My Other Car Is an SUV

As electric cars take over the commuter-car niche, we are likely to see lots of households that have both a small electric car and a fuel-burning SUV. Don’t be misled by the apparent contradiction in style between the two vehicle types. The electric car and SUV will complement each other pretty well.

For those who have an electric car, it is the low-cost choice for driving to work and the supermarket, but it can’t do everything. The SUV is the more practical choice for trips to big-box stores and when taking a group to the movies.

SUVs have been selling well since 2010. Cars last longer than ever, and that trend seems sure to continue, especially as SUVs transition from being an everyday vehicle to a more specialized role and are driven shorter distances. The SUVs already in people’s garages will still be on the road well into the 2040s. As for the electric cars, they are expected to last longer still. Some wealthy drivers will continue to replace their vehicles out of habit, but we also shouldn’t be surprised to see households that go through more houses than cars.

The car-SUV duo represents a larger leap forward in energy efficiency than it might seem. More than half of U.S. vehicle miles involve a trip to work, so a adding an electric commuter car to a household that already has an SUV can cut fuel purchases by more than half.

The inevitable question when two people share an electric car and a fuel-burning SUV is, “Who gets the car today?” To simplify things, one common pattern will be to add a second car. This might be a second electric car or it could be an older fuel-burning car. Either way, the increase in the number of vehicles will lead directly to a decline in fuel consumption, and the resulting statistics will surely have energy economists scratching their heads.

Though only a few thousand Tesla Model 3 cars are on the road, the new electric car is well on its way to being this century’s version of the Model T, the car that all other cars are compared to. The low cost of operation of the Model 3 — lowest of any car ever, if it lives up to the hype — won’t relegate a whole generation of automotive technology to the scrap heap, but it will lead to a new practicality in car design as consumers become more self-conscious about how much they are paying to get around when they drive a more expensive car.

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