive for their purchase.”a letter
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Lucas Peilert provided research assistance.