Don't worry about the Boris Ban, there are bigger fish to fry...
The 2030 ICE ban should be the least of the car industry's worries
So there we have it. In an almost textbook demonstration of the kind of laughable narrow-mindedness that could only ever be the product of government thinking, the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel-powered cars from 2030 was announced the other day and with it came the myriad and inevitable claims that the announcement sounded the death knell for the internal combustion engine.
Almost before Boris had finished talking, the sort of people who like to prowl the streets of Highgate and Islington on their bicycles, towing their offspring behind them in those trailers that fit neatly into an HGV driver’s blind spot, were taking to the internet to celebrate the vanquishing of what is without question the greatest threat to mankind since that day Holland and Barrett on the Holloway Road ran out of organic quinoa.
Bullshit. The ban was brought forward by ten whole years in the space of a few months purely to enable Boris to ride into next year’s United Nations COP26 climate change talks in Glasgow on a shining white charger of progressive eco-ism. Unfortunately (and I’m going to stretch this horse metaphor here, so stay with me) if anyone were to look closely enough at this virtuous stallion, they would find a trojan horse stuffed fit to burst with false promises and known impossibilities.
The fact of the matter is this. Until we get to a point where an electric car can be charged from empty to full in less than three minutes, deliver a range of 350 miles regardless of the prevailing weather conditions, and be available in full working order on the second-hand market for less than a thousand Pounds, then the electric car cannot claim to be a better option for every driver in Britain than a petrol one. We’re not ten years away from that point. In fact, if that point is in Tokyo then we are currently just outside Trowbridge.
Don’t get me wrong, if you want an EV because you only drive two miles a day in London or because want to try a new motoring experience then that is totally fine. What I will say is that if you truly cared about the health of the planet you would cancel that order for a new Tesla and buy a lightweight, fuel-efficient used car. You would then use the money you have saved to keep that car running as efficiently, and therefore cleanly, as possible and only driving it when you absolutely must.
If you don’t give a shit about the upper atmosphere and just want to smoke bell-ends in chavved-up Huracans at the lights (and believe me, you would have my utmost sympathy if you did) then go ahead, buy a P100D and have at it. Just don’t think for a minute that you’re occupying some sort of moral high-ground. You’ll need a mint condition Citröen AX for that.
Besides, Boris’ ban on petrol engines is an issue for tomorrow. I reckon the car industry should be concentrating on some much more pressing problems in the here and now. The recent RNIB takeover of BMW’s design department is one that springs immediately to mind, but that really is small fry when compared to the big question. When did the car industry lose its sense of self-belief?
It can’t have been that long ago. This morning I was thumbing through an old copy of Autocar from 1996, anyone who read the mag during that halcyon era will remember the ‘Pink Pages.’ A section towards the back where the various makes and models available at the time were listed with some performance stats, the price and a little sum-up of the model.
It was whilst scanning these pages that something struck me. Pretty much every car maker on the list at that time seemed to field a range of models that had a clear and obvious purpose. BMW were fielding a range of neatly-styled executive saloons, estates, and coupes for drivers who liked to press on a bit. Over at Mercedes, stout, imposing fare was the order of the day with cars like the R129 SL topping the price lists. At the other end of the monetary scale Kia and Skoda were piling ‘em high and selling ‘em cheap with honest little sluggers like the Pride and the Felicia. Alright, they weren’t exactly world beaters, but at least they served a definite purpose. They possessed the kind of simplistic charm that you only really find in a car that may not be the best car in the world, but is very clearly the best car the people building it could make.
Back then it seemed that regardless of how the finished product stacked up against its oppo in a group test, you got the sense that the manufacturer had a clear idea of what kind of car it was they wanted to make, and if you didn’t like it then fine, because there would be plenty of others who would.
Sure, that kind of single-minded strategy doesn’t always work. Every once in a while you end up with an SZ or a Safrane, but for every miss there will be a big-titted hit like an Alfasud or a Clio Williams to make up for it in triplicate.
Now look at the new car market today. This week we’ve been reading road tests of Ford’s new Puma ST, a contrived gargoyle of a car which rather cleverly manages to defecate all over two of the highest peaks in the company's recent history at the same time.
Ford will tell you that this car exists purely because the market demands a jacked up faux-SUV version of a car much-vaunted for its performance and handling which is slower and less satisfying to drive than the car that spawned it.
Well that’s because the ‘market’ hasn’t got a clue what its talking about. If you start trying to build a car based purely on what some thicko in the street wants, then you’ll end up with a design brief that stipulates the car must go like a Pista, drink like a Polo, have more space than an Airbus, and cost slightly less than a second-hand condom. The result is inevitable, the finished product will be compromised.
Why do the captains of our industry listen to these people? Can you imagine Enzo Ferrari wandering around the streets of Modena with a clipboard conducting “Il researchi di marketissimo”? You can’t, because if he had then the 250 GTO would have ended up looking like a bloody Ssangyong Rodius.
This is a plea to the people who actually design and engineer the cars of today, and those who will ultimately be responsible for our motoring future: You need to lead from the front guys, go with your gut. You are smart people and if an imbecile like me can understand why bulbous jacked-up hatchbacks and battery-laden gin palaces are a technological cul-de-sac, then I’m sure you lot have known it for years.
And if you are the chairman of a car company, you need to remember that you are a figurehead in an industry of innovators who mobilised the entire planet and brought freedom to the masses in a way that no government, or liberating army ever did. So get off your arse, get down to the market research department, kick everyone out and then burn down the building.
Only when you’ve done that will you have the courage of your convictions you’ll need to get on the phone to Boris and tell him to listen here, and listen well.