Why the UK's 2035 car ban is wrong

Three reasons that Boris Johnson is wrong about banning petrol/diesel/hybrid car sales in just 15 years

48w ago

Shahzad Sheikh – AKA Brown Car Guy – is an automotive journalist with three decades of experience on various titles including the Middle East edition of CAR Magazine and Used Car Buyer.


Earlier this month UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the government is bringing forward the deadline for the banning of new petrol, diesel and hybrid (yes even those) cars sales from 2040 to 2035. That’s just a decade and half from now.

Let that sink in for a moment. We’re talking about a world, a mere 15 years hence, in which you will not be able to buy 2.0-litre turboed hot hatches, W12 luxury, V8 muscle cars, or any fuel-burning exoticars. I do mean 'world' — don’t forget that most European countries are following suit with similar bans from 2025 onwards.

No more V8 musclecars

No more V8 musclecars

There is no doubt that as a human race we have collectively well and truly screwed up the planet. Extreme climate change, burning forests, melting ice caps and paper straws (anyone else hate those with a passion?) are clear evidence of this. So there is no dispute that action has to be taken now to curtail the impending disaster of making our only habitat, well… unhabitable.

However, demonising the car — which has thus far been the ultimate democratiser of mass movement, a symbol of personal freedom, and a metaphysical extension of our personalities (be it poseur, driver or adventurer) — is not only unfair, it’s a distraction and total red herring.

Transport is the number one contributor to climate change (followed by agriculture and industry) but it includes planes, trains and ships. Just 15 of the world’s largest cargo ships (there are more than 11,000 bulk carrier ships in total) produce more harmful emissions than the entire global car parc — that’s over 800 million vehicles. Put another 15 of those into service and all of us switching to electric will be rather pointless.

So here are three reasons the ban is wrong, and potentially counter-productive .

Spiders to be eradicated

Spiders to be eradicated

1. It’s the equivalent of nuking your house to get rid of a spider infestation

If you detest arachnids that’s probably a tempting course of action, and there’s no doubt it would be a highly effective. You would most definitely get rid of all the spiders in your house by nuking it. But you’d also vaporise the house and could never build another one there.

The government's aim is to phase out combustion-engined vehicles altogether by 2050 to achieve zero emissions. In the UK alone, that means over 30 million passenger cars. Some blame the car industry for our problems, but for car makers (most of which have already developed and readied electric car technology) this news is manna from heaven: “Oh what was that Prime Minister? You’re going to get everyone to scrap their cars and they all have to buy new ones? Great! Ramp up that production. Happy days are here again…” 800 million sales in the offing. Kerching!

Carlos Tavares, the boss of PSA, should be ecstatic, yet he's fuming. He warns that the industry has not been consulted, and asks what if, like diesel cars, in 10-20 years’ time we realise we hadn’t thought this through, and EVs were not such a great move after all? He cites a potentially huge cost to society in blundering down this path unwittingly. He's right.

There are massive issues over lithium mining and the extraordinary amounts of water required in the process. Energy is then needed to purify it, but contaminated water can reach the main arteries and masses of dead animals and fishes turn up in a river in Tibet near a lithium mine. Or in Nevada where dead fish were found 150 miles downstream from a lithium processing plant. Let’s not even get into the ethics of using child labour to mine for cobalt.

Add to this the cost, environmental and fiscal, of transporting batteries and new cars to market in the hundreds of millions. It certainly means more shipping — remember the cargo ships? Have we even accounted for a dust-to-dust comparison of a regular car capable of up to 30 years of service and an EV that will need battery replacing costing more than the value of the car itself in around 15 years and would therefore have to be scrapped and recycled?

2. Where do I bloody charge this thing?

Now we're getting into what really impacts you and me. Have you seen the queues at some Tesla charging stations in markets where it's popular? Imagine waiting for hours to get to charger and then waiting more hours to charge your car. Missing petrol yet?

