Huge and Heavy EV Batteries: Is Increased Range Worth the Safety Trade-Offs?

Among the notable specs on the Hummer EV is a range of up to 350 miles, as well as “extreme off-road capability.” It also weighs at least 9,000 pounds, meaning a fender bender with the truck could turn into a catastrophe if you’re riding around in a compact sedan.

It’s an issue that Jennifer Homendy, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), finds troubling. In remarks(Opens in a new window) to the Transportation Research Board this week, she argued that super-heavy vehicles, including EVs, have a “significant impact on safety for all road users.”

Of particular concern is the weight disparity between electric and gas-powered vehicles, due to their large batteries. “The Ford F-150 Lightning is between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds heavier than the non-electric version,” Homendy said. “The Mustang Mach-E, Volvo XC40 EV, and RAV4 EV are all roughly 33% heavier.”

While EVs do not have a gas engine, and much fewer mechanical parts, the battery pack adds in some extra heft. Plus, Americans’ desire for large SUVs with as much range as possible—requiring bigger batteries—is resulting in some of the heaviest vehicles ever.

“The GMC Hummer EV gross vehicle weight rating is a staggering 10,550 pounds,” Homendy said. “The battery pack alone weighs over 2,900 pounds—about the weight of a Honda Civic.”

2024 GMC Hummer EV and Hummer EV Convertible.

2024 GMC Hummer EV and Hummer EV Convertible
(Credit: GMC)

Homendy says she supports the transition to electric vehicles, but not with unfettered restrictions that could contribute to the 43,000 annual traffic deaths in the US.

“We do have a climate crisis that needs to be addressed,” she said. “The US transportation sector accounts for the largest portion of US greenhouse gas emissions, and I firmly believe it is a human right to breathe clean air.”

Size vs. Wow Factor

Car companies are aware of the weight issue in EVs. In a CES keynote last week, Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares highlighted the company’s research into batteries with 50% less weight and higher energy density (range). Yet moments later, Stellantis-owned RAM debuted an electric pickup truck concept that’s so large it can fit three rows of seats and store an 18-foot-long object.

“When you appreciate the size and even the weight of a full-size pickup truck, especially when you put those big batteries in them, and you can spread zero to 60 in under three seconds… that’s a ‘wow’ moment,” Ram CEO Mike Koval told PCMag at CES.

Consumers are indeed finding this combination of size, weight, and acceleration hard to resist. Demand for Ford’s electric F-150 pickup exceeded supply in 2022, even with a 40% price hike.

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Without a breakthrough in technology to bring higher energy density to batteries, the gains in vehicle range consumers expect means even bigger, heavier batteries. Not to mention electric semi trucks, like the one being built by Tesla.

VinFast electric vehicle battery pack.

Battery packs at the production facility for VinFast EVs.
(Credit: Bloomberg / Contributor / Getty Images)

Porsche(Opens in a new window) and BMW(Opens in a new window) have begun the process of swapping lithium ion batteries for lithium-silicon, which promise more energy with less mass. But these nascent technologies have not yet transformed the industry. At roundtable discussion at CES, Markus Schäfer, Mercedes-Benz CTO, told PCMag he does “not see any serious breakthrough in the near future on batteries.”

EV sales continue to increase, now comprising 5-6% of new vehicles sales in the US. Most major automakers in the US have committed to fully electrifying their lineups. GM—maker of Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, and GMC cars—for example, has vowed to do so by 2035. However, Toyota has spoken out against the transition to fully electric, and Jeep has only committed(Opens in a new window) to 50% of its lineup to be battery-powered by 2030 as opposed to 100% for its European business.

The Biden administration is incentivizing the transition to electric vehicles, allocating billions in funding for domestic battery manufacturing, a national charging network, and a new $7,500 federal tax credit for qualifying EVs. The tax credit does require the vehicle to be under 14,000 pounds to qualify, but that’s far more than the average EV, including the Hummer.

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