Most Americans think climate change is a serious problem, but this opinion hasn’t had much of an impact on vehicle sales. In fact, low-fuel economy SUVs are more popular than ever, and although electric and hybrid vehicles are becoming more popular, most Americans still don’t consider eco-friendliness an important factor when shopping for a car.
We asked 1,500 Americans if they considered CO₂ emissions and/or the environment when they last bought a car and found 68% did not.
With more electric vehicles on the market and increased concerns about the environment, it seems the preference for larger SUVs holds more signficance for car buyers.
More than two-thirds of survey participants said they did not consider emissions and/or the environment when shopping for a car. These results are reflected in recent auto sales numbers where crossovers, SUVs, and pickup trucks are shown to be the most popular vehicles for American car shoppers. The results also provide some insight into car buyer priorities and attitudes toward the environment.
Although only one-third of Americans considered environmental factors, those concerns are reflected in more eco-friendly car purchases. Last year, electric vehicle sales hit a record high of 361,000. Experts predict electric vehicle sales to grow over the next few years but SUV sales may have a large impact on the outcome.
Vehicle sales data shows that SUVs have accounted for 60% of the increase in the global car fleet since 2010. In the U.S., nearly half of all cars sold today are SUVs, and demand for these large vehicles—by no means the most eco-friendly option on the market—continues to rise.
This data aligns with our study and other studies that show Americans are worried about global warming but unwilling to make lifestyle or financial changes to mitigate climate change.
Americans desire large family-sized vehicles. With few eco-friendly SUV models available, environmental concerns are put on the back burner.
On average, SUVs use 25% more fuel than medium-sized cars. Between 2010 and 2018, SUVs alone were responsible for worsening the global fuel economy. According to the International Energy Agency, if consumer preferences do not change, SUVs will add nearly 2 million barrels a day to global oil demand by 2040, offsetting the oil savings of 150 million electric vehicles.
SUVs were the second largest contributor to the increase in global CO2 emissions since 2010, ahead of heavy industry, truck transport, and aviation.
Consumers’ preference for SUVs poses two challenges. Most immediately, the increased fuel consumption of these vehicles is causing CO2 emissions to rise. Additionally, SUVs are heavier than mid-sized vehicles, making them more difficult to electrify, which could delay the development of a clean energy car fleet in the future.
As we’re exposed to more global warming reports and technology advances, consumer behavior, including car buying preferences, could change. However, if car buyers continue to ignore the environment when car shopping, fuel demand and carbon emissions will continue to rise.
This study was conducted for The Zebra using Google Consumer Surveys. The sample consisted of no less than 1,000 completed responses per question. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population. This survey was conducted in October 2019.