I love electric vehicles. But increasingly I feel duped

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   / I love electric vehicles. But increasingly I feel duped #1  

jeff9366

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Rowan Atkinson

Electric motoring is, in theory, a subject about which I should know something. My first university degree was in electrical and electronic engineering, with a subsequent master’s in control systems. Combine this, perhaps surprising, academic pathway with a lifelong passion for the motorcar, and you can see why I was drawn into an early adoption of electric vehicles. I bought my first electric hybrid 18 years ago and my first pure electric car nine years ago and (notwithstanding our poor electric charging infrastructure) have enjoyed my time with both very much. Electric vehicles may be a bit soulless, but they’re wonderful mechanisms: fast, quiet and, until recently, very cheap to run. But increasingly, I feel a little duped. When you start to drill into the facts, electric motoring doesn’t seem to be quite the environmental panacea it is claimed to be.

As you may know, the government has proposed a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030. The problem with the initiative is that it seems to be based on conclusions drawn from only one part of a car’s operating life: what comes out of the exhaust pipe. Electric cars, of course, have zero exhaust emissions, which is a welcome development, particularly in respect of the air quality in city centres. But if you zoom out a bit and look at a bigger picture that includes the car’s manufacture, the situation is very different. In advance of the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow in 2021, Volvo released figures claiming that greenhouse gas emissions during production of an electric car are 70% higher than when manufacturing a petrol one. How so? The problem lies with the lithium-ion batteries fitted currently to nearly all electric vehicles: they’re absurdly heavy, many rare earth metals and huge amounts of energy are required to make them, and they only last about 10 years. It seems a perverse choice of hardware with which to lead the automobile’s fight against the climate crisis.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of effort is going into finding something better. New, so-called solid-state batteries are being developed that should charge more quickly and could be about a third of the weight of the current ones – but they are years away from being on sale, by which time, of course, we will have made millions of overweight electric cars with rapidly obsolescing batteries. Hydrogen is emerging as an interesting alternative fuel, even though we are slow in developing a truly “green” way of manufacturing it. It can be used in one of two ways. It can power a hydrogen fuel cell (essentially, a kind of battery); the car manufacturer Toyota has poured a lot of money into the development of these. Such a system weighs half of an equivalent lithium-ion battery and a car can be refuelled with hydrogen at a filling station as fast as with petrol.

If the lithium-ion battery is an imperfect device for electric cars, it’s a complete non-starter for trucks because of its weight; for such vehicles hydrogen can be injected directly into a new kind of piston engine. JCB, the company that makes yellow diggers, has made huge strides with hydrogen engines and hopes to put them into production in the next couple of years. If hydrogen wins the race to power trucks – and as a result every filling station stocks it – it could be a popular and accessible choice for cars.

But let’s zoom out even further and consider the whole life cycle of an automobile. The biggest problem we need to address in society’s relationship with the car is the “fast fashion” sales culture that has been the commercial template of the car industry for decades. Currently, on average we keep our new cars for only three years before selling them on, driven mainly by the ubiquitous three-year leasing model. This seems an outrageously profligate use of the world’s natural resources when you consider what great condition a three-year-old car is in. When I was a child, any car that was five years old was a bucket of rust and halfway through the gate of the scrapyard. Not any longer. You can now make a car for £15,000 that, with tender loving care, will last for 30 years. It’s sobering to think that if the first owners of new cars just kept them for five years, on average, instead of the current three, then car production and the CO2 emissions associated with it, would be vastly reduced. Yet we’d be enjoying the same mobility, just driving slightly older cars.

We need also to acknowledge what a great asset we have in the cars that currently exist (there are nearly 1.5bn of them worldwide). In terms of manufacture, these cars have paid their environmental dues and, although it is sensible to reduce our reliance on them, it would seem right to look carefully at ways of retaining them while lowering their polluting effect. Fairly obviously, we could use them less. As an environmentalist once said to me, if you really need a car, buy an old one and use it as little as possible. A sensible thing to do would be to speed up the development of synthetic fuel, which is already being used in motor racing; it’s a product based on two simple notions: one, the environmental problem with a petrol engine is the petrol, not the engine and, two, there’s nothing in a barrel of oil that can’t be replicated by other means. Formula One is going to use synthetic fuel from 2026. There are many interpretations of the idea but the German car company Porsche is developing a fuel in Chile using wind to power a process whose main ingredients are water and carbon dioxide. With more development, it should be usable in all petrol-engine cars, rendering their use virtually CO2-neutral.


