New sales of petrol and diesel cars will be banned by 2040 in the UK, which has since been joined by France.
Sweden and Scotland will impose the ban by 2032, and Norway by 2025. Coupled with increasing concern over the carcinogenic effects of diesel emissions, the Volkswagen defeat device scandal, and the link between diesel particulates and Alzheimer’s, focus has turned again to electric cars.
There is still much debate about the long-term environmental benefits of electrically powered cars. What fuel mix will the power stations that generate the electricity be using, for example, and what are the implications for the environment of widespread battery production and disposal? Nevertheless, the key message in the Clean Air Plan is the need for an improvement in air quality for the benefit of human health and therefore the removal of petrol and diesel cars from built up areas. It is not an academic argument on the holistic environmental impact.
The electric car actually predates the use of the internal combustion engine in vehicles. Electric vehicles were popular until their complete decline in the 1930s due to cheaper petroleum fueled cars such as the Model T Ford. Nevertheless, battery technology has now reached a point where it could be a viable alternative to the use of fuels.
In the last decade, manufacturers’ hybrid and electric offerings have grown – but the market is still small. Only 1.84% of new vehicles sold were wholly electric and 3.46% hybrid (a combination of a smaller internal combustion engine supported by electric propulsion) in September 2017, although this represents an increase of 0.29% and 1.39% respectively on September 2016 figures.
According to a 2014 government survey, consumer resistance to adoption is largely due to concerns over recharging and “range anxiety”, with consumers worrying about how far they can actually go on a charge.
In fact, the average annual mileage of a privately owned car in 2016 was 7,500 miles, equating to only 28.9 miles per day – assuming that the car is used for commuting five times per week. This is easily within the range of electric cars, which typically boast ranges of over 100 miles.
Fit for purpose?
Electric cars arguably suit our modern, digital lives far more than the faithful old internal combustion engine – and most of us are now more attuned to plugging in devices that support our daily lives. Surely visiting a fuel station once or twice a week for about ten to 20 minutes should be a rather alien and outdated concept in an instantly connected, plug-in culture many now live in.
Indeed, the idea of plugging your car in at the end of the day is just a logical extension of the need to plug in your phone, your laptop, tablet or even your toothbrush.
Another questionable factor is what happens if the battery just runs out? We’ve gotten used to portable batteries in our lifetimes and we all know the annoyance of our phone’s battery running out. But this may not be an issue among younger generations. My two-year-old son picked up my scale model of a Ferrari 355 (yes, this is being written by a petrol head), pointed to the engine compartment and said, “daddy, batteries go here”. I grew up maintaining cars with my father, so this was quite a shock – but also a revelation. A cultural shift is underway.
There is already a growing infrastructure in the UK for electric vehicles with 14,548 charging points in 5,207 locations (in comparison to 8,459 fuel stations). There are now on-street chargers in most cities and dedicated parking bays in motorway service stations, although access is more limited in rural areas.
Even if charged at home, the range of most current models should be sufficient for the majority of journeys, with the exception of long distance trips, where a change of pace may need to be adopted to permit for the longer charging periods mid journey. For those who typically drive beyond the average range on a more frequent basis, a hybrid vehicle remains the most suitable option.
In any event, after over 140 years of virtually unrivaled domination, the innovation cycle has finally caught up with the internal combustion engine. The internal combustion engine is dead, long live the electric car.
China’s protectionist laws are currently being relaxed when it comes to electric vehicles, but there are still some rigorous restrictions. For example, Chinese electric vehicles need to be powered by Chinese batteries.
A new report now shows that Geely found a workaround for Volvo’s electric vehicles by using Korean batteries made in China and the competition isn’t happy about it.
China has some of the most generous electric vehicle incentives in order to accelerate EV adoption in an attempt to curb their air pollution issue.
But for a vehicle to be eligible for those incentives, it needs to be approved by authorities and for some subsidies, it includes being manufactured in China with Chinese batteries.
According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, Geely set up a subsidiary called Zhejiang Henguyan, which licenses and makes the exact same high-end batteries made by LG Chem in Korea.
The report revealed:
“A Geely spokesman confirmed that it struck a deal late last year to license LG battery technology, and that LG Chem has helped Hengyuan set up a production line. The batteries will also be used in cars made by another Geely brand, Lynk & Co., the spokesman said.
“This isn’t the use of a loophole or a back channel,” he said, adding that other companies “with the proper foresight could realize and create the same deal if required.”
Yet, other foreign companies are now complaining to the government claiming that it is an unfair a
While it’s unclear if it’s actually a loophole that needs to be fixed or simply something that the rules actually encourage since the batteries end up being produced in China. However, foreign companies claim they can’t do the same as Volvo because the Swedish automaker is unfairly treated due to the Chinese connections of its Chinese owner Geely.
Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson admitted last year that Geely allowed them to get control over their business in China:
“This is our second home,” Mr. Samuelsson said in response to a Journal question during a round-table interview last year. “We are the only [foreign auto] company that really has control over business” in China.
It looks like the tension is increasing as China’s ZEV mandate is starting next year and foreign automakers want to solidify their place in the biggest auto market in the world.