Can the UK transport scene really go electric within just 10 years?
According to the UK fleet market, reports Iain Robertson, the original 2040 fossil fuel shut-off date was just ‘unrealistic’, yet we have been aiming for 2035 for the past several months and, now, the talk is around 2030, perhaps some EV protagonists are simply becoming over-excited.
Sea-changes are not always necessary, although the way in which modern governments tend to operate, it is a surprise that the ‘great unwashed’ have not demanded it in their respective nations (well, some do, in less civilised society). Our present government has been attempting the impossible since it lurched into power, with a clear majority of parliamentary seats and with Boris at its head. His mandate was to deliver an exit from the socialist construct that we know as the EU…which, notionally, he has done. To be struck by the Covid-19 pandemic, when it was realised, would have been a struggle for any administration, let alone one still finding its political feet. Thus, you will hear little critical comment from me, about our government, even though it could be posited that more than a few communications’ cockups have occurred.
In attempting to work the ‘business-as-usual’ oracle, a number of pertinent political decisions have been reached, among which has been a ratification of the proposed 2035 shut-off date for the UK sales/registrations of fossil-fuelled motor vehicles. Without a hint of irony, PM Johnson’s self-belief is almost as scarily ‘Trumpian’ as his opposite number in Washington DC. He believes that his government will preside over the immense roll-out of ALL-electric transport, come 2035, despite what will become total opposition from the ‘other’ party in the House. That is the way our politics operate and there are three entire governmental terms to endure first! Only the Good Lord alone knows which colour will be ‘in power’.
Yet, the EV-angelist lobby has been hyperactive of late, crowing about the uptake rate of Electric Vehicles and of consumer acceptance levels being at an all-time high. As is typical, observers need to peer past the flim-flam and marketing hype, as the potential for horrendously high job losses around an already beleaguered motor industry, let alone the fuel business, is exceptional. However, a recent report in The Guardian, based on a ‘public consultation’ held (apparently) this summer, has leaked a possible plan by our government to contemplate 2035 and even earlier 2030 phase-out dates for the Internal Combustion Engine, as we know it.
Labour’s climate change shadow minister, Matthew Pennycook, is said to be very much in favour of 2030, as ‘an ambitious but achievable target’, and a coalition of major fleet operators that includes Tesco, Dixons Carphone, E-ON, Heathrow and SSE also believes it is feasible and wants it sooner, rather than later. They believe that it is the only way to tackle climate change and improve the air quality in major conurbations. Yet, they are also being somewhat myopic, in that they believe that a speedier uptake rate will drive the prices of EVs downwards, while exciting the development of a new ‘clean industry’ that contributes to some form of green recovery.
Such hopes are merely pie-in-the-sky, as carmakers will find it difficult at best and impossible otherwise to slash the costs associated with EV list prices. In fact, pushing these plans forward may lead to a form of automotive Armageddon, when an annual 2.0m+ new car registrations of fossil-fuelled machines, is replaced ‘overnight’ by EVs. For a start, the plug-in recharging infrastructure remains scarily problematic, with entire blocks of the growing posts, boxes and outlets being ‘unusable’ for whatever reason and, to be frank, a pain-in-the-butt to live with, when they are operable. A combination of dedicated but packed EV parking slots, the wasteful queuing times and awkward apps that deal with the omnipresent question of ‘who pays for the electricity’ are already rearing their heads.
Of course, the aspiration is for the UK to become a motivated hub of electric mobility but, at what cost? The nation is already struggling in the period post the first pandemic ‘lockdown’, if a second period is demanded, many companies will be placed in exceedingly parlous positions. Governmental subsidies have already been slashed and, even though Rishi Sunak, our Chancellor of The Exchequer, is probably drawing down future funds that might have been paid to the EU, in order to fund furloughing exercises, he does not have access to a bottomless funding pit, regardless of how it may appear that he does! The last thing that any government needs is to trade as insolvent…
The governing body of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has already stated a fully-funded strategy that invests in infrastructure, aids consumer switchover (from fossil fuel to EV) and ensures that the UK motor industry emerges unharmed by the processes is essential. It is concerned about a lack of competitiveness that can arise and the devastating impact that will be felt by the industry, while also undermining the development of other low/zero-emissions technologies that are taking place at the moment. In addition, while hybrid and plug-in technology have not been mentioned as part of the ‘ban’, the UK’s vehicle park will still be dominated by petrol and diesel powered vehicles and there is no word of how their owners/operators will be treated in this ‘brave new world’.
In our current virtuous society, are the halo-wearing minority not placing a knee on the necks of those poorer economies, whose natural resources are being plundered for the proliferation of EVs? Are the ‘wrong’ consultants being consulted (the motor industry needs and warrants ‘friends’, as well as the vehemently anti-car brigade)? Is EV technology going to remain static for the next decade (or so), without better options being considered? What precisely is the environmental impact of the archetypal EV, because it is fair to ask the question, especially when heaps of largely unrecyclable batteries start piling-up ten years after?
While it may seem ‘right on’ to hop onto the EV bandwagon, it is worth reflecting on how much influence our own mostly ill-informed government has been placing on those firms with both clear and even tenuous links to it. There is no doubt that air quality and the environmental impact of ICEs can be and need to be improved upon but ‘the next best thing’ is not an answer to the question.