Press Release

Smaller cars can reduce demand for critical metals by almost a quarter

July 17, 2023

Cutting battery sizes, improving chemistries and reducing private car journeys can cut expected consumption 36-49% by 2050.

New analysis from the green group Transport & Environment has shown that Europe and the UK have a number of options that could curb the expected consumption of key metals from electrifying passenger transport by up to 49% between now and 2050. Demand for raw battery materials will rapidly increase as many countries race to switch to zero-emissions road transport, essential for climate goals, and the UK government must take action to reduce battery and car sizes – the single most effective measure in reducing metals demand.

Lifetime emissions of battery electric vehicles are significantly lower (by 69%) than that of a car powered by fossil fuels, even after manufacturing and raw materials used in the manufacture are factored in.

To decarbonise its fleet between now and 2050, Europe will require 200 times the battery raw materials it consumed last year unless action is taken. But policies to incentivise small, affordable entry-level BEVs, adopt innovative battery chemistries and reduce private car journeys, could cut demand for key metals lithium, nickel, cobalt and manganese by 36-49%. In 2019 cars and taxis produced 111 MtCO2e and so the decarbonisation of road passenger vehicles is essential to reduce emissions in the UK transport sector and meet our own climate goals.

Reducing battery size, by making smaller electric vehicles, is the single most effective way to reduce demand for the metals (19-23%). SUV sales are growing rapidly within the electric car market, making up 44% of all new EVs sold in 2022 in the UK. This trend towards larger, heavier vehicles needs to be halted to lower the embedded emissions of vehicle production and reduce demands on the electricity grid. T&E UK says there should be a new weight-based tax on the heaviest and largest vehicles along with tax incentives for smaller electric models. At the same time, there needs to be a tightening of efficiency standards for new, non-zero emissions vehicles when the new vehicles CO2 standards regulation come in from January 2024.

Ralph Palmer, Electric Vehicles and Fleets Officer at T&E UK, said: “Electric vehicles are essential in achieving the UK’s net zero and climate goals. But the growing popularity of big cars across the country could make us veer off course. Here, smaller will mean smarter – providing us with economic and industrial policy that aligns with a liveable planet.”

Smaller electric cars are also perfect for batteries built with less resource intensive chemistries that can reduce metal demand by up to 20%. Strong industrial policy is needed to scale up European production of new technologies such as iron-based (LFP) and sodium-based (Na-ion) batteries. 

In addition, reducing journeys by private cars can deliver a further 7-9% reduction in demand for raw materials. 

T&E UK is calling on the UK government to launch a review of its road building programme as the Welsh Government has done. It also calls on town and city councils to introduce measures that rebalancethe space given to private cars compared to public transport, walking and cycling and to better support shared mobility solutions such as car clubs.

Ralph Palmer said: “On both a national and local level, the UK goes out of its way to prioritise  the private car. Whether it’s allocating more space for cars, building more roads or cutting funding for public transport, the car is king. This has created a downward spiral of car dependency, with increasingly bigger cars seen as the only solution to getting around. What we need to do is tip the scales back in favour of people and public transport. Then we’ll have a transport sector that leads globally in addressing climate change.”


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