This ban on petrol and diesel cars makes no sense

Vast amounts of money and effort will be expended for very little benefit.

Rob Lyons
Columnist

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I like electric cars. They are easier to drive, because there is no clutch and no gear stick. They are much quieter than cars with petrol and diesel engines. They don’t emit noxious substances, because they’re not burning anything, making cities and busy roads a bit more pleasant. By and large, they accelerate fast, too.

But I won’t be buying one any time soon. This is mainly to do with the fact that I have never had enough money to buy a new car. The current set of wheels sitting outside Chez Lyons is a 13-year-old, hand-me-down Audi estate with over 100,000 miles on the clock. I’m sure I’m not alone. But what we drive could change dramatically in a few years’ time.

This week, the UK government announced that sales of new petrol- and diesel-fuelled cars and light vans will be banned from 2035 – five years earlier than planned. With parliament having already decided to reach ‘Net Zero’ emissions by 2050, it follows that we need to switch to low-emissions alternatives as soon as possible.

But little thought seems to have been given to how we are going to replace all those vehicles once their sale is banned. In 2019, there were 31.7million cars registered to drive on British roads. In that year, 2.3million new cars were registered. At that rate, replacing all of the existing stock of cars would take roughly 14 years. (Of course, some cars are replaced more quickly, while others – like my old Audi – will take rather longer.) Let’s assume that, from 2035, we’ll be adding 2.3million new electric cars to the roads each year instead of petrol and diesel cars. What are the practical difficulties with doing that?

First, at present, electric vehicles cost a lot more than those with internal-combustion engines. For example, one car-buying advice website notes that the Peugeot e-208 is as much as £6,200 more than the standard 208 model. There are government subsidies to help with the cost of electric cars (currently £3,500), but can this be sustained if we all switch? It has already been cut from £4,500 in 2018.

That said, while the purchase price of an electric car may be higher, charging is a lot cheaper than fuelling a regular car. Electric vehicles cost between £4 to £6 per 100 miles to charge at home and £8 to £10 using public charge points, while petrol and diesel cars cost £13 to £16 per 100 miles in fuel (although 60 per cent of the fuel cost is tax).

In theory, maintenance should be cheaper, too, given that electric motors have fewer moving parts than petrol or diesel engines. But to further complicate matters, batteries gradually lose their capacity to hold charge over time. They have to be replaced at the cost of thousands of pounds every few years. (The warranties covering battery replacement vary by manufacturer: Tesla, for instance, offers an eight-year warranty, but the Renault Zoe is covered for just three years.)

Electric cars may be cheaper to own overall, but this is largely down to subsidies and tax breaks, including lower vehicle duties and not having to pay charges in low-emission zones. Still, with the entire car industry throwing its efforts into making electric cars cheaper and increasing battery capacity, costs may well come down somewhat, reducing the need for such breaks. Fingers crossed.

While we are on the subject of taxation, it is worth noting that motoring taxation is a big source of revenue for the Treasury. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, motoring brings in £40 billion per year (around five per cent of all government revenue), mostly in fuel taxes. If that taxation disappears, what will replace it?

Another practical issue is charging. Current electric vehicles have a claimed range of around 250 miles. Real-world experience suggests that this is rather optimistic. This is no problem for most journeys, which are relatively short. But, for longer journeys, we need fast-charging stations – and even then, a full recharge could take 30 minutes or more, depending on the vehicle and the charging station. So ‘range anxiety’ is still a factor putting people off buying electric. At the very least, we need a lot more charging points.

Most people will charge their cars at home overnight. But that means forking out on special charging kits that cost hundreds of pounds, even with more subsidies. Plus this all assumes that you have a drive or reliable parking space you can charge at. For those who live in flats and have to park on the street, for example, that’s a non-starter.

This brings us to perhaps the biggest problem: where will the power come from and how will it reach us? Eventually shifting all the energy for cars from oil to electricity means producing much more electricity. Greens are pleased that electricity use is currently decreasing, and a greater proportion of electricity is coming from renewable sources. But the arrival of electric cars en masse would demand a whole lot more electricity, mostly to be used at night.

Unless we want to coat the landscape in wind turbines, which are unreliable in any event, we’ll need other sources of power. More nuclear? Fine by me. But will eco-warriors stand for that? Even if we can produce the juice, having lots of cars charging in the same area may overwhelm the local electricity networks. Who is going to pay for the upgrade?

When all of these factors are considered we have to ask if all this effort will really reduce greenhouse-gas emissions anyway. Digging up the resources required to create all those batteries will be hugely carbon-intensive. Perhaps the most likely outcome of banning sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles is that demand for second-hand vehicles will go up. We could end up like Cubans, nursing venerable old cars for years, way beyond their intended lifespans.

All this to satisfy just one element of the drive to get to Net Zero. (Never mind replacing all gas boilers and all the other policies already mooted.) It will take a Herculean effort to transform transport and energy supply like this by 2050, especially with an important crunch point in just 15 years.

Enormous sums of money will be spent, along with all that organisational and intellectual effort, just to make our lives about the same as they are now, just low-carbon. Ministers can’t even put a figure on how much this will all cost or if it is feasible. No wonder the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders called the policy ‘a date without a plan’.

