Make electric vehicles lighter to maximize climate and safety benefits

Excerpt from nature.com

Electric vehicles are here, and they are essential for decarbonizing transport. The United Kingdom, California, the European Union, Canada and others plan to phase out the sale of fossil-fuelled vehicles as early as 2030 — Norway plans to do it sooner. Consumers are interested. In May, the Ford Motor Company unveiled an all-electric version of its best-selling pick-up truck, the F-150 Lightning. By August, so many customers had reserved one that Ford doubled its initial production target. On 27 September, the company announced that it will spend billions of dollars to build battery factories and an electric-truck plant in the United States. Other companies are expanding their production, too.

Major investments in electric vehicles are welcome news. The sector has come a long way, but many challenges lie ahead. One issue that has received too little attention, in our view, is the increasing weight of vehicles. Pick-up trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) now account for 57% of US sales, compared with 30% in 1990. The mass of a new vehicle sold in the United States has also risen — cars, SUVs and pick-up trucks have gained 12% (173 kilograms), 7% (136 kg) and 32% (573 kg), respectively, since 1990. That’s equivalent to hauling around a grand piano and pianist. Similar trends are seen elsewhere in the world.

Electrifying vehicles adds yet more weight. Combustible, energy-dense petroleum is replaced by bulky batteries. And the rest of the vehicle must get heavier to provide the necessary structural support1. The electric F-150 weighs 700 kg more than its petrol-powered predecessor. Smaller electric cars are heavier than their petrol equivalents, too (see ‘Heavier electric fleet’).