Apart from everybody giving up eating meat, everyone ditching their diesel and petrol cars to drive a shiny new electric vehicle is the best contribution we can make to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The ideal, therefore, is for it to be as easy as possible for everyone to get their hands on an electric vehicle, but what are the bridges and roadblocks on the road to making that a reality?
Even in the UK, where we have a neo-liberal Tory government which is somewhat averse to doing anything that might be seen as in any way interfering in the freedoms of the market, money is being devoted to helping along the electric vehicle revolution. A maximum of £3500 is taken off the price of a new electric vehicle through a government grant scheme. Both Nissan and Hyundai, also provide a generous scrappage scheme for your old, polluting, internal combustion engine car.
The government generously supplies a £500 grant against the cost of a home charging unit. It is possible to get one installed, now, for as little as £99.
On July 19, 2018, the government achieved the passing of an act of Parliament, called the Automated and Electric Vehicle Act, to, among other things, improve the provision of electric vehicle charging facilities for the public. This is a somewhat late show of interest, as Ecotricity has — without any help from the government — already provided a comprehensive network of fast chargers on the motorway system, starting about 7 years ago. It could be said that Ecotricity and Nissan, which provided the actual chargers, have, in doing this one thing, done more than anyone else in the UK to enable the take-up of electric vehicles. Without a fast-charging network, no one can drive electric vehicles long distance, and so no one would buy an electric vehicle, other than perhaps as a second vehicle to be a local runabout.
However, regulations to set standards and provide some kind of coordination and oversight can only be a good thing. Despite there being plenty of charging stations on the motorway network, there are large areas of the country to which the network does not extend. There are also competing networks in operation, all with different means of access and payment, with no coordination or cooperation or jointly available information to harmonize them into a virtual single network. The siting of charging stations does not follow any kind of national plan, and is purely in accordance with the whims of providers.
In all countries, the provision of a coordinated and universally accessible charging network is probably one of the most important bridges towards the adoption of electric vehicles.
Other good news, is that the annual tax levied on vehicles used on public roads in the UK is set to £0.00 for electric vehicles. I have the pleasure each year of going on-line to renew my vehicle tax, and noting that it is still £0.00 that I am required to pay for the privilege.
Those with a cast iron constitution can enjoy the privilege of driving in London without having to pay either the congestion charge, or the new pollution charge. Those of a more nervous disposition, not wanting to brave the rigors of London driving, I advise you to park on the outskirts and use the London Underground trains, which are also electric, and much faster and less stressful.
Electric vehicles have no engine oil, filters, spark plugs, timing belts or clutches to need replacement. Even the brake components last a long time, as with electric vehicles, braking is achieved by electromagnetic, rather than friction systems. This all makes an electric vehicle cheap to run, as does the “fuel” cost of about £1 per 50 miles, compared to £6 per 50 miles for diesel or petrol (assuming 50 mpg, which is average in Europe, but apparently utterly unreasonable, impossible, and unobtainable in the Trumpian, parallel universe). Saving money is usually an incentive for people, but unfortunately, people are not necessarily aware of how much they will save on the cost of servicing, so these advantages might not be an incentive without more public information.
In some local areas, electric vehicle owners get free parking, and the privilege to drive in lanes reserved for buses and taxis, but these privileges are not widespread, so probably have little effect on people’s buying decisions.
Electric vehicles are more fun to drive, with better performance, and are far safer than internal combustion engine cars. They are safer because of the absence of an engine and gearbox in close proximity to the driver’s legs, and the generally more advanced automated safety systems built into electric cars.
So with all of these incentives, we could ask why is it that electric vehicles are not flying off the shelves (or out of the showrooms), like hot cakes?
There are a number of roadblocks
The biggest is probably inertia. Buyers, dealers, manufacturers, marketing people, and servicing centers are all geared up for internal combustion engine cars, so like a massive container ship, it takes a while to change course or even to slow down.
