Daily Post article: Electric Vehicles

Posted on 1st May, 2024

It is perplexing that there are still those who dispute the reality of man-made climate change. A few years ago, I visited the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, where I heard a presentation from its Welsh deputy director that banished any remaining doubt I had on the subject. Climate change is a fact and human activity its cause.

To mitigate the impact of climate change, we must reduce carbon emissions, one of the principal sources of which is the internal combustion engine (ICE). That, in turn, means we must encourage other means of automotive propulsion.

Governments across the world have therefore promoted the take-up of electric vehicles (EVs), which – at least at the point of operation – are non-emitting. The UK provides grants for the purchase of commercial EVs, though no longer for private vehicles. Grants are also available for chargers and other EV infrastructure.

For some years, EVs have accounted for an increasing share of new car sales in the UK. However, that process has now stalled. Figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show that 15.2 per cent of new cars registered in March were EVs, down from 16.2 per cent a year earlier.

Tesla, for long the EV market leader, is struggling in the face of reduced demand and competition from cheaper Chinese vehicles. Earlier this month its CEO, Elon Musk, announced the company was laying off 10 per cent of its global workforce. Last week, Tesla also cut the prices of its Models X, Y and S by $2,000 in several countries around the world – a further reflection of the difficult market conditions.

And it is the market that will inevitably determine how quickly the transition from internal combustion to battery power is effected. EVs are considerably more expensive than ICE-powered vehicles, which is problematic at a time when the general cost of living is high. That is compounded by relatively high current interest rates.

In addition, charging infrastructure outside the major cities remains patchy. The range of EVs is improving, but “range anxiety” persists on long journeys. Charging time is also a problem, with many EVs requiring pit stops of around 40 minutes to achieve an 80 per cent top-up.

The Government had intended to ban the sale of ICE vehicles from 2030, but – like many other governments – has extended that deadline to 2035, recognising that the original timescale was unrealistic, since too much pain would have been caused to consumers.

Nevertheless, if climate change is to be arrested, the sale of ICE vehicles around the world will ultimately have to end. We must therefore hope that market conditions will improve.

In the meantime, the Government must keep under continuous assessment the need for grant intervention and do whatever is necessary to encourage the roll-out of a comprehensive charging infrastructure.

Most importantly, manufacturers should focus on producing competitively-priced EVs that people want to buy.

Halting climate change demands that the current decline in EV sales should be no more than a temporary phenomenon.

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