The reality is that even in London, unless you have a home charging setup it's really not as easy to find charging points as you may think. And when you do, apart from queues you have to contend with broken or malfunctioning chargers, the wrong kind of charger, or fumbling around with unravelling cables and plugs. And then wait.

There's also the question of charging an entire nation of EVs by 2050. Apparently if we stagger the timings of when we all plug in, the current capacity of the national grid could handle it. But we humans are not sensible like that. Plug in simultaneously and we'd need double the number of nuclear power stations we presently have. Talking of nuclear power stations...

3. Captain, we're going to need more dilithium crystals

Can we just pause for a moment, and consider the alternatives? Hydrogen fuel cell cars are certainly one of them, especially as the waste product from the car itself is only water. But producing, storing and supplying hydrogen is fraught with dangers and difficulties (it has to be stored cryogenically) and it's far from efficient to produce (it's most commonly made from natural gas that has to be reformed into separate elements, namely hydrogen and carbon dioxide).

Hydrogen fuel cell cars could still be part of the solution to inner city pollution, which you would still get by the way, just as you do from full electric cars in the form of tyre, road surface and brake dust particulates that are both harmful to humans and the environment. In fact half of all pollution from road transport comes from this.

Meanwhile petrol and diesel engines have been getting cleaner and more efficient than ever, and despite 'Dieselgate' that's especially true of oil-burners. The latest Euro 6d-Temp diesel models emit about 71% fewer particulates than petrol cars, and 18% less CO2. They also absorb particulate matter from the air, so in effect they actually clean the air as they go! And as for banning hybrid cars - seriously?

Would you like carbon-neutral combustion engine motoring? We talk about reducing carbon emissions, but what about recapturing carbon back from the air? Oh yes, this is possible. Not only that, but we can extract CO2 from the air, combine it with water and hydrogen and produce synthetic fuel for both petrol and diesel engines. Fuel from thin air... for real!

How about everlasting, high energy, Diamond Batteries? It's an idea from the University of Bristol and Berkeley Power Station in the UK. To simplify, they reclaim carbon from the waste generated by Nuclear power plants. By heating irradiated graphite blocks, carbon is turned into gas which is compressed into diamonds, and the waste left is less radioactive. The diamonds are charged with energy and have a half life of nearly 6000 years. That makes them powerful batteries which effectively last forever. There are suggestions that these batteries could be used for pacemakers and space exploration, but it requires little imagination to consider what Diamond Batteries mean for electric cars.

I'm not being anti-EV, and there is no doubt that electric cars are a crucial part of the solution to the potentially catastrophic environmental and health issues we are now facing, but they're not the only answer. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater quite so eagerly.

Down with the system!

Who knows what the future holds, but you can stock up on some decidedly un-PC motoring goodies right here.

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Comments (138)

  • Very interesting piece which I have to agree with.

    I think the whole thing is very poorly assessed and the implementation is wrong.

    A lot of these energy saving ideas aren’t what they crack them up to be. We’ve been lied to about all this for years.

      11 months ago
  • Probably the best article I've ever read on drivetribe. Well done. It's not about which type of car or whatever; it's our whole economy, the number of people on the planet etc etc. We simply have to stop consuming stuff or will eat ourselves.

      11 months ago
    • Thanks so much for the great feedback! And you’re quite right.

        11 months ago
    • I try not to be all doom and gloom but it's a pain in the arse and I don't see anyone holding back on anything in any substantial way. In other news, I love my Jaaaaag. I buy older ones and use them for as long as possible. Repair and reuse something...

