The reality check on that 2030 deadline.
Time for me to throw my hat into the ring on this latest belch of eco-conservatism from a beleaguered government.
OK, 2030 is the deadline that the government has set to stop selling cars that are powered solely by a series of controlled explosions spinning a box of cogs. From 2030, you will only be allowed to purchase a few hybrids and fully electric cars.
No word on how they'll be energised though. This will either through conventional plug-in charging or through hydrogen fuel cells. There's a lot of guff about hydrogen in these latest talks on making Britain green. This lightest of gasses is going to be used to fuel our homes, cook our foods, heat our water and if we can get a functional system rigged up, possibly have the stuff pumped into our cars to make electricity.
The Toyota Mirai FCV.
Filling up, electrons vs octane
So, we'll have loads of electric cars. For most people this is fine. I mentioned range and the fact that it's not the problem a lot of EV haters crack it up to be in my mutterings on the Reader's Choice article for electric cars. Once we can get the average car buyer, or more and more these days, leaser, to understand that range isn't an issue, that you can take your Tesla to a car wash without finding yourself in a wheeled electric chair and that an electric car will fit into their lives with ease, possibly even more so than a petrol or diesel car. No more going to the filling station to find them closed, out of fuel, or having to deal with the single-brain-celled oik behind the counter. You can fill your car from home, socially distancing from the great unwashed, and not having to worry about who coughed on your charge leads in the same way someone might do with a petrol pump. A fuelling system for a Covid world. So once we can sell the customer on electric cars it's a case of making sure we have an infrastructure that can support every car in the UK chugging electrons, not octane?
Range anxiety, or are we all worrying about nothing?
How efficiently and quickly are we going to see an easy to use, cohesive system of chargers across the country at car parks, interchange parks, shopping centres, places of leisure. The biggest gripe of the system at the moment is that to charge your electric car on the road you need an entire app store of apps to top up on juice. Unless you have a Tesla in which case you're fine, but for people who don't bow down at the feet of Megamind Musk, it can be a bit of a pain. Can the government ensure we'll have the means to make this work, or will the AA be swamped with calls of empty electric cars?
Finding a charging spot is alright for some!
Long-run costs to normal people?
But this new deadline sends out a new series of problems, what about the cheaper end of the scale? Budget cars, second-hand cars and the market they exist in? Let's do some maths here, the Dacia Sandero starts at £7,995. It is the cheapest new car you can buy. You can get it on payments for less than a Sky bundle per month, it represents an incredible value for a new car. It comes with a three year, 60,000-mile warranty giving you a fairly stress-free three years of ownership. While yes this is the cheapest, no options, white goods spec car; speak to a dealership and I'm sure you can get a lot of options thrown in for a smaller amount of money than the website would have you believe. Or even a pre-reg. No new electric cars come close to this on price, even with the current government grants.
Lifted from Dacia's configurator, no options, nada, £7,995 and that is what you get.
Yes, the news has said that Rishi Sunak will be prying open his coin purse once more to find some dollar to make electric cars cheaper for normal customers. Currently, the government will give you up to £3000 towards the purchasing of an electric car. Or 35% of the car's value, up to that £3000 cap.
I do love a good spreadsheet, I won't lie.
But this handy screenshot of an excel spreadsheet I've made, we can see that even with that handout, you'd need to drive a Seat Mii Electric (the cheapest, and closest possible rival to the Sandero I could imagine) for 14-15 years! In that time you'd rack up an estimated 107,300 miles in either car, while the Dacia will be still chugging away, the batteries in that Seat are going to be like an iPhone's as soon as they release a new one. Add in things like depreciation, servicing and maintenance, and then resale the Sandero is still probably a more sensible buy, at current. Oh and if you lease the batteries that's another cost to think of, although as far as I'm aware this is a Renault thing.
Thankfully it looks like a normal car (see my moaning on the Mini Electric or the Tesla Model 3 in a different piece).
I'm going to upset a lot of people here, but if you watched series 27 of BBC's Top Gear you will have seen Paddy McGuinness battling with a second hand Nissan Leaf and it's withering range. The car had covered 80,000 miles, and barely had a range of 35 miles. And that's the thing, a second-hand electric car is largely no good to man nor beast when it has the range of nothing practical. The batteries are knackered. And while that episode did come out in 2019, and potentially those numbers were hyped up for the show, we know this is how batteries behave over long periods of use. I've already mentioned how phone batteries, Apple I'm looking at you, have a lifespan that makes a mayfly seem long-lived after a year of use, and when that happens with your car it's going to be horrendously impractical. So battery tech needs to advance considerably to allow electric cars to pay their way against petrol competitors. Or they need to become so much cheaper.
Paddy's less than efficient Leaf. Oh, and it's horrible to look at.