Increasingly, I’m feeling that our honeymoon with electric cars is coming to an end, and that’s no bad thing: we’re realising that a wider range of options need to be explored if we’re going to properly address the very serious environmental problems that our use of the motor car has created. We should keep developing hydrogen, as well as synthetic fuels to save the scrapping of older cars which still have so much to give, while simultaneously promoting a quite different business model for the car industry, in which we keep our new vehicles for longer, acknowledging their amazing but overlooked longevity.

Friends with an environmental conscience often ask me, as a car person, whether they should buy an electric car. I tend to say that if their car is an old diesel and they do a lot of city centre motoring, they should consider a change. But otherwise, hold fire for now. Electric propulsion will be of real, global environmental benefit one day, but that day has yet to dawn.



 
   / I love electric vehicles. But increasingly I feel duped #2  
Sadly, even well-meaning regulations often end up being a slight-of-hand parlor trick rather than an actual improvement.

There is a reason stories like "The Emporer's New Clothes" have been passed along for centuries.
 
   / I love electric vehicles. But increasingly I feel duped #5  
They say Mr. Bean is worth about $150,000,000, not bad huh? I agree with most of his arguments other than Increasingly, I’m feeling that our honeymoon with electric cars is coming to an end, and that’s no bad thing. I believe the internal combustion engine for personal transportation will cease to exist only because of its complexity. Electricity storage and generation will continue to evolve.


Actor Rowan Atkinson was hurt when he crashed his McLaren F1 supercar into a tree in Cambridgeshire.
The Blackadder and Mr Bean star suffered a shoulder injury in the accident, near Peterborough.
He is said to have walked from the car, which caught fire, after the crash on the A605 at Haddon on Thursday evening and waited for an ambulance.
Atkinson, 56, was admitted to Peterborough City Hospital and discharged on Friday afternoon.

A spokeswoman for Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service said: "Crews brought the fire under control by 8.13pm. They made the vehicle safe and used one hose reel to put out the fire.

Top Gear challenge​

"There was one casualty but he was not trapped."

East of England Ambulance Service said a man had been taken to Peterborough City Hospital with "a minor shoulder injury" following the crash.

Atkinson, known to be a car enthusiast, recently topped the leader's board on BBC Top Gear's Star in a Reasonably Priced Car contest.
He told presenter Jeremy Clarkson he was keen on racing and was currently driving a 1964 Ford Falcon.
The star notched up the fastest time on the show, broadcast on 17 July, completing the circuit in a Kia Cee'd in 1 minute 42.2 seconds.
Atkinson achieved fame through BBC shows Not The Nine O'Clock News and Blackadder, before gaining international recognition in Mr Bean, in which his hapless character drives an old Mini.
 
   / I love electric vehicles. But increasingly I feel duped #7  
Well Jeff that a real sign of intelligence, you listen to both side and changes your mind... The first time I heard the 2023 net zero emission I saw it like a electoral promise, just something someone said because it sound good and will get him votes but in reality he knows nothing about it and he has no clue how to achieve it therefore it will never happen since there is no plan backing that up ... yet it drives the whole market making every aspect of it profitable... The fight againts climate will be our downfall and the end of humanity, they are directly going against our food industry, supply and transportation so there is no way this will end well if it persist.
 
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   / I love electric vehicles. But increasingly I feel duped #8  
Candidly, I don't care one way or another. Don't do toaster cars here anyway.
Yep, never be one in this yard. This whole ban on internal combustion is going to be a complete failure. And despite all the "posing" by manufacturers claiming they are playing along....GM just invested billions in a new gas engine and even the president of Toyota has come forward and said there will always be a gas engine in the Toyota lineup.
There's even a small town here in Northern Ontario that has had to turn away businesses because of a lack of electric grid. So how will that work if everyone has to have an electric car? Bahahahaha.

Anyway, keep up the electric propaganda. It's giving me ALL kinds of work in the mining industry where I make lots of money to buy fuel of any price, LOL
 
   / I love electric vehicles. But increasingly I feel duped #9  
I keep getting this ad for a Mack Class 6 straight truck (battery powered) with a whopping 200 mile range on it. I don't think so. I find the entire electric vehicle thing to be a bad joke. Maybe in 100 years but not now.
 
   / I love electric vehicles. But increasingly I feel duped #10  
If someone was serious about electric alternatives as a policy maker, they would start by increasing electric production from all sources. Not one fossil fuel facility should be taken offline until the capacity of production for that grid, at whatever time that is, is at least double the usage at that time. Focus should be on modern nuclear power.

The 'grid' needs to be completely revised with less interconnectivity and more redundancy. I'm thinking something like every state maintains its own and only connects to its neighbors when problems occur. For big states, there may need to be several. Some things need to be hardened against attacks, both physical and cyber.
 
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