EVs are getting too heavy and too powerful, safety chief says
If you're concerned that road vehicles are getting too large and too heavy, particularly as we make the transition to electric ones, you're not alone. On Wednesday, National Transportation Safety Board chair Jennifer Homendy raised the alarm during her keynote speech at this year's Transportation Research Board's annual meeting in Washington, DC.
"I'm concerned about the increased risk of severe injury and death for all road users from heavier curb weights and [the] increasing size, power, and performance of vehicles on our roads, including electric vehicles," she told attendees.
"Its gross vehicle weight rating is a staggering 10,550 lbs. The battery pack alone weighs over 2,900 lbs--about the weight of a Honda Civic. The Ford F-150 Lightning is between 2,000 and 3,000 lbs heavier than the non-electric version... That has a significant impact on safety for all road users," Homendy continued.
The problem is one of simple physics: All else being equal, a heavier vehicle imparts more energy during a crash than a lighter one. Speed matters, too, of course--small increases become big increases in kinetic energy during a crash. But while municipalities and states set speed limits, there isn't a similar restriction on passenger vehicle curb weights.
An F-150, a 3 Series, and a mini drive into a bar
To help visualize the problem, it's useful to look at some examples of our vehicles gaining mass over time. Consider, for example, America's bestseller, the Ford F-150 pickup truck. It comes in myriad combinations of powertrain, cabin, and powertrain, but let's look at examples that are closest to today's F-150 Lightning, Ford's excellent EV pickup. Where a spread of curb weights was given, I erred on the side of caution and selected the heaviest one.
As you can see, in 1993, an extended cab F-150 was just under 2 metric tons, at 4,218 lbs (1,913 kg). A decade later--and now with a slightly larger Supercrew configuration--this number had gone up by 18 percent, and by 2013, a similar truck was 35 percent heavier than two decades prior.
In fact, Ford put the truck on a bit of a diet for the current generation; a gasoline-powered 2023 F-150 Supercrew weighs 4,948 lbs (2,244 kg). But the pounds pile back on if you want a hybrid F-150 or the all-electric version.
This problem is not limited to pickup trucks. We can see the same trend with BMW's 3 Series, which grew a bit between 1993 and 2003, then quite significantly by 2013. Some of that mass had been shed for 2023, at least until you move to a plug-in hybrid or a battery EV powertrain.
And the same holds true even for the smallest cars on our roads, like the Mini. To the untrained eye, a 1993 example looks pretty much the same as one of the 1961 originals, and its 1,400 lb (635 kg) curb weight now seems inconceivable. The Mini was reborn in the 21st century, but in 2003, it still weighed just 2,513 lbs (1,140 kg). That increased a bit over the following 10 years, then a slight diet followed by the time we get to 2023. But the electric version, at 3,144 lbs (1,426), is getting to be quite maxi for a mini.