The potential cost of being affordable
So how much could we see the Treasury shelling out to make electric cars affordable? Well, the price gulf between the aforementioned Dacia and Seat is £11,805. But let's call it a nice round £10k, because while at the budget end of the spectrum the gaps are massive, but in the more middling ranges of cars, the gaps aren't terrible. Tread smartly with a configurator and you could have an R-Line Golf and an ID.3 for a pretty similar number, circa £32 grand. But with the Vauxhall Corsa, it starts at £16,440 for this new handsome little hatch, but want to plug it in instead of pump it up and you're looking at £26,640. Same car, same spec, SE, and a TEN THOUSAND POUND PRICE gap. So that's why I'm using that number.
Ok, so ten grand per new car, what does that equate to? Well if we say registrations are largely equal to sales, 2019 saw 2,311,140 new cars registered in the UK. While this was a drop compared to 2018, for the sake of ease, and because I can't read the future, we'll assume that come 2031 we can see the same number of registrations. And each of those is subsidised by 10,000 each to keep the prices at combustion engine levels. That means that the chancellor would need to find a whopping £2,311,140,000. Roughly. That's a predicted (and I'm not an economist) TWO-POINT THREE BILLION POUNDS. Nearly twice the net yearly income of Tesco. Although that is only enough to run the NHS for about six days. So not hugely expensive for what the government does shill out in comparison to what they usually are. But it is still money that has to come from somewhere, and with us not using petrol or diesel to move our motors, there'll be a drop off in fuel duty.
Have a stock photo of a man filling an RX-8. No word on the condition of its apex seals... probably shot to bits.
Per year the UK economy sees about £28billion come in from fuel duty, which is a fairly sizeable chunk, add in Vehicle Excise Duty or car tax to you and I, and that's another £5 million alone, which seems oddly low, so don't quote me on that. But essentially there's a small but used sector of the UK's economy that relies on us taxing our cars and filling them with a liquid that can go pop. And there's more news of the way the government pries money from our hands as motorists, with a 'pay per mile' scheme that's being looked at.
We are men with ven! (Yes, that's a Peepshow reference)
Looking beyond normal people buying cars, let's take a look at small businesses. How on earth are small businesses supposed to find the cash for an electric van? Ford's Electric-Transit will probably set tradies back about £36,000. Which is a lot for a van. The standard Transit Custom starts at £23,090. All of these are excluding VAT bare in mind, but that's still a £13,000 difference. The electric-Transit will have a range of 217 miles, but no word on what it'll do when sold as a giant flatbed with a tail-lift on the back acting as a massive air dam and loaded down with several tonnes of compressor and piping. Though I imagine that range is considerably less under those circumstances.
The E-Transit, no word on if it comes with a copy of the sun shoved atop the dash from the dealer or if that's a customer installed option still.
For example, back in June ended up driving our flatbed Transit to Bolton and back in a day and the 171-mile drive one way (!), would leave us hoping that the client had the facilities to charge the van up while we work. Instead, we just went to the Shell station up the road and that was that. For commercial vehicles to move to electricity the consumer and their client need to be prepared for this. It's no good rocking up at a site three hours late because Steve forgot to charge the van? Imagine being an electrician and arriving on-site with the first job being to install a charging point in a muddy field so you can charge your hyper-expensive van before building some cookie-cutter newbuilds where a newt once was (I don't much care for newbuilds as my once lovely rural town has become littered with them, the only upside is that they build one set on some marshland and Mother Nature is making a good go of reclaiming them, anyway, back to the show). So vans need to be looked at otherwise the country will grind to a standstill. All the Amazon drivers (other delivery services are available) in my area drive a tattered old van, a Renault Traffic with a zillion miles on it, a Transit that's more rust than it is white paint, these workers cannot afford to shell out nearly £40,000 for a van. They probably only paid £40 for the one they have!
Stop throwing my parcels over the gate when it says fragile on the packaging!
A little pick (up truck) me up?
And it's not just vans! We all coo at the Rivian pick up truck and Tesla cyber truck, but what good are they when they are still a bit of a pipe dream? We're looking at replacing our Hilux at the moment. It's done 113 thousand miles and never put a foot wrong. It'll do about 420 miles to a tank of diesel, tow three and a half tonnes, with a tonne in the load bed and five people in the cabin and not even bat an eyelid. It towed the big transit out of one of the fields when the Ford was way laden with an entire tree. Yes, electric motors have immense torque, but we walked into a Nissan dealership a few weeks ago, an amicable chap called James showed us his lot full of Navaras, laid the specs bare, told us exactly what we want, and that if we went pre-reg right that instant, we could have the grey one over there. Dad is still pondering over this, as it is his business, and his money going on it, but before we'd returned from the dealership James had emailed over the brochure, a list price for the spec we wanted, some estimated build dates, and the list of pre-registered trucks he had coming in. There is no electric pick-up on the market, let alone one with such a well-based dealership system that you can buy one at the drop of a hat. Largely pick-ups like vans are tools. Businesses buy them because they can tow, carry, lug, and lump with ease. Those who like Burberry buy a pick-up and slap a horrendous body kit on it and think they are flash (the Ford Ranger, and the reason we didn't look at one, plus the local Ford dealer is pants). The pick-up truck industry has less than a decade to find a way of convincing every pick-up truck owner that an electric one will meet their needs. At least 300 miles range, towing 3.5 tonnes, and a tonne in the boot.
