Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Electric Car Update

I hate to say "I told you so".

Sales of electric cars have been flatter than a worn-out battery: only 534 people took up the opportunity to buy a Government-subsidized electric vehicle (EV). That could be something to do with the fact that even with the rebate, it's still cheaper to buy a Ford Focus and 10 years' worth of diesel, and with the Focus you don't have range anxiety or resale values to worry about.

Bear in mind these 534 sales have been achieved with considerable publicity: last week's Saturday paper had a couple of prominent ads attempting to spark public demand for the various electric vehicles. I've yet to actually see one of the new generation of EVs on the street except for a couple of Smart EVs that were clearly being test-driven.

The manufacturers are, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, now assuming that many EVs will be second cars. Think about what that means. A 2-car family is a deeply car-dependent family. They're replacing one car with an EV, likely the smaller, more economical car used only for shorter journeys - dropping the kids off at prep school, trips to Waitrose or the acupuncturist or the hairdresser's, that kind of thing. The other car is likely to be a larger luxury model suitable for making longer journeys in comfort, and that continues to be a fossil-fuelled car. No doubt our middle-class couple will feel very smug about all they are doing for the environment, as they drive round to recycle their Telegraphs and Balsamic vinegar bottles, but remember that while we still mainly have fossil-fuelled grid electricity, an EV isn't that much greener than a small diesel car. So our 2-car household has made a few local journeys a little less polluting. It would've been much more effective to buy a bike, but of course our family probably already owns a few, which they will continue to load onto a bike rack on their SUV and drive out into the country where it's safe to ride them.

So, if the average EV buyer is a typical 2-car household, the good old taxpayer giving massive subsidies to help some of the wealthiest, most car-dependent and most polluting households continue pretty much as they are but feel less guilty about it. Is this really the Government's idea of progress in reducing our national carbon footprint? Oh - and I nearly forgot - an EV is just as bad for congestion as a fossil-fuelled car.

If, instead of spending £5000 a pop on putting in on-street charging points and subsidizing EVs for the wealthy, we invested the money in decent cycling infrastructure we'd save more carbon, reduce congestion and be less flabby into the bargain. And as other countries already know, cycling projects pay back the investment in economic benefits many times over.

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