People who already own a perfectly good and relatively new car are not likely to swap it for an electric vehicle, and even if they did, the car would still exist on the road, so nothing would be solved. Unless governments are willing to step up in a big way to get these vehicles off the road, they will be there for many years to come. At the very least they should be running on bio-fuel.
People’s minds are conditioned to think of a car as something that goes vroom vroom, has this hot throbbing thing under the bonnet (hood), and makes lots of noise and smoke and tire squeal. Even the smell of hot engine oil provides an association with car trips gone by, and forms an element of childhood conditioning. That conditioning does not lead them to think of a clean, quiet, cool, and efficient electric car. They have been told that electric cars don’t have enough range, take ages to charge up, and are only good as a city runabout. That’s what people believe, and educating them with the real facts is going to take quite a while. People are creatures of habit, and the habit is to continue with what they have always known, in this case the internal combustion engine car.
Part of this habitual thinking is to assume that an electric vehicle is “filled up” just like their internal combustion engine cars. When told that an electric vehicle takes 30 min to charge up, perhaps they think of themselves standing there holding the plug, just like they hold the fuel gun when filling up their car. Whatever it is they think, they assume that 30 mins is too long. Electric vehicle drivers all know the reality is that mostly, the car is simply plugged in on returning home and left to charge up overnight. This is actually quicker and more convenient than driving all the way to a filling station, filling up with smelly fuel, and having to handle dirty filler caps and the like. In fact, counting the time it takes to drive there, fill up, and pay for the fuel, that could well be 30 min. As electric car drivers know full well, the 30 mins applies only on longer journeys, when charging up on the road. Here, the charging stop is combined with the rest-stop that a driver would normally make in any case. They plug-in on arrival, visit the lavatory and the restaurant, stretch their legs, have a drink and some fresh air, and then return to their car, with both the driver and their car charged up and ready to go. With an internal combustion engine car, the driver might have done all that, except plugging in, and then have to go to fill up with fuel as a separate job and hand over a fistful of banknotes for the privilege. These are the facts which any rational person would have to concede make an electric vehicle more convenient and pleasurable.
However, people are not rational, and hold on to their prejudices, insisting that they would only buy an electric car if it had 400 miles of range, and took only 5 mins to charge up. Here again, it is information and education that is needed to change these stubborn viewpoints.
Manufacturers have heavily invested in internal combustion engine vehicle technology and production systems, and have been more ready to put their energies into creating software in the engine management systems to cheat their way through emissions tests than to produce genuinely clean electric vehicles. Even genuinely cleaner internal combustion engine cars seem beyond their capabilities and desires. The manufacturers supplying the American market are whinging “bigley” about the modest fuel consumption standards they agreed during the Obama years, and now they have a more “sympathetic ear” in the White House.
The established manufacturers are very slow to invest in electric vehicles, and are not making them in the numbers that would even match demand. Had they matched the potential demand, then that demand would undoubtedly have gained momentum and increased further. Their cautious inertia is strangling the market. The only auto exec sleeping on the factory floor to to get his electric vehicles flying out the door in their thousands (and even one flying in space) is Elon Musk of Tesla.
Manufacturers also seem entirely clueless in the decisions they make. Nissan, for example, has produced the new 2018 Leaf with a 40 kWh battery and auto-pilot functions, but failed to provide active battery temperature management. It is otherwise a brilliant car, but people are either waiting for the 2019 version, which will probably have active battery temperature management, or are buying it and then complaining, when they find out that rapid charging is slowed right down to protect the battery from overheating. The Nissan Leaf has never had active battery temperature management, and seems to have managed with passive cooling, but expectations have increased since the first Leaf, and the bigger battery appears to need it.
Renault, in 2015, decided, in its wisdom, to replace the battery, motor, and inverter in its Zoe cars with a more efficient system, giving more range and faster home charging. Great news, except that to do that it decided to remove the rapid charging previously available. So, do these companies really think that people want electric cars that have limited or no rapid charging capabilities? Some people are getting paid big money for being big idiots, it would seem. Although in 2017, Renault reintroduced rapid charging as an option for the 40 kWh version of the Zoe car, none of these mistakes help to build any bridges to the adoption of electric vehicles.
