At the rate 2020 came and is now almost gone, we are forced to consider the speed at which life comes at us. Through that lens, 2030 doesn’t seem all that far away, which has become the year that the UK government plans to put into effect a ban that prevents the sale of any and all new petrol or diesel car (or van).
A couple of years ago, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his administration had originally proposed the ban to be enforceable starting in 2040 - which already drew plenty of criticism - but last week confirmed that it would be brought forward by a whole decade. Clever boy.
Ten years from now, if this comes to pass, no showrooms on UK soil will be able to sell you a car (or van) that is purely powered by petrol or diesel. By government mandate, the vehicle buyer is being forced to purchase an electric vehicle, though some hybrids will be allowed until 2035 provided they can travel for an “extended period” without emitting any emissions. PHEVs, pretty much.
To put that into perspective, the current stats put the total number of cars in the UK somewhere beyond the 38 million mark according to data published by the RAC and the UK Department for Transport. By contrast, late 2020 numbers indicate that only 164,100 cars on UK roads are fully electric while around 373,600 cars are plug-in hybrids. Even when added together, all electrified cars amount to just 1.43%.
That leaves another 98.5% (give or take) of cars on British roads that need to be replaced - at some point - by an electric equivalent. Looking at the way things seem to be shaking out, electric cars don’t seem to be getting any more attractive or attainable at the pace that would make an arbitrary switchover feasible.
New EVs: Not Enough, Still Cost Too Much
In 2020, electric cars are still very expensive. Because the battery is central to any EV’s cost breakdown, range is tied to price tier. Cars such as the Porsche Taycan or Tesla Model S are fairly large and as such boast a range comparable to a typical petrol/diesel car.
By nature, less expensive electric cars, unsurprisingly, are smaller to match their lower capacity batteries. The RM189,000 Nissan Leaf, for example, is rated to provide 270km of range according to WLTP’s testing standards.
Just like combustion cars, be prepared for that number to swing wildly in the real world use, making these more compact (i.e smaller battery, less expensive) EVs much less practical for long distance driving, hence many of them being marketed as city cars.
Imagine buying a typical car today where a major spec consideration is the size of the fuel tank. Sounds nuts. Barring a legitimate breakthrough in battery technology, however, that’s essentially how the price hierarchy of electric cars will be sorted. In fact, it’s been happening for quite a while.
The more recent Honda e is another small five-door hatch with some pretty snazzy retro-futuristic looks. Priced about as much as D-segment saloon, it’s not exactly a budget purchase, though it acquits itself through its innovative interior and overall build. But with a full charge, range is a paltry 220-ish kilometres.
Like nearly every developed country in the world, the UK doesn’t exactly generate a surplus of electricity. Even with their resources and infrastructure of power stations and renewable energy sources, the island nation is managing to keep just ahead of overall energy demand as it currently stands.
Come 2030 then, how do they plan to have the majority of cars plugged into the electrical grid without simply overloading it?
Besides nuclear fission, there simply isn’t a scalable and cost-effective energy source that can cope with the doubling (or tripling) of raw electrical demand once most cars (at least more than 1.43%) start to 'plug in' instead of 'fuel up'. Let’s not even talk about the problems with outdated, century old electrical infrastructure because that’s a much bigger headache to sort out, even if you have this magical new energy source ready to go.
“Good thing the government hasn’t imposed a blanket ban to force all of us to rely on electric vehicles on an ill-equipped century-old electrical grid. Oh wait.” - the UK.
The Old Cars - Scrap Is A Crap Solution
Following the enforcement of this 2030 ban, fields of otherwise functional cars will need to be taken off the hands of millions of new EV buyers looking to trade up. It’s an expensive and unnecessary eyesore to the automakers who will be forced to foot the bill in recycling or otherwise disposing of the materials.
At the same time, to incentivise the adoption of electric vehicles, those of us who choose to stick with combustion-powered cars will surely be subject to additional taxes, congestion charges, and/or exorbitant fuel prices. Given enough time, everyone will be forced to relent.
Saddled with the prospect of having to dramatically ramp up development and production of electric cars to fill the line-up, the same auto manufacturers will likely not be too enthusiastic with simultaneously handling the increasingly high pile of scrapped cars, but leaving them idle would pose a dangerous environmental hazard.
Ultimatums Are For Idiots
As someone who maintains an optimisitcally agnostic view of electric cars, the strong-arming by governments and big business over my choice (or yours) of vehicle only feeds resentment. Ultimately, there is huge potential in post-combustion mobility and I do agree that electric motors are the future, though not necessarily powered by large batteries.
That said, sanctions like this are not the answer. Cars are an easy target for the eco-mentalist but demonising them without a solid and multi-faceted zero-emissions alternative, complete with a realistic transition plan, is truly foolish.
We need smarter long term solutions, not blanket bans that erect false hurdles instead of organicaly expediting the adoption of electric cars.
I haven’t even gone into charging times or how lithium manufacturing is a very dirty process or how the material itself is more likely to be mined dry quicker so than our fossil fuel reserves or how anchoring the world's decarbonisation efforts to such a non-renewable element is pretty dim thinking. Do I even need to?