AAA Magazines

The not-so-hidden downsides of large EVs

Hummer SUVs and pickups (pictured) are among the biggest EVs on the market. Photo by Brandon Woyshnis /

Electric vehicles (EVs) can play an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But big electric SUVs and pickups? Not so much. Large EVs can pose greater risks both to the environment and traffic safety.

SUVs and pickups account for about three-quarters of U.S. auto sales, and the 3 best-selling vehicles are full-size pickups, topped by the Ford F-150. In early 2022, Ford started producing the F-150 Lightning EV, which had garnered nearly 200,000 reservations from eager buyers before production even started. More large EV pickups and SUVs have recently arrived or are coming soon from BMW, Chevrolet, GMC, Mercedes-Benz, Ram, Rivian, and Tesla.

An F-150 Lightning will pollute only about half as much over its lifetime as a gasoline-powered F-150. However, the Lightning pollutes about 50% more than smaller SUVs like the Toyota bZ4X, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s interactive online tool.

The batteries

Although EVs pollute less than gasoline-powered vehicles over their lifetimes, they begin life with a larger carbon footprint, mainly because of the energy needed to obtain their batteries’ raw materials and to manufacture those batteries.

Lithium-ion battery packs require significant amounts of lithium, cobalt, and rare-earth elements, the large-scale mining of which can have significant environmental impacts. Larger EVs use more of these resources, of course: For example, the GMC Hummer’s battery pack is about 3 times the size of the average EV’s.

Bigger battery packs result in heavier vehicles. The Lightning can weigh upward of 2,000 pounds more than a gasoline-powered F-150, and the Hummer EV weighs 9,000 pounds, the equivalent of 3 Honda Civics.

You may also like: How to maximize the life of your car's battery

Safety issues

Large EVs’ extra weight can help protect their occupants in a crash, but at the expense of folks in smaller vehicles, because heavier vehicles strike with more force in a collision. Rapid acceleration, an EV hallmark, poses additional safety concerns.

It’s also unclear if large EVs have the braking power to match their acceleration ability and additional mass. Longer stopping distances increase the likelihood of collisions with other vehicles as well as with pedestrians and cyclists.

You may also like: Electric vehicles on the horizon

The future of large EVs

Given the present trends, electric SUVs and pickups are unlikely to get any smaller or less popular. So how can they be made more environmentally friendly and safer?

For one thing, researchers and battery companies are developing new battery chemistries that will cram more energy into smaller, lighter battery packs without using scarce or environmentally damaging materials. Such batteries might have a shorter range, but that could become less important as public charging stations proliferate. Over their lifetimes, EVs will also become cleaner as more renewable energy comes online.

EVs could also be designed with lighter, more rigid frame materials and additional front crush space. And because there’s no gas engine under their hoods, they could be equipped with a sloping front end that would provide better visibility and reduce the risks of a crash.

“We don’t need to put the brakes on electrification,” says Raul Arbelaez, vice president of the Vehicle Research Center at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “There are good reasons for it, and we’re not doomed to reverse all the safety gains of recent decades. But the [shift to electrification] will require some new thinking about the kinds of vehicles we want on our roads.”

Peter Bohr is an award-winning automotive journalist. Email Peter at or write to Drive Smart, Westways, PO Box 25222, Santa Ana, CA 92799-5222.

You may also like: What to look for when buying a used electric car

Follow us on Instagram

Follow @AAAAutoClubEnterprises for the latest on what to see and do.

Read more articles

You'll find more of the articles you love to read at AAA Insider.

Automotive offers & deals

AAA mechanic

AAA Approved Auto Repair

Search approximately 7,000 AAA Approved facilities throughout the U.S. and Canada.

AAA mobile battery service

AAA Mobile Battery Service

AAA provides a convenient testing and replacement service that comes to you.

NAPA Auto Parts store exterior

Automotive discounts

Use your AAA membership to unlock do-it-yourself car-care discounts.

Teen driver learning to drive

Teen driving resources

AAA cares about your teen’s safety and wants to help them develop safe driving habits.

back to top icon