Early last year the Prime Minister dropped the "E-bomb" on British motorists, announcing a ban on cars powered wholly by petrol and diesel from 2030, and on the sale of new hybrid vehicles with the capability to drive a significant distance with zero emissions (such as plug-in or full hybrids) from 2035.
Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the world in an unprecedented manner. So what are its ramifications for the public and the motor industry in terms of Boris Johnson's widely publicised electric vehicle revolution?
For close to a year, millions of people in the UK have spent most of their time at home. The daily commute has become a distant memory for many of us. Meanwhile, home shopping and deliveries are now the norm, with increasing availability as more drivers are taken on to satisfy demand. This begs the question, are we ever going to go back to how things were pre-Coronavirus? Do we need to, or even want to, when there are practical and convenient alternatives?
Only a year ago, the electric car industry appeared to still be in its infancy with only a few brands leading the charge. But the Prime Minister's announcement seems to have crystallised the market opportunity for the industry and we are starting to see more and more options, such as the Honda E and the Ford Mustang Mach-E, coming to the marketplace.
At present, for me personally, there are still two main drawbacks to owning an electric vehicle: the purchase cost and a lack of charging infrastructure. I live in a first floor flat and do not have a dedicated off-road parking bay, nor am I able to park directly adjacent to my property. This precludes me from being able to charge a car at home and I suspect this will be the same for many households throughout the UK. Even if I wanted to invest in an electric car, unless I was able to grab one of two bays at my local supermarket, charging would be an issue.
This is, however, already changing. Planning authorities are increasingly expecting housebuilders to install appropriate charge point infrastructure when developing new housing. Likewise, Shepherd and Wedderburn's Clean Energy Group is seeing a quiet and growing revolution in businesses investing in EV charge points, as green credentials become ever more important to clients and employees alike.
Further down the line, if the nation does make a mass transition to electric motors, what will happen to all the existing petrol and diesel vehicles? This conjures up images of the sad carcasses of thousands of scrapped cars littering the countryside like a scene from Mad Max. Doesn't this somewhat defeat the green objective? It feels like robbing Peter to pay Paul - we may cut our carbon emissions but at the expense of further damaging the environment by turning vast numbers of still-usable vehicles into waste and creating huge manufacturing demand. Shouldn't we be looking at ways of achieving the best of both worlds?
I have a 17-year-old car which I love and would happily convert to be powered by electricity. This to me makes the most sense, achieving a zero emissions vehicle at a lower cost to the environment than producing an entirely new car, and saving me the expense of buying a new model. It is possible to do this, but at a huge cost - potentially the cost of two new electric cars.
The answer could be to ensure that we do as much recycling as possible, across all sectors. There are currently around eight million cars scrapped each year across the UK. A single car has approximately 30,000 different parts, ranging from the largest components down to the smallest screws. With time, knowledge and expertise, 95% of a car's weight can be recycled, reused or recovered. Reusable parts include items such as headlights, mirrors and engine parts, which are readily available online if you want to save money on repairs, while components such as engine oil, tyres and oil filters can be broken down and recycled.
It would seem we have been gradually going green over the years but now we need to do more and it is, I think, achievable. For example, last year a team of students at the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands created an electric car using solely recycled materials, including plastics recovered from the ocean and household waste. Although only having a top speed of 56mph and a range of 137 miles on a single charge, the car - nicknamed Luca - demonstrates a positive and innovative use for the billions of tons of waste generated annually worldwide. This is a small-scale project but it is a step in the right direction, indicating what may be achieved on a wider scale. We are more invested in recycling now than ever before - further change will come as momentum builds.
If it remains cost-prohibitive to convert our existing cars and the cost of new electric cars does not fall dramatically in the next few years, I would question whether people will actually see a need to own their cars in the future. Going back to the changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are becoming less dependent on our cars and people may be more disposed to leasing vehicles. Leasing brings flexibility - you can hire a car for a year, a couple of months, or even a matter of hours. Shepherd and Wedderburn is assisting a rising number of clients in developing financial products and leasing solutions, as businesses aim to make EV leasing more attractive. In addition, there is an argument that there should be greater investment in public transport, where we have already seen a focus on electric and hydrogen buses, for example.
Now may be the perfect time to transition to electric: we have grown accustomed to doing things differently over the past nine months, so why stop now? Let's make the new normal a greener one.
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