This is the JAC Shuailing T6. Get the i3-T330 spec and you get a 67.2 kW battery. Only if you're in China though...
This is where the Defender comes in. Or rather, it used to. Farmers owned Defenders because they were a tool. As simple as a hammer and could largely be fixed with one. The new Defender is not a tool for farmers, because they buy pick-up trucks. Japanese pick up trucks like the Hilux, Navara and D-Max because they don't go wrong, cost very little to buy (we were offered £23,000 for a top-spec Navara with 700 miles on it). As a tool, they are indispensable but could vanish by 2030 if there isn't a viable replacement.
Yup, that just screams "good for the environment".
Down on the farm?
Talking of farmers, tractors? Combines? The guzzlers of red diesel that clutter up the country roads in late August when the harvest starts. Are they going to be going electric? Because Messrs Fergusson, Deere, Case and Fendt will need to start buying shares in Duracell asap. Currently, you can buy an electric tractor, it's the Farmtrac 25G. It has no fast charging option, so once you've used it for it's run time of 6-7 hours (machinery like this is measured in run time, not miles typically) it'll have to be put in a barn with a charging unit overnight, meaning you'd need two of them to do a 24-hour harvest shift. But good luck affording two as this thing costs around twice it's diesel comparative at £21,000. Oh, and it is tiny. Enough for a smallholding, or large stableyard, or if I wanted to top the paddocks. It's for groundskeepers and greenskeepers. If I took it up to our big field's it'd take me months on end to plough them (yes, I'm a bit of a farmer). A 21kW/h battery, that'll power the tractor and its power take-off too to run mowers, threshers and other tools. But it just isn't big enough. Agriculture in the UK and I use that to cover both arable and livestock, are becoming incredibly green. Barns and sheds provide brilliant acreage for solar panels. Adam Henson for instance has 50kW's worth of panels on his farm which makes a tidy £5,500 of electricity per year. Instead of pumping that into the grid, he could be pumping it into a fleet of electric tractors and combines. It wouldn't be horrendously far fetched as a concept. Many farms use bio-respirators that employ clever biology and cattle droppings, mulch, chaff and so on to make electricity. Compared to a harvester or tractor that can drink around 60-80 litres of red diesel per hour this would be a huge saving, and potentially one that might trickle down to food prices. The options are there, but again, it's the cost that is the issue. Farming in the UK is a knife-edge industry with hair-fine profit margins and would benefit from cheap to fuel tractors, but they need to be cheap to buy too. And you need to convince one of the most conservative groups in the UK to make a change from a means of work they know is reliable and made of baler twine. JCB also do an electric excavator. Should mention that at this point before we truck on.
I like trucking
To trucks. Lorries, artics, semis, big rigs. Everything I've said about vans, pick-ups, and tractors applies here too. Although the margins for electric lorries to earn their stripes back through miles compared to a conventionally fueled rival are closer. An HGV will cover about 10 times the distance a family car does in a year, so will take about ten times less to earn itself back. So about 3 years before it's cheaper, in the long run, to go electric over diesel (using our maths from the Dacia/Seat argument above). But where are these electric trucks? Volvo, Renault, Mercedes and famously Tesla all have models in the works. But how long will it be before they are fully integrated into our road network engaging in hour-long overtaking moves? High quantity production models are still a year or two away, which means we have a few more years of enjoying the lovely sound of a Scania V8 (It has no right to sound that good, like a muscular fart).
"Your point in all of this is?"
Well, it is doable. This could work. But it'd take a massive cumulative effort from hundreds of manufacturers, unions, arms of government, and of course, buyers. The finances of this whole debacle are far beyond someone who got a D in maths at A-Level, but what's to stop someone at the Bank of England photocopying enough £10 notes to make it all work? Asides from the hyperinflation and collapse of the pound... But maybe this is just a pipedream released by a government that is losing favour with the public. A press release to turn our attention elsewhere while something more nefarious goes down? Or to quote Obadiah Stane from Iron Man "we built that thing to shut the hippies up!". Who knows the real reason behind this surprisingly ecoconscious newsletter from the mop-headed one. I sure don't but hopefully, due to my ramblings, you're a bit more abreast of how it might not be as feasible as one might hope. Don't get me wrong, as a zoologist and ecologist I want to preserve the environment and its resources as much, if not more than the next man, unless he's George Monbiot. But is this plan as practical as we've been lead to believe? Hmmm...