SUV Demand Raises Questions about Impact of EVs on Environmental Targets

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An interesting article in the Financial Times this week struck a chord with us at MetalMiner where we often debate how we see metals and manufacturing will go. As such, we often try to shoot holes in oft touted but poorly researched “trends” found in the popular media or espoused by politicians.

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One that crops up repeatedly is the inevitability of electric vehicles (EVs) burying the internal combustion engine (ICE), a proposition with which the Financial Times article would agree, it seems.

Anyone reading the mainstream media can be forgiven for thinking EVs are the fastest-growing sector of the automotive market. We are often bombarded with new model launches but, also, the ramifications of this surging demand are painted as an imminent threat to price stability for a host of key battery metals, like lithium, cobalt and nickel, or motor metals, like copper.

Indeed, the only trend said to be supporting copper prices is “surging” EV demand.

As the FT observes, EV numbers are growing.

Worldwide, some 5.1 million EVs were on the roads by the end of 2018, an increase of 2 million from the year before. Global sales of EVs are likely to be between 2.4 million and 2.9 million this year.

EV sales, however, are still being outstripped by growth in fuel-guzzling SUVs.

The between 7 million and 8 million EVs that should be on the road by the end of 2019 represent less than 0.1% of the 1.1 billion cars and other light vehicles that use internal combustion engines. Some 85 million ICE vehicles were sold worldwide in 2018 and, even from this much higher base, SUVs are experiencing rapid growth in outright numbers.

After growth of over 20% a year earlier in the decade, global demand growth for SUVs is now stabilizing — but at a high level of market share.

In the U.S., SUVs account for 45% of new car sales, the Financial Times reports.

But the trend is not limited to the U.S.

In Europe, SUVs take 34% of new sales, in China 42% and in India 23% the article advises, equating to some 25 million to 30 million annual SUV sales worldwide. While some of these may be hybrids, anyone who owns an SUV hybrid will know they are far from fuel efficient; in fact, they rarely even approach the level of fuel efficiency the manufacturers claim in their glossy sales brochures.

The reality is, despite governments and even oil companies pouring millions into infrastructure and commitment from traditional manufacturers — like all product lines having an EV version by 2020 or 50% of the fleet being EV by some future date) — Joe Public is not voting with his or her wallet to buy them. At least, not in enough numbers to drive a meaningful switch to EVs.

Indeed, the statistics suggest the switch is to larger, gas-guzzling SUVs, rather than EVs.

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If that is the case what does that say about metals demand?

It suggests, as far as the automotive market is concerned, it will continue to be driven by steel and aluminum, with support for copper — but not the tsunami of imminent demand for lithium ion batteries, as some have touted.

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