Is the world of SUVs over? If you ask Vincent Cobée, CEO of French automaker Citroën, the answer is an overwhelming yes. He made this case in a series of interviews in Europe with statements that contradict what is happening in North America, where light trucks, SUVs and pickups dominate the market.
Cobée told the British car site AutoExpress: “If the aerodynamics of a battery EV are wrong, the penalty in terms of range is huge. You can lose 50 kilometers between good and bad aerodynamics, and between an SUV and a saloon you are very easily talking about 60/70/80 kilometers.”
The North American approach is to ignore aerodynamics and put in bigger batteries. But Cobée said that won’t work in the long run: “People are going to start limiting battery weight and size, either through taxation, through incentives, through regulation, through naming and shaming.”
He also noted that there is a cultural shift going on at least in Europe: “Five years ago, if you lived in a big city, if you dropped off your kids in a big SUV, you were a man. If you do this now, you are a ‘terrorist’…”
In an interview with The Sunday times, said Cobée “big batteries are wrong.” He called for more aerodynamics and better efficiency. He’s not the only one: we wrote that The efficiency of electric vehicles is still importantand so is the carbon upfront to make them.
We quoted Peter Huether from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE):
“The environmental impact of EVs isn’t just about the electricity generated to power each mile. The manufacturing process also causes greenhouse gas emissions at different stages, known as the vehicle’s embodied emissions. EVs in particular – with heavy battery packs—using minerals that need to be mined, processed, and converted into batteries. The pursuit of greater driving range and larger vehicles requires greater battery capacity and also greater built-in emissions.”
The amount of minerals to be extracted is staggering. A new study led by Thea Riofrancos, an associate professor of political science at Providence College, argues that the U.S. transition to electric vehicles “could require three times the amount of lithium currently produced for the entire global market, leading to unnecessary water shortages, indigenous land grabbing and ecosystem destruction within and beyond its borders.”
Riofrancos calls for smaller batteries and less vehicle ownership.
“Compared to a decarbonization scenario that maintains car ownership in the U.S., scenarios that reduce car dependence, and thus limit use and ownership, and EV battery size, could reduce lithium demand between 18-66 percent. Even if the car-centricity of the U.S. transportation system continues, just by limiting the size of EV batteries, demand for lithium could drop by as much as 42 percent.”
Cobée used an interesting analogy for an oversized battery and compared it to a giant multi-day camping backpack: “Do you take that backpack to the office? The answer is no. So why go to the office with a car with a ton of battery?”
But even in North America, people can overcome their fixation on vehicle size. The Ford Maverick, a compact hybrid-powered pickup, flew out of the showroom. Treehugger contributor Jim Motavalli called it “a welcome return to sanityNow General Motors given the introduction of an inexpensive all-electric pickup even smaller than the Maverick.
Others believe that cars and trucks will get bigger and bigger when they go electric. Consultant and car mechanic noted Steven Lang: “Soaring EV sales could be the final death knell for subcompacts. A highly efficient electric car does much more to increase a company’s fuel economy than a subcompact car, and automakers can build these EVs in the shapes and sizes that consumers prefer above subcompact cars.”
The automakers definitely favor larger vehicles: “Automakers are unlikely to embrace building small cars with razor-thin profit margins.”
But the price and availability of lithium and copper may tell a different story. It all comes back to a recurring Treehugger theme: sufficiency. How many car or truck do you need? How far should you go? How much can you afford these days with the bumpy economy? Smaller cars and trucks are likely to make a comeback, and this will be a good thing for everyone.