Confusion exists across the new car scene, explains Iain Robertson, with diesel owners sniffing at Electric Vehicles, as an alternative to more recent efficient petrols, but eco-protection has gained significant high ground as the new car scene barrels towards an ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) ban in 2030. This is the third part of a new series aimed at providing some answers.
The environment and its protection have been broad topics of various latent heat contents for the past forty years. While the environmental lobby that was once as welcome as a party of grey-haired vegetarians at a meat-eating convention has grown in both relevance and purpose, it still has a knack of attracting fanaticism, most recently from the Extinction Rebellion ‘cause’, which may prove to harbour negative value, if it is not careful.
Yet, it is a cause that spikes both coffee lounge and dinner table chattering with considerably more intent than ever. To be fair, it needs to, and it covers all emotive aspects from hatefully ensnared sea turtles, to excess packaging disposal and fast diminishing natural resources. While ownership still tends to be a little difficult to apportion, a recent initiative that links branded waste with its originators and not the idiot miscreant chucking rubbish from the car window should have the desired effect in several ways.
Of course, as your ‘motoring man’, my personal interest resides in disappearing natural resources. What took millions of years to create from crushed seashells, bones and tree-trunks has taken less than 150 years to whittle down to near critical levels, while the very air we breathe has been poisoned to such an extent that it is hardly a surprise that respiratory illnesses predominate in built-up areas. However, I am not and never will be a proponent of the ‘CO2 is a pollutant’ belief. I can accept that excesses of the gas can stifle but plant life needs it to produce oxygen and to grow.
Although it tends to be swept beneath the carpet, ‘dirty building syndrome’ is actually an enormous pollutant in urban zones, as comfort seeking office types demand air-conditioning in their working environments. Trains, buses, trucks, trams, planes and boats also contribute heavily to poorer air quality in towns and cities, every bit as much as the 37m motorcars taxed to drive on our roads nationwide and, yes, I do fear that the car-user has become too easy a target of social media apologistes and virtue signallers and, by God, we have more than our fair share of them these days.
It is inevitable that a new standard should be sought and electricity, as long as it is sourced honestly by renewable means (air, sun, wave motion), is as good an aim as any. However, the simple disposal of the internal combustion engine is only going to cause another waste mountain, or two, even though cast metals might be melted down for other applications. Alternative fuels are the answer and several carmakers have joined forces to develop man-made diesel and petrol to be used with minimal modifications to current hardware. In fact, they have been successful, although the cost per litre is presently so prohibitively expensive that it is unviable for public consumption. Whether it can be slashed sufficiently in cost, with appropriate volume increases, to be acceptable to a mass market, verges on the realms of impossible dreams at the moment.
However, a lot of uncomfortable assumptions are being made by both activists in favour and manufacturers of BEVs. Working at the coalface, they have access to their promotable and governmentally-approved modes of transport and, even if they have to fund them personally, they will receive subsidies and support (just bear that in mind next time you read a glowing test report on a BEV, as the journalist is unlikely to be the owner and it is very easy to be uncritically praiseworthy, when a title’s advertising revenue plays its hand). Buying into a BEV is expensive and, when proponents talk about the eventual closing cash gap between ICE and BEV technology, believe me, it is not because BEVs are reducing in price.
Although government and its departments, which constitute around 25% of the nation’s annual new vehicle registrations, will also lead on BEV adoption (however subtly), the bulk of new BEV ‘sales’ will come from the corporate sector…the company car market, which has offsetable means by which to reduce its overheads, in ways that the private buyer does not. For years, the private car buyer has subsidised the fleet market, with higher prices and minimal discount potential. Yet, even for the corporate sector, the higher list prices of BEVs are reflected in markedly steeper monthly lease and rental rates. It is a vicious circle.
As long as the uptake rate remains at a low ebb, as it is at present, popping out to buy the latest BEV model is not exactly an everyday option, even though it will be more prevalent after 1st January 2030. Yet, it is worth bearing in mind that the private car buying sector constitutes less than 10% of the 2m-plus new registrations finding UK homes annually and that consumer demand will dictate uptake rates.
However, there is another factor that is seldom mentioned: noise. While noise may be regarded as a pollutant, it can also possess allure. Making BEVs sound like flying saucers, rather than electric milk floats, is not exactly character forming. The snarl of a sophisticated sportscar motor, the growl of a Jaguar, or the purr of a V8 Lexus are all desirable characteristics missing from BEVs.
Conclusion: Having considered the material aspects, in Part Four of this series (‘Kidology), we shall reflect on the psychological impact of the BEV and whether, or not, it will herald the arrival of autonomous motoring and the death of desirable personal transportation.