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 fourth part of a new series aimed at providing some answers.
Having mentioned the madder of the pressure groups that has hopped onto the eco-bandwagon, I could scarcely believe my eyes and ears in viewing a recent episode of ‘Coronation Street’. The ‘Street’ is suffering from congestion. A child playing football in the ‘Street’ collapses onto the pavement, struggling for breath. Its ‘mother’ awaits an ambulance that struggles for access. The child is taken to the hospital, where much of the suppositious script questions the role of vehicular traffic in the boy’s shortage of breath. The ‘mother’ reacts violently and assaults with a crowbar the knicker factory’s Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, because of its slightly smoky exhaust pipe. It is all very dramatic, is sure to generate feedback and even incite copycat action. It is a dangerous display staged on one of the nation’s most popular TV programmes.
Highly emotive kidology has been elemental to so many aspects of increasing environmental awareness. Bounced around social media with abandon, the pertinent, glib and often ill-researched comments generate followers only too keen to be shocked and amazed and equally too willing to spread the word, whether right, or not. As a result, impertinent truths arise that can harbour greater impact than a wealth of scientific reports. Of course, for every sliver of scientific research an alternative and opposite view is also aired. It is both inconvenient and adds to the consumer confusion.
Personally, I remain astounded by the open arms treatment being levied on BEVs. In reality, while ICEs have become increasingly efficient, both them and their apparently newer electric alternatives are truly old technology, with their markedly different roots planted firmly in the past 150 years of automotive developments. While there appears to be much excitement surrounding present BEV developments, the reality is that they are simply the next best option, when, perhaps, other motive forces and means of propulsion ought to have been researched and developed instead. We are very backwards at trying to move forwards.
Although there has been some talk about hydrogen and fuel cell technology, with a handful of carmakers already making investments, producing hydrogen as a fuel remains more cost-effective as an offshoot of the crude oil cracking process, which is not a ‘win:win’ situation. The alternatives are time-consuming and costly and building a refuelling infrastructure takes a back seat to publicly accessible chargers. Yet, I remind you that ICEs will still constitute the bulk of road transport for at least ten years after the fossil fuel vehicle ban comes into effect, even presuming that around 2m combined BEVs and PHEVs will find operators in every year post-2030 (although hybrids only have a five-year grace period until 2035).
It is worth highlighting that BEV technology has been stepped up considerably in the past decade, not least in the area of range extending. Yet, this devalues early adopters’ cars that have already fallen behind in terms of autonomous safety (ADAS) equipment that cannot be upgraded. By 2030, many of those early models will be all but obsolete. However, despite glorious plans for battery packs to enjoy a second lease of life, a great many of them will be consigned to scrapyards. While sustainability remains a core concern, alongside recyclability, and some carmakers are already linking themselves to more ethical supplies of the rare and precious metals needed in the construction of battery packs, mined natural resources (most of which are under the control of the Chinese and therefore run a high risk of being used politically) are still being depleted.
Autonomous technology has been gifted an easy route to deployment via BEVs. While the market response is still surprisingly close to a 50:50 acceptability rating, it is also becoming clear that non-drivers are proliferating and investment in ‘platooning’ is being increased, with inevitable government support, because it perceives that ‘driverless’ cars can equate to a much sought-after reduction in road traffic incidents and the associated loss of life.
BEVs are also largely character-free zones. The popping open of bonnets for little more than cable access and spare footwear is matched only by the industry standard 45mins/80% recharge times and relative silence, apart from tyre noise, of BEV progress. While more readily available battery pack upgrades will surely provide future performance enhancements, car accessory shops will cease to serve much purpose.
Maintenance costs will be reined in by the relative standardisation of powertrains but questions do arise about whether supplying dealerships will be able to manage BEVs properly, as the industry has not exactly been rushing into extensive staff training programmes, even though running gear may still pose unreliability and servicing issues. Yet, the entire franchise model of manufacturer controlled but independently run dealerships is also open to serious question. If the consumer is cajoled into increasing online acquisitions, there will be less need for the smoked glass and polished chrome showrooms that populate out-of-town industrial estates.
Conclusion: Just as the pandemic has created a major social impact, the growth of the BEV scene and whatever alternative fuel options may come to market is going to impact on motorists in a not dissimilar manner. The changes are coming and, even though the intended 2030 fossil fuelled vehicular cut-off date might be altered politically, the environmental messages will also gain greater relevance.