SUVs are setting new sales records each year – and so are their emissions

The large, heavy passenger vehicles were responsible for over 20% of the growth in global energy-related CO2 emissions last year

SUVs accounted for 48% of global car sales in 2023, reaching a new record and further strengthening the defining automobile trend of the early 21st century – the shift towards ever larger and heavier cars. There are various driving forces behind this trend, from the appeal of SUVs as a status symbol and their potential enhancements in comfort, to the marketing strategies of leading automakers. 

New car registrations by size and powertrain, 2010-2023


In advanced economies, SUV sales reached around 20 million last year, surpassing a market share of 50% for the first time. This preference for larger vehicles extends to emerging and developing economies, too, where the share of SUVs in total car sales mirrors this trend. Today, more than one in four cars on the road worldwide are SUVs, the majority of which are conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. While only 5% of SUVs currently on the road are electric, they account for a growing share of electric car sales. In 2023, more than 55% of new electric car registrations were SUVs. 

If SUVs were a country, they would be the world’s fifth largest emitter of CO2

SUVs weigh 200-300 kg more than an average medium-sized car, and typically take up nearly 0.3 m2 more space – emitting roughly 20% more carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The trend towards heavier and less fuel-efficient cars increases energy demand, including oil and electricity use, as well as demand for basic metals and critical minerals needed for battery production. Over the course of 2022 and 2023, global oil consumption directly related to SUVs rose by a total of over 600 000 barrels per day, accounting for more than a quarter of the overall annual growth in oil demand. 

Combustion-related CO2 emissions from SUVs and the 10 highest-emitting countries, 2023


In 2023, there were more than 360 million SUVs on the roads worldwide, resulting in combustion-related CO2 emissions of 1 billion tonnes, an increase of around 100 million tonnes from the previous year. This accounted for more than 20% of the growth in global energy-related CO2 emissions last year. The annual increase in CO2 emissions attributed to the rise of SUVs is equivalent to about half of the emissions growth stemming from the global electricity sector. Compared with smaller cars, SUVs are also associated with higher indirect emissions resulting from producing the materials used to manufacture them. If ranked among countries, the global fleet of SUVs would be the world’s fifth largest emitter of CO2, exceeding the emissions of Japan and various other major economies. 

Global electric vehicles fleet and sales of SUVs, 2023


Around 30 million SUVs with internal combustion engines were added to the global fleet in 2023, comparable to the total number of electric cars on the roads today. In 2023, there were 500 electric car models available worldwide, of which 60% fell under the SUV category, marking a significant increase from previous years. This trend is further reinforced as automakers plan to introduce a greater number of electrified SUV models in the near future.

Globally, SUVs now account for approximately 45% of the electric car fleet, a share that would be even higher were it not for the strong growth of small electric cars in urban areas in China. In advanced economies, the share of SUVs among electric cars is even higher at 55%. This is due to limited availability of smaller and more affordable compact models.

Despite advances in fuel efficiency and electrification, the trend toward heavier and less efficient vehicles such as SUVs, which emit roughly 20% more emissions than an average medium-sized car, has largely nullified the improvements in energy consumption and emissions achieved elsewhere in the world’s passenger car fleet in recent decades. Larger vehicles also pose challenges related to their increased use of critical minerals, as they are equipped with larger batteries. Additionally, they raise questions around pedestrian safety in constrained urban environments due to their higher front ends. On top of this, their greater parking space requirements, approximately 10% more than for medium-sized cars, can limit the use of valuable space in dense urban areas for other purposes.

To respond to some of these challenges, countries such as France, Norway, and Ireland have either established or are exploring legislative frameworks to reign in demand for SUVs. Major cities like Paris and Lyon are implementing higher parking charges specifically targeting SUVs in urban areas.

Shifting from fossil-fuelled cars to electric vehicles is a key strategy for reaching international energy and climate goals. However, measures such as rightsizing EV battery packs, tailoring fuel efficiency standards based on car size, and investing in innovative battery technologies with enhanced performance and durability, as well as lower material demand requirements, are also essential for a sustainable future. 

This analysis was supported by the work of IEA Energy Analysts Mathilde Huismans and Jules Sery.