Dealers “know” internal combustion engine cars, but know little about electric vehicles. It has been reported that in the USA, dealers are keeping their electric vehicles well hidden, round the back, where they keep their less desirable stock. It is said they try to steer people towards buying an internal combustion engine car, which they know all about, and actively discourage people from asking about electric vehicles to avoid getting out of their comfort zone in having to try to explain a car they are relatively ignorant about.
Dealer’s business models have a heavy reliance on income from servicing and repairs, which internal combustion engine cars require a great deal more than their electric counterparts. Dealers, therefore, have a vested interest in keeping things just as they are, and so have no reason to encourage the sale of electric vehicles. It is little wonder that Tesla’s business model does not include dealers at all. Tesla deals directly with buyers and cuts out the middleman altogether, and bypasses all that hot resistance in the dealer component on the sales “circuit-board.”
I try to insulate myself from the mental pollution of advertising as much as possible, but occasionally I catch glimpses of the latest offerings from the car manufacturers. They are still trying to do everything in their power to convince people to buy internal combustion engine cars. Advertising for internal combustion engine cars should be banned, or forced to show severe health warnings like cigarettes. Rather than trying to make them look sexy and desirable, they should show a health warning, that “internal-combustion-engined cars will seriously damage your health, causing global warming, asthma, lung cancer, heart disease, dementia, and mass extinction.”
2) Big Oil
I haven’t even mentioned “Big Oil” yet. If everyone was absolutely clear about the facts — rising sea levels, extreme temperatures, and weather, crop failures, starvation, mass extinction, all caused by man-made mayhem — then people would be clear about what they need to do. We all know by now that the oil industry knew 50 years ago all about greenhouse gases, and the effect that extracting and burning fossil fuels would have on the climate. We also know these foolish people valued money more than life, more than the survival of planet Earth and everything alive on it, and tried to actively conceal the facts.
You cannot eat money, drink it, or breath it. Money is valueless; it’s an illusion to think it is worth anything. To be alive, on a living, thriving planet, that is the precious thing, the most precious thing in the entire universe.
So, we have had decades of deliberate falsehoods and propaganda to try to convince people that they can carry on burning the oil and the gas and the coal, and it won’t make any difference. “Hey, the planet gets warmer sometimes, so don’t worry your head about it: just keep buying 4-liter pick-up trucks and SUVs that do 10 miles to a gallon, because that’s your right. These pesky interfering governments and lefty scientists have no right to be telling you how to spend your money. You spend it how you like, just so long as you keep our oil flowing out, and our cash flowing in.”
In 2008, a Gallup poll showed that in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, although around 97% of people in each country knew about global warming, less than 50% believed it was anything to do with human activity, but around 70% believed it would have serious consequences. 10 years later, things are probably not that much better, and those who live in the parallel Trumpian Universe do not believe in climate change at all, as everyone knows that it snows in the winter, and it’s all a Chinese plot, aided and abetted by lefty scientists.
When there is a massive problem facing the entire planet, crying out for immediate and dramatic solutions, it does help if everybody is aware that there is a problem and all understand, and accept the science that explains the nature of the problem, and how it can be solved. It does not help if vested interests are putting out lies and propaganda, and people are swallowing the story.
Perhaps now that everything is becoming so much more extreme, with heat waves and wildfires this summer, hurricanes, and flooding in the spring, and freezing weather with blizzards all last winter despite record temperatures in the Arctic, perhaps people’s complacency might be shaken. They might just start to see the reality and start facing it. When and if they do, one of the biggest things they can do is to get an electric car.
In the meantime, Big Oil continues spending $billions on propaganda, misinformation, and buying politicians to ensure the oil keeps flowing, even if that means the destruction of all life on the planet. In any sensible society the people responsible would be imprisoned by now, for crimes against humanity and their little game well and truly stopped.
