3 May 2019

Are all angles being covered during EV roll out?

Whilst last week’s editorial was slightly tongue in cheek there was a serious undertone. Given the comments of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) - the UK’s government’s independent advisor- suggesting: “The end to sales of non-zero emission cars, vans and motorcycles being brought forward (from 2040) to 2035, and regulatory approval of non-zero emission vehicles limited to 2050”, my comments may be of assistance and a warning of caution too.

CCC advocates moving to electric cars; however, as outlined by Professor Gillian Animal of the Institute of Transport Studies on BBC Radio 4’s Today to change the whole UK fleet of vehicles would take about 15 years. Also, much depends upon cobalt supply (and other rare metals) to meet battery demand as well as general affordability.

However as mentioned in last week’s article vehicles, including EVs, remain incredibly heavy; they consume a huge amount of energy in their construction. Also, there is the provenance of the energy source during construction. Own goals need to be avoided whereby there is zero tailpipe emission but disproportionate amounts of CO2 generated.

The quest for lighter vehicles and batteries using sustainable materials allied to the use of renewable energy in construction has to be a priority.

Car constructors can only go so far e.g. the Ionity initiative to introduce charging points. Coordinated and structured government planning and incentive is required. Also, changing the public’s appetite towards EV’s and also how they use their cars.

The same Radio 4 interview questioned the public’s taste for large vehicles. Professor Animal thought it was wrong to place the onus on the public as the manufacturers have been promoting and financing the sale of larger vehicles. Thoughts of the quote allegedly attributed to Henry Ford “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Markets and who controls a market is complex and fickle.

Whilst manufacturers have been developing SUV’s and other crossovers, such as Nissan’s Qashqai, the public have fallen in love with this format. Manufacturers offer alternatives but the public chose SUVs. Porsche, Jaguar - even Rolls Royce and Bently have SUVs for fear of missing sales and vital margins. Jaguar XJ sales have dwindled to almost nothing, XE’s sales could be better whilst F Pace rocketed. You only have to look at the frontal area of the three models to know which one cuts more efficiently through the air- my comment applies to most manufacturers- I’ m using JLR as an example.

Of course, automakers need to take their responsibility but equally, it is unpalatable saying its all their fault and only they should be accountable. The government educates the public about healthy food and alcohol consumption. What about the equivalent for vehicles asking questions as to the rationale for wanting a large heavy vehicle? Is it fashion desiring a macho image or necessity? Such campaigns could be promoted internationally.

There is an urgent environmental issue needing good regulation, legislation, debate and education- not silo politics and glib headlines.

One apparently ignored area is the retrofit of technologies to existing vehicles to try and make them cleaner. Incentives to make existing vehicles cleaner, especially during the next 5-10 years whilst the EV infrastructure matures. After all, Apple sees itself more as a service provider than the seller of new hardware. Mazda’s latest petrol engines, for example, have been takings steps to make petrol engines cleaner- could such technology be rolled out as a retrofit? It’s a revenue source for automakers avoiding most of the energy of building a car. Just imagine if there was a retrofit programme to enable efficiencies of 20%. It’s not the long term solution but it helps.

I can only repeat my words from last week- “ Suspicion and dogma could be the enemy of beneficial policies”; like Greta Thunberg recently suggested to her campaign is anyone listening?


Julian Wilkins

Postscript: Cybersecurity and 5G (vital to autonomous vehicle roll out) has been a hot potato. The experts have worried about teenage geeks in their bedrooms or China watching too many Bond films. Yet the issue has gone to the core of UK’s government with Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson being sacked over leaks about Huawai allegedly being controlled by the Chinese government. All this and I still not had my breakfast. Is Williamson at fault or victim of political shenanigans? Time will tell. However, the saga starkly reveals concerns about the complexity and vulnerability of security and communications systems versus free trade and open market competition. This is a classic case of law and regulation having to meet an ever increasingly complex world - technically and politically.

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