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Internal Combustion Cars: To Buy, Or Not To Buy

Contrary to Shakespeare’s existential question, to buy or not to buy an internal combustion car is a very simple question with an even simpler answer. No!

In the comments section of this and other websites I see often the discussion about what to do when there is no good fully battery-electric vehicle (BEV) available for an acceptable price. Many have lengthy arguments justifying their opinion on what carmakers have to do or stop doing to provide the missing BEV. But it is really simple and not about BEVs. The choice comes down to buy or not to buy an ICE vehicle.

Well informed buyers will not buy a new ICE vehicle, period.

But… but… but… I hear the many objections. Why a new vehicle is absolute necessary, that I am exaggerating, that I am in panic mode, that I am a nitwit, etc..

Call me whatever you like, but do the math yourself. We need to reach net zero at 2050, preferably sooner and without burning the carbon budget for a 1.5°C global temperature rise. With current policies it will be difficult to stay within the 2°C budget, but that is another discussion.The year 2050 is the date, and road transport is the low hanging fruit of the decarbonization. We can not afford to fail here. If we fail here, we fail everywhere.

The math is not difficult. A new car has an average lifespan of 23 years in Europe, and decades longer in Cuba. The US is somewhere in between.

There are many younger cars that are a total loss. Those that die young make the life expectancy of those that reach middle age a lot longer than the average does suggest. Europe and the US export many used cars. They get a longer life elsewhere. The real lifespan of a car is much longer than the average in Europe and the US. It is probably closer to 30 years.

To get to zero emissions in 2050, the last fossil fuel vehicle should be sold at least as many years as its expected lifespan before that date. Preferably a few years sooner — oops, that would have been in the previous decade. Many ICE cars sold this year will still be going strong in 2050. Perhaps not in the country where they were sold, but somewhere around the world.

Not just the cars in Europe or the US or China, South Korea and Japan, but all the cars in the world must be zero emissions by 2050. That is why we should not add any more cars with a tailpipe to the world fleet. There are edge cases where a PHEV is an acceptable alternative, but those are few and ignored in this discussion.

For internal combustion cars produced today and in the next year, the future is a total loss or forced early retirement after fast depreciation. Buying new ICE vehicle now makes you responsible for creating a problem in the future.

That makes this a very simple situation. A responsible, well-informed person will not buy a new ICE vehicle. When a capable fully electric car is not available or not affordable, buy a used ICE and help it get to the recycler (if you can afford it) as soon as you can switch to fully electric.

I realize this is a harsh question and answer. The public is not ready to stop buying new tailpipe-equipped vehicles. The industry is not ready to make all the BEVs we need. The politicians are not ready to tell it is today (yesterday, to be completely honest) that we must stop buying what we have been buying for over a century. The CEOs of Stellantis, Renault, VW Group, BMW, and probably some other colleagues have asked the politicians to slow down. They think 2035 for Europe and a decade or more later for the rest of the world is wrong. Too big a disturbance of the industry and economy. Too many workers losing their job.

They are wrong, the time is now.

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Written By

Grumpy old man. The best thing I did with my life was raising two kids. Only finished primary education, but when you don’t go to school, you have lots of time to read. I switched from accounting to software development and ended my career as system integrator and architect. My 2007 boss got two electric Lotus Elise cars to show policymakers the future direction of energy and transportation. And I have been looking to replace my diesel cars with electric vehicles ever since. At the end of 2019 I succeeded, I replaced my Twingo diesel for a Zoe fully electric. And putting my money where my mouth is, I have bought Tesla shares. Intend to keep them until I can trade them for a Tesla car. I added some Fastned, because driving without charging is no fun.


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