WASHINGTON (TND) — America's push to convert vehicles to electric is leading down a path that could have unintended consequences. As bigger trucks and SUVs become electrified, they're also gaining weight, which could lead to more deaths and injuries on the road, and safety experts are sounding the alarm.
Millions of EVs are already on America's roadways, and sales are accelerating. Since President Joe Biden took office, EV sales have tripled, as the White House set an ambitious goal to have EVs make up at least 50% of new car sales by 2030.
That means all the major automakers are rushing to electrify their fleet, including their trucks and SUVs.
GM's electrified Hummer was the focus of a Super Bowl ad featuring Will Ferrell, and the electrified F-150 Lightning got a test drive from the President in 2021, who declared, "this sucker's quick."
But converting massive vehicles to electric power will have consequences that could prove deadly, according to leading safety experts.
One leading voice is Michael Brooks, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.
The number one concern is those vehicles are already increasing the risk of severe injury and death," Brooks told Spotlight on America.
It's a matter of size and weight. SUVs and trucks require thousands of extra pounds from battery packs to generate enough power and range. That extra weight effectively increases the force of a crash. Michael Brooks told us, adding 2,000 pounds to a battery in a collision is "like adding a small car on top of the one that hits you in that collision."
Most EVs weigh about one-third more than their gas-powered models. Among the heaviest is GM's Hummer EV, which weighs in at about 9,000 pounds. For reference, the battery pack of the Hummer alone is about 3,000 pounds, which is equivalent to the weight of an entire Honda Civic. Ford's F-150 Lightning comes in at about 7,000 pounds.
Generally, the occupants of heavy vehicles are safer in a collision, but those in lighter cars face a much higher risk of injury and death.
According to a key study published by Oxford called "Pounds That Kill," when the other vehicle involved in a crash is 1,000 pounds heavier, the likelihood of dying in that crash increases by 47%.
Crash testing those heavy EVs is uncharted territory. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or IIHS, the nation's leading crash test lab, recently started preparing to make sure their system can withstand the force of a heavy EV. In fact, they loaded concrete blocks onto an F-150 truck and slammed it into their wall to make sure it could handle the impact. You can watch that test in the video below.
The IIHS has only tested one heavy electric truck: The 2022 Rivian R1T, which weighs about 7,000 pounds. It earned good ratings for protecting its own drivers and passengers, but little is known about how passengers in another car would fare in a collision with it.
The issue is on the radar of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as well. NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy raised concerns about the weight of heavy EVs at a speech in January before national transportation leaders.
I’m inspired by the administration’s commitment to phasing out carbon emissions. I support their drive toward electric vehicles," said Homendy. "But we have to be careful that we aren’t also creating unintended consequences: more death on our roads."
We attempted to schedule an interview with Homendy on camera about this issue, but after agreeing to sit down with us, her office canceled and would not reschedule.
As safety concerns continue to surface, Michael Brooks wants to see federal regulations that would limit the size of battery packs in large vehicles. He also wants the government to stop incentivizing people to buy heavy EVs, and restrict tax rebates for smaller, safer, more efficient models.
Right now, tax credits for people buying electric cars apply to those heavy models, weighing up to 14,000 pounds.
Still, the popularity of big EVs is clear. The Hummer EV, which can cost upwards of $100,000 is sold out for two years. The F-150 Lightning is also on backorder.
Right now, these heavy EVs make up a small part of the overall EV market, but the numbers are growing fast.
Ford sold 15,617 of the F-150 Lightnings in 2022—with 200,000 on back order to be delivered this year.
Hummer had about 1,000 of its EVs on the road in 2022, with 90,000 on backorder, which will start hitting the road by the end of this month.
We reached out to GM, Ford, and Rivian to get their response to the safety issues raised. None would agree to an interview and didn't provide a statement for our story.