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        11 months ago
  • This article is a big glob of misinformation. We will start with the notion that driving an ev is a reduction in freedom. No just no. If an ev is done right, for example a Tesla, then the vehicle is just as convenient and freeing as any petrol car. Sure a Nisan Leaf or Chevy Bolt is cumbersome but that is old, obsolete tech. Right now only Tesla makes a nice ev but plenty more are coming. The notion that charging an ev is hard is also misinformation. Got a plug outlet at your house? Then you have a charging source. Drive more than 40 miles a day? Better add a 240 outlet instead of a 110. That is not expensive or hard. On the rare occasions you are driving a long distance then you will need fast chargers. This is why I say a Tesla is the only ev done right, it is the only vehicle that combines long range, fast charge, and has built out a charging network for people to use on road trips. The newer ev’s coming out from other automakers will include long ranges and fast charge times (also we are talking about minutes, 20-30 minute charges for a full battery not “hours” like the author lyingly wrote) and there are several 3rd party companies working on competing charging networks. The notion that by 2030 there won’t be ample charging infrastructure is just more misinformation.

    The author doesn’t even present the topic of the ban honestly. He tries to imply that all ice cars will be banned from existence writing, “You’re going to get everyone to scrap their cars and they all have to buy new ones?“ this is incorrect. The ban is a selling ban not an existing ban. You can keep you ice car as a relic of the past and maybe if ice cars are as loved as the author implies it will appreciate in value as it becomes more rare. Realistically it will deprecate to almost nothing as the new ev cars prove their worth and also city wide bans of all ice cars driving in them like London has proposed will crop up all over the place. The question being debated by 2030 will not be is an ev convenient enough to own, rather is an ice car convenient enough to own? Ice cars will be banned from certain cities, gas stations will start closing and you can’t fill an ice car with sunlight like you can an ev, and fixing your ice car will become impractical as I’ll talk about in the next paragraph.

    The author seems to think that cars are just made based on what the consumer wants. This is not entirely accurate. The auto manufacturing industry builds cars based on what is profitable not what consumers “want.” Its nuanced but important, right now the entire industry is built around ice cars, the entire supply chain is based around ice cars, and distribution networks are based on ice cars (dealers make most their profits from service rather than from sale of vehicles). What that brings to the market is scale and scale is everything in the industry. What this ban does is tell industry that in 15 years you need to have built out the infrastructure to build ev’s profitably at scale or your in trouble. Keep in mind England is not the only country proposing bans, several European nations, several U.S states and even China, the largest auto market in the world, will ban ice car sales. England’s proposed ban is not novel but more of a me too movement so debating it is pointless because why? SCALE! If the only market auto manufacturers can sale their ice cars in is England that is not enough scale to build profitable ice cars. Their actually is no debate about England banning ice cars or not, it’s something that is happening the world over the only question to debate is should England be a pioneer in the transition or a laggard?

    Given the scope of the true debate I can only conclude that this author is attempting to spread misinformation about ev cars and not create an actual dialogue about how the world should transition from ice.

      11 months ago
    • Your comments are absolutely laughable.

      At least 50% off homes in both Glasgow and Edinburgh alone have on street parking in flats and tenements. Who do these people charge a car at home. Most people in Scotland who use private vehicles to...

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        11 months ago
  • Your petrol car will become a classic, so as long as you can obtain fuel and parts for it,

    keep driving it :-)

      11 months ago
  • I think Boris has jumped on this a little too quick. I’m almost convinced he didn’t even glance at other alternatives. The whole car community is shouting for Hydrogen Cell cars to be considered more seriously but yet I feel we are being completely ignored. Again, I’m not completely anti-EV but where I live, an island in the middle of the North Sea, EV’s simply wont work for us. I have written more about that if you want to check that out on my account. Plug. I absolutely loved James Mays video on the Tesla vs His Hydrogen car he argued for both cars leaving you to decide and I think more should watch it, it was probably the video that made me not completely against electric. I would hate to see an entire car community collapse because of this, such a great community is just going to be gone like that and become a place torn between petrol and electric, no longer a place where we can all agree on something. I a young person of Britain want to become a mechanic but by the time that happens it’ll be all turning to electric and diagnostics instead good old fashioned mending a car which is what I want to do the old fashioned way. I feel my future is looking pretty grim if this maybe the case.

      11 months ago