In-Depth: The rise of electric cars will free us from Putin's grasp
The in-depth series is a weekly column looking at hot motoring topics with a political twist.
During the G20 summit in Hamburg last year, Vladimir Putin took out his phone and Psy’s Gangnam Style began playing. He instructed Theresa May to climb onto the table and dance, a command she duly obeyed, spinning her lasso and riding her imaginary horse as if there were no tomorrow. How Putin laughed.
Very well, dear reader; that story is merely a figment of my creative imagination. Probably. But if it did happen, thanks to Russia’s greasy grip on the international oil industry, May would have had little choice but to do as she was told. Oil, like anything else, works on a basis of supply and demand. The more of it there is swimming around, the cheaper it is. That means its biggest exporters (read: Russia) have the power to manipulate the market and cause serious economic headaches for its customers, such as the UK and the US, at will.
In 2016, the last year for which there is reliable data, Russia churned out around 10.6bn barrels’ worth of oil every day, making it the world’s biggest producer of the fuel Geoff the Liverpudlian butcher needs in order to drive his Ford Mondeo to work in the morning. The British government does its best to stem Russian influence by buying from friendly countries like Norway wherever possible, but that doesn’t change the stark reality that Russia is the biggest player in the international oil trade.
There is very little we can do to keep the pesky Russians in line. They are already subject to all the sanctions and stern looks we can muster following their naughty dalliance in Ukraine and their alleged fondness for Facebook pages about American politics. Russia combines vast oil reserves and a thriving national industry with a large population and significant economic might, making it a petroleum powerhouse on which we are worryingly dependent.
At present, the US and most of Europe is chock-full of cars that combust internally, as they have been since before James May was born. As a result, their ability to function as nations is inextricably linked to the oil industry and therefore to Putin’s whims. But fear not, for this is the point where Elon Musk swoops in like an eagle calling “Kee-ow, kee-ow” as he as he descends to pluck us from the mire and lift us above the clouds and toward stratospheric economic independence and prosperity.
When not passing the days tweeting about red paint, Elon Musk has spent much of the past few years building an empire that will be – and, in fact, already is – instrumental in the worldwide electric vehicle revolution. As of December 2017, over 212,000 Tesla Model S units had been sold around the world, as well as 72,000 Model Xs, not to mention the droves of Model 3s which increase in number by the day.
Tesla, of course, is far from the only company contributing to this catatonic shift in the transport industry. Over 100,000 BMW i3s and Renault Zoes have been sold, and the best-selling electric car in the world is still the Nissan Leaf, which broke the 300,000-unit milestone in January of this year. Electric cars already make up over 1% of new car sales in the US as of last year and nearly 2% in the UK , with that figure reaching as high as 39% elsewhere in Europe.
Switching to electric vehicles allows us to sever the chains of fiscal dependence on Russia and, essentially, be self-sufficient in respect to this industry. It is true that most of our power stations still rely on fossil fuels, much of which is imported, but that is beside the point. We control our own electricity production, which means that as we switch to nuclear power and renewable energy sources, we are in a position to reap the financial rewards straight away.
Crucially, powering our cars with locally-produced electricity rather than foreign oil allows us to regain our economic sovereignty and operate free from reliance on Putin. Thereby, we can shore up our economic strength and position on the world stage, which will become increasingly important in the coming years thanks to Brexit.
So, at the next international leaders’ summit, Theresa May won’t have to bend over backwards at Putin’s command. Instead, she will be able to say, ‘Sod you, mate. I’ve got a Nissan Leaf.’