The only legitimate purpose of any elected government is to organize our society for the maximum benefit of all of us. What we have is money paying for lobbyists to influence government to serve the interests of the corporations. We have corporate money paying for those expensive political campaigns just so long as the politicians remember who got them elected when it comes to what they vote for. If politicians vote against corporate interests they won’t be getting any more of those nice corporate pay-outs.
We need politicians who are dedicated to serving everyone’s needs, and ensuring that the very best happens for everyone. What we get are politicians who ensure they personally get the best of everything, and are dedicated to serving their own short-term and rather short-sighted interests. Without courting lawsuits by naming any particular parties or individuals, it certainly seems that politics, in many nations, has become corrupt, and some people sit firmly in the very deep pockets of the corporations, and instead of being champions of the people, are just glove-puppets on the hands of the rich and powerful.
At a time when we all face imminent catastrophe and disaster that needs every man woman and child to be mobilized as if for war against the common foe of man-made climate change, we have governments doing little or nothing. Where we need governments to be very actively suppressing fossil fuel exploration, extraction and supply, and actively promoting renewable energy, electrified transport, and energy efficiency, we have complacency at best, and at worst politicians actively working against all that is needed.
4) Up-front Costs
A less grandiose, but much more significant, roadblock is the cost of acquiring and insuring an electric vehicle. The vast majority of people do not ever buy new cars. Where people talk of cars such as the Tesla Model 3, 2018 Nissan Leaf, Opel Ampera, or Hyundai Ioniq as being “affordable,” this is only so in the sense of no less affordable than similar cars. It is just as well most governments are providing grants to make electric vehicles about the same price as comparable internal combustion engine vehicles, but if anything they need to be made cheaper. Used cars are also a problem, as here in the UK, it is not possible to get a full-sized electric vehicle for less than £5000, an amount not within the reach of everyone.
Insurance is also more, and in a recent CleanTechnica article is cited as being up to 60% more.
So that is the background against which we are trying to promote the adoption of electric vehicles. We have big roadblocks and few bridges. What should be happening?
Every nation needs to:
- Stop subsidizing fossil fuel, as from today.
- Put sufficient tax on fuel to make it expensive, so that 1) and 2) combined will force people to take up alternatives.
- Put annual taxes on each vehicle, proportionate to the level of CO2 and pollution it produces.
- Create clean air zones in cities where only electric vehicles may be used.
- Ban the sale of all new internal combustion engine vehicles by 2030.
- Provide scrappage schemes so that older heavily polluting vehicles may be removed from the road, and the owners suitably compensated.
- Nationally coordinate and regulate the electric vehicle charging network so that chargers are rationally distributed, and are universally accessible to all electric vehicle drivers. Charging stations should be situated every 50 miles at most on all major highways, and available at destinations.
- Ensure information is provided, easily available to all electric vehicle drivers, to enable them to locate all the chargers on any route, even when provided by different companies.
- Ensure a common and convenient payment method, to be the same for every driver at every charging station.
- Create national advertising campaigns to educate people about electric vehicles, and encourage them to make the switch to clean transport.
- Ban advertising of internal combustion engine vehicles.
- Ensure that all new buildings have suitable, easily accessible, wiring for the provision of level II chargers, and sufficient spaces for vehicles.
- Ensure that charging points can be provided on the street, where cars have no access to off-street parking.
- Provide grants for the provision of home and on-street charging points.
- Provide grants for the purchase of new electric vehicles, to ensure that they are no more expensive to buy than their internal combustion engine equivalents.
- Set up a Green Investment Bank to provide low- or zero-interest rates for companies and individuals buying low carbon equipment, especially electric vehicles, including used electric vehicles.
- Work with insurance companies to ensure that insurance for electric vehicles is not more expensive than for similar internal combustion engine cars.
- Encourage the installation of more and more renewable energy sources and storage facilities, by individuals, communities, and energy providers to provide power for charging vehicles.
- I’m sure there must be more. People are welcome to make suggestions in the comments below this article.
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