Heavy Electric Vehicles Jeopardize Climate Action and Public Safety, Experts Warn

General Motors can’t keep up with demand for its Hummer EV. But the 9,000 pound SUV requires a lot of valuable resources and threatens others on the road, safety experts say.

President Joe Biden waves as before test driving an electric Hummer as he tours the General Motors Factory ZERO electric vehicle assembly plant in Detroit, Michigan on Nov. 17, 2021. Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images
President Joe Biden waves as before test driving an electric Hummer as he tours the General Motors Factory ZERO electric vehicle assembly plant in Detroit, Michigan on Nov. 17, 2021. Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Share this article

When President Joe Biden celebrated what is arguably his administration’s biggest climate win on social media last week, he did so smiling from the driver’s seat of one of the most popular electric vehicles made in the United States.

“On my watch, the great American road trip is going to be fully electrified,” Biden wrote in the Jan. 30 tweet that showed the president sitting in one of General Motors’ military-inspired Hummer EVs. “And now, through a tax credit, you can get up to $7,500 on a new electric vehicle.”

Even with its expensive price tag ranging between $87,000 and $112,000, GM’s emissions-free version of its iconic SUV is so wildly popular that the automaker can’t keep pace with demand and was forced to halt orders last fall, just a year after the Hummer EV went on sale. As of last October, GM had received some 90,000 reservations for the vehicle but had only delivered 783 of them to customers.

But as Americans soon begin to tap the hundreds of billions of dollars made available for clean energy efforts through the Inflation Reduction Act—namely in the form of consumer tax rebates—a growing number of environmental and public safety experts worry that some of the new EVs expected to flood U.S. streets could actually make driving more dangerous and even exacerbate climate change.

That’s because some of the most popular models being touted by the world’s leading car manufacturers also happen to be their largest. GM’s Hummer EV weighs more than 9,000 pounds, nearly twice the weight of its gas-guzzling version and as much as three gasoline-powered Toyota Corollas. Similarly, Ford’s F-150 Lightning and Mustang Mach E SUV, as well as Chevrolet’s Silverado EV, weigh hundreds to thousands of pounds more than their gasoline counterparts.

In fact, the Hummer EV’s battery alone weighs roughly 3,000 pounds and contains enough lithium, nickel and other high-demand minerals to power nearly 400 e-bikes, researchers say. Climate advocates have criticized the vehicle’s oversized battery as a wasteful use of important resources that are already in short supply.

And because electric vehicle technology provides much greater acceleration than combustion engines, even the bulkiest EV models can reach dangerous speeds as quickly as sports cars. The Hummer EV, for example, can reach 60 miles per hour in just 3.3 seconds—as fast as some Ferraris. The larger mass paired with the ability to reach dangerous speeds quickly makes EVs especially deadly when they collide with smaller vehicles.

“Why he would be giving free publicity to that vehicle is beyond me,” David Zipper, a transportation policy expert and visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, said regarding Biden’s social media post last week. “Not only” because “it’s dangerous for the environment and for road safety, but also it’s not actually eligible for the tax credit.”

The White House didn’t respond to questions from Inside Climate News regarding large EVs and Biden’s promotion of GM’s latest Hummer model.

Since January, several outlets have written about the environmental and safety concerns surrounding GM’s Hummer EV. In a statement to E&E News, the company said its popular SUV has several features intended to keep both the driver and those around the vehicle safe. “Our customer’s safety is a top priority regardless of the type of propulsion or mass of the vehicle,” a spokesperson for the automaker said.

Jennifer Homendy, head of the National Transportation Safety Board, also expressed worry over the danger heavy EVs could pose to public safety during the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting last month. “I’m concerned about the increased risk of severe injury and death for all road users from heavier curb weights and increasing size, power, and performance of vehicles on our roads, including electric vehicles,” Homendy told the federal board, which investigates crashes. “Safety, especially when it comes to new transportation policies and new technologies, cannot be overlooked.”

Zipper told me that the issue is particularly worrisome considering that the U.S. is at a 16-year high for traffic deaths, and a 40-year high for ones involving pedestrians. Some 47,000 people die every year in U.S. car crashes, he said, noting that many vehicles were also getting taller, which creates larger blind spots that increase the chance of accidents and make collisions with pedestrians and cyclists more likely.

“We’re talking about like a 40 percent jump over the span of a decade for both groups, pedestrians and cyclists,” Zipper said. “And lo and behold, that’s the decade when the vehicle fleets have shifted rapidly toward trucks and SUVs, which deliver more force upon impact because they’re heavier.”

Furthermore, because U.S. electricity grids are still predominantly powered by fossil fuels, large EVs can even be more polluting than some small gasoline-powered sedans—at least for now. GM’s Hummer EV, for example, was found by one study to cause more greenhouse gas emissions than a gasoline-powered Chevy Malibu.

But policymakers have been slow to act on these concerns, and particularly the issue of increasingly heavy cars and trucks. Some experts say now is the time for local and state governments to take more intentional steps to set appropriate regulations.

One way, Zipper said, would be for more local and state governments to pass weight-based taxes similar to the ones recently passed by Washington, D.C., and Norway. Under D.C.’s new rule, adopted last summer, gas-powered passenger vehicles weighing more than 7,000 pounds and electric vehicles weighing over 6,000 pounds will cost seven times more to register annually than a typical sedan.

Zipper said the Department of Transportation should also begin considering risk to pedestrians or cyclists when calculating its influential crash-test ratings, known as the New Car Assessment Program, to show a more complete picture of the danger those vehicles pose to the public.

A spokesperson with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the agency is looking at several changes to the New Car Assessment Program aimed at improving road safety, but a press release from the agency last year did not list risks to pedestrians and cyclists among its considerations. The agency also reported that it’s currently studying the safety implications of electric vehicles on the road.

“This is something that President Biden and U.S. DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg have been bending over backwards to ignore, and that, I think, is a real problem,” Zipper said. “These vehicles are inefficient, make it harder to combat climate change, and are likely to kill people on our streets.”

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate, and I’ll be back in your inbox on Friday.

This story has been updated to include comments from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that did not arrive before publication of the original version.

Today’s Indicator

$546 billion

That’s how much China spent in 2022 on clean energy investments, including on electric vehicles and batteries, u003ca href=u0022https://www.eenews.net/articles/ee-subscriber-china-invests-546b-in-clean-energy-far-surpassing-us/u0022u003eaccording to a recent analysisu003c/au003e. That’s nearly four times the amount the U.S. spent on green investments that year.

Top News from Our Warming World

Predators Are More Frequently Attacking Humans, and Climate Change Isn’t Helping – NBC News

BP Dials Back Climate Pledge Amid Soaring Oil Profits – The Washington Post

Costs Could Rise Even More in 2023—and Thousands of CEOs Blame Climate Change – CNBC