Ford’s F-150 Lightning during its presentation on May 19, 2021 (AFP/JEFF KOWALSKY)
An electric pickup may seem like an aberration to some conservationists, but for Americans, electrifying these types of large vehicles will make progress in the fight against climate change.
Desktop pickups, however, require larger batteries, thus inflating the carbon footprint of their manufacture. They are also heavier and therefore consume more energy, a problem as long as the electricity is not 100% renewable.
“The carbon footprint of an electric vehicle increases almost in proportion to its weight,” the French Agency for Ecological Transition (Ademe) said in early October.
But you have to be pragmatic, answer the Americans.
The best-selling vehicles in the country are Ford’s F150 pickup, Chevrolet’s Silverado (General Motors) and Ram (Stelantis), followed by Toyota’s RAV4 SUV.
“This is the current situation of the American market”, observes Luke Tonachel, responsible for the clean vehicles program of the American environmental association NRDC. “And that’s not going to change anytime soon.”
The main thing in their eyes is “to eliminate the pollution that comes out of the exhaust pipes of all vehicles as quickly as possible”.
US President Joe Biden tests the electric version of GM’s Hummer during a visit to Detroit on November 17, 2021 (AFP/MANDEL NGAN)
It might even seem wise to start with the biggest transmitters in their thermal version.
President Joe Biden had no qualms about testing electric versions of GM’s big Hummers or Ford’s F-150 during manufacturer visits.
– Large chests and height –
American drivers have grown accustomed to vehicles “with big trunks and height,” recalls Alan Amici of the Center for Automotive Research. “I don’t expect a return to sedans.”
Faced with falling demand for small vehicles, US automakers have greatly reduced the scope of this category, preferring higher-margin pickup trucks and SUVs.
Americans have a different relationship with the car than Europeans, underlines Bertrand Rakoto, an analyst at Ducker, a French based in the United States.
They “use the truck to transport furniture, to entertain themselves while hunting or camping”; with fewer holidays, “they go out more on weekends”; and evolve in large spaces. Advertisements often show these vehicles leaving paved roads.
Some drivers also fear being in danger behind the wheel of a small car surrounded by large vehicles, which is more vulnerable in the event of a collision.
Even if they mainly use the car for short trips, many users are still reluctant to deal with cars that cannot travel very long distances.
For GM, the ambition is to electrify the entire fleet, says Kristen Siemen, the group’s director of sustainable development.
The manufacturer currently markets both an electric version of its imposing GMC Hummer and the small Chevy Bolt, and recently unveiled one of its popular Equinox SUV.
“We want to have products that meet the needs of every customer,” and on every budget, explains Ms. Siemens.
– “Not taken seriously” –
Drivers who wish to do so can use the small electric models offered on the American market by Asian and European manufacturers.
Still, large vehicles are gaining ground around the world.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), about half of the vehicles offered in major markets in 2021 were SUVs, well ahead of small (10%) and midsize (23%) models.
A Chevrolet Bolt on October 7, 2021 in Colma, California. General Motors wants to offer a range of electric vehicles, from the big Hummer to the small Bolt (GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/JUSTIN SULLIVAN)
In the United States, small sizes represented only 2% of the models offered.
The general trend towards SUVs is worrying because they consume more energy, fossil or electric, notes Benjamin Stephan, a transport specialist with the NGO Greenpeace.
“Obviously, an electric pickup will have a lower carbon and environmental footprint than a fossil fuel pickup,” he says. “But you can also reduce your footprint by having a smaller car or no car at all.”
Senior representatives of the automotive sector “are always more inclined to discuss our demands on accelerating the transition to electric, but they don’t take us seriously once we approach the issue of SUVs”, notes the expert.
However, he said, if we really want to limit the rise in temperatures, “we must press all the levers at our disposal.”