Green MEP wants Irish drivers to stop buying SUVs, including electric ones

Against a record market share for SUVs (Sport Utility Vehicles) in Europe, Irish Green Party MEP, Ciaran Cuffe wants Irish buyers to stop buying them, and that includes fully electric SUVs.

He also told journalists at a briefing in Brussels, Belgium last week that he favoured a weight-based tax for cars, a measure he claimed would stop SUVs from burning up our planet.

The weight tax was muted by a panel of experts in advance of the recent Government budget. It proposed that passenger cars over 1,800 kilograms would be taxed at a higher level, with a suggestion of €10 for every 10 kilos over the proposed threshold.

Ciaran Cuffe, Irish Green Party MEP

It pointed to France as an example, where these kind of tariffs have been introduced. They claim that this is proving a successful deterrent towards purchasing heavier vehicles such as SUVs. However, EVs are exempt.

In the case of Ireland’s top selling electric car, the Volkswagen ID.4, which is a medium-sized EV, the weight is between 1,891–2,224 kg, depending on the specification. If the measure became tax law, it would mean a tax increase of between €100 and €230.

Mr. Cuffe told me and other Irish reporters that: “Two thirds of the cars bought in Ireland are classified as SUVs. Very simply, they are burning up our planet. And I think SUVs should come with a health warning. We know from the International Energy Agency that they emit one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.”

When I asked him if he was aware that currently the top selling electric car in Ireland (the ID.4) was an SUV, he said he believed that Irish drivers shouldn’t be buying electric SUVs either, urging them to opt for smaller electric cars.

When I put it to him that heaviest part of electric vehicles are the large batteries, the MEP said: “Indeed, which is all the more reason why we need to choose sensibly when we’re choosing an electric vehicle.”

The sale of electric cars is up 42.15 per cent in Ireland for the first nine months of this year over the similar period last year. The breakdown of SUV sales for that period is medium-size models account for 30.97 per cent of all car sales, a figure that is up 13.31 per cent on that same period in 2022.

Sales of smaller SUVs accounts for 23.94 per cent of all car sales, up 20.42 per cent on 2022. These two segments account for nearly 55 per cent of all Irish passenger car sales. The large SUV category accounts for just 4.88 per cent of all car sales, and is up 14.46 per cent on last year.

Putting those stats in perspective, electric car sales are up 41.15 per cent this year and have accounted for 18.32 per cent of all passenger car sales in the first nine months of this year. All hybrids combined account for a further 29.11 per cent of all car sales.

The popularity of SUVs in Europe continues to support battery electric vehicle (BEV) sales, accounting for 60 per cent of total BEV volumes in September 2023. The market share of these vehicles was even higher than the record 54 per cent seen in the overall market.

For Mr. Cuffe to want motorists not to buy non-electric powered SUVs and even the small numbers of very large electric SUVs would seem a reasonable position for a Green Party MEP.

However, in the case of medium and certainly small/compact fully electric SUVs, for him to want the consumers to be informed of the hazards that the vehicles can do to the environment, and suggested that the size of the vehicles makes it difficult for others on the roads, is an argument that is difficult to progress in reality.

A small car is not suitable for a family of six but a medium SUV can be. And with batteries being the heaviest part of an electric car, getting more compact in size and weight (while adding range), the 1,800kg threshold would soon be out of date for all small and most medium electric SUVs.

While currently there is some correlation between the weight of a vehicle and the level of emissions, this is the grounds for the suggested weight-based tax would act as an incentivise to the purchase of vehicles with lower emissions. However, this is unlikely to be the case going forward with ever improving EVs going to dominate the future landscape.

Where the exchequer can recoup the likely €1.5 billion per annum lost in motor tax, VAT, and petrol and diesel excise receipts, isn’t clear. A gradual hike in motor tax seems the obvious one, but all attempts to further slow the already high entry costs of converting to EVs will prove a negative move and will slow the process.

In reality, it may mean sucking up most of the loss in the short-term as a massive petrol, diesel and hybrid car fleet will be with us for another couple of decades.

Staying with Mr. Cuffe’s comments last week, he also cited the width of SUVs being an issue for other road users: “They’re pushing the crowding pedestrians and cyclists off the roads,” he claimed.

“If you have a lane that is 2.9 meters wide, and an SUV is taking up much more of that lane and leaving much less space for for the cyclist,” he added.

The all- electric Volkswagen ID.4 is 1.85 metres wide and the small Renault Zoe E-tech electric car is 1.79 metres wide. That appears to diminishes this argument but Mr. Cuffe comes back with: “I think there are sensible choices that can provide for a family’s needs that aren’t the monster trucks that we’re seeing appear on Irish roads.”

Exaggeration without definition and research is not the way to win political arguments. Or is it?

The Brexiteers, Donal Trump and others got away with it for a while. What comes to mind for me is that strategic thinking always beats wishful thinking!

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