The automotive industry is slowly adopting electrification as the most likely transportation solution in the coming years, but it is also facing a major problem closely related to the boom in electric vehicles. Cars around the world are not only getting bigger, more comfortable, safer, and more advanced: they're also getting heavier.
Car manufacturers are increasingly focusing on performance and aerodynamics. Much of the efficiency of a battery in an electric vehicle depends on aerodynamics. So if the air movement is better affected by a given car, less energy should be required to drive forward. The problem is the weight of the batteries.
The latest data compiled by JATO shows a 21 percent increase in the average weight of cars sold in Europe between 2001 and 2022. According to data, the average weight of a car sold in 2001 was 2,928 pounds (1,328 kilograms). This total has increased almost every year to the current level of 3,527 lbs (1,600 kg). In the United States, where vehicles are larger, their weight has increased from 3,777 lbs (1,713 kg) in 2001 to 4,206 lbs (1,908 kg) today.
The double-digit increases have other reasons as well. While the obesity problem with cars isn't just about batteries, the boom in electric vehicles has significantly increased the average weight of cars. For example, the average weight of an electric/plug-in hybrid car sold in Germany between January and September 2022 was 32 percent higher than that of a petrol-powered competitor.
Other examples: the electric version of the Peugeot 208 recorded an average weight of 3,373 lbs (1,530 kg) against 2,542 lbs (1,153 kg) for the equivalent version with a gasoline engine. The same applies to the Volkswagen ID.3 and the Golf, which weigh 4,034 lbs (1,830 kg) and 3,060 lbs (1,388 kg) respectively.
This gap drops to 10 percent in the US, as pure combustion vehicles are generally larger and heavier than in Europe. However, there are big differences there too. The Ford F-150 Lightning is 28 percent heavier than its ICE-powered sibling.
It's Not Just Batteries
However, car obesity is not a recent phenomenon. The arrival of electric cars has accelerated weight gain, but other factors have also influenced the increase in mass.
Safety standards, car sizes, and the popularity of SUVs are also behind this problem. Manufacturing a car today involves more safety standards than 20 years ago. More systems on cars mean more weight. For example, the recently unveiled Volvo EX90, which is one of the state-of-the-art cars in terms of safety, has a weight of 6,213 lbs (2,818 kg). Its forebear, the first-generation XC90, had an average weight of 4,449 (2,018 kg) in 2002.
Cars are then getting bigger and bigger. The Volkswagen Golf MK3, which was available between 1991 and 1998, measured 160 inches (4,074 millimeters) in length. The current generation is 167 inches (4,248 mm) long. The length of a 1995 Ford Explorer was 190.7 inches (4,844 mm), while the 2022 version is 198.8 inches (5,050 mm) long. In many cases, vehicles that were in a specific segment twenty years ago would be considered to be in a lower segment by today's standards.
Finally, SUVs have also contributed to this phenomenon. While consumers, especially in Europe, used to drive small economy cars and city cars, they are now opting for small and compact SUVs. SUVs currently available in Europe are 27 percent heavier than small cars and 54 percent heavier than city cars. In the US, as consumers continue to switch from sedans to SUVs, the latter are 22 percent heavier than the former.
The author of this article, Felipe Munoz, is an Automotive Industry Specialist at JATO Dynamics.