And all this from a government that still can’t implement something as comparatively easy as Universal Credit – the Tories’ flagship welfare policy that was supposed to be rolled out by 2017. HS2 and the third Heathrow runway are also struggling to get off the ground. Why should we trust that the same people can revolutionise the transport network? I will always be the first to celebrate ambitious new infrastructure and technological optimism. But the ban on petrol and diesel cars seems quixotic and pointless.

When electric vehicles are finally better than petrol or diesel – as hopefully they will be soon – drivers will vote with their feet and switch. When people are ready to pay for charging points, there will be money to invest in new infrastructure. Until then, this is a horribly expensive and needless policy.

Rob Lyons is science and technology director at the Academy of Ideas and a spiked columnist.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Comments

Mike Poile

8th February 2020 at 12:12 pm

Johnson along with other politicians has an event horizon of 5 to 10 years, everything beyond that is “somebody else’s problem”. Carbon neutral by 2050 is the same as carbon neutral never. Phasing out petrol and diesel by 2035 is the same as phasing out petrol and diesel when hell freezes over.
The real fun starts when these dates start to fall within the event horizon of current politicians

Adrian Chapmanlaw

7th February 2020 at 7:42 am

“batteries have to be replaced every few years”

Where the hell did you get that from? In the UK there are loads of EV around that are 6 years old with 60k – 150kmiles on them, 90% battery capacity remaining

Whoever told you that was completely wrong. The current generation of cars have 100k mile warranty on the battery, just because the warranty runs out doesn’t mean the battery will be useless at that time!

Jerry Owen

7th February 2020 at 8:36 am

I understand that the batteries will last around ten years before replacement is needed.
Who would want to buy a five year old car or indeed nine year old one, their second hand value must plummet? Warranties don’t guarantee longevity. Further we know that rechargeable batteries lose their efficiency over time. You haven’t put the case for battery cars. Diesel engines can last hundreds of thousands of miles, electric cars for their high cost are not viable.

Amanda Purdy

8th February 2020 at 10:05 pm

In NZ there has been an uptick of used Nassan Leafs imported from Japan usually around 3-4 years old. This offsets the need to pay full price for a new one. However if the battery fails shortly thereafter you are up for 50% of purchase price, at least, to replace the battery. This has happened to at least one person of my acquaintance, so buyer beware. There is also the problem of disposal of old batteries. We don’t really recycle properly the batteries we use now and they contain high levels of toxic material. If all the world has electric cars then there will be a lot of batteries to dispose of and this may make the current plastic pollution problem look easy by comparison.

Tam E

7th February 2020 at 7:09 am

My current car is fifteen years old and some 160,000 miles.
Apart from some obvious bits it’s had replaced over the years – fluids, a clutch, tyres, wipers – it’s still good and safe enough for another two decades.
Now I know electric cars have the potential to be cleaner – and that’s a good thing.

But let’s not get into transport poverty and fill the earth with carbon by scrapping things too early.

Jerry Owen

7th February 2020 at 8:39 am

Tame
The majority of pollution from a car is break and clutch dust, just 8 percent is from exhaust fumes thus electric cars powered by coal are hardly any more efficient.

Genghis Kant

6th February 2020 at 11:12 am

A solution is to have standardised batteries across all vehicles that are relatively easy to replace in a few minutes.

Then you convert petrol stations to battery recharging centres, replacing their underground petrol tanks with large scale battery recharging facilities.

Then drivers do as they do now and pull into the service station when they are getting low and have their low charge battery swapped for a fully charged one, paying for the cost of the charge.

Jerry Owen

6th February 2020 at 2:21 pm

Genghis Kant
We already have standardized easy to replace batteries in cars.. that is how we start them and run the electrics. The problem is that battery driven cars are too expensive use too many raw materials and are still ultimately run by fossil fuels.
How do you propose to recharge the batteries at the stations that recharge car batteries?

Robert Wade

7th February 2020 at 9:51 pm

I’ve been saying this for years, the majority of people live in terraced houses or flats, no chance whatsoever of parking outside and running a lead out to their car for charging, can you imagine all the not rights tripping over the various cords and cables, slide in standard battery pack at the fuel station, we do it with gas bottle, simple

Tony Kirk

6th February 2020 at 9:32 am

The electric car avg weight is 200kg heavier than a standard petrol car of the same size so that means tyres and brakes will wear out faster. Making new tyres makes co2 . I can’t afford a electric car on part-time min wage !

Charles Buonaventura

6th February 2020 at 3:20 am

It might be a good time to invest in rare earth mining.

Vadar’s Hate Child

5th February 2020 at 11:50 pm

Our fleet manager is very pleased with our 30 or so electric cars. Maintenance costs are noticeably lower and residual values are better. He would have another 200 tomorrow if I could put in the charging infrastructure. That is where the problem lies, where in 10 years time an extra 50GW of currently unprovisioned demand hits the grid at 18:00. Of course, it can be provided, but the cost and disruption to society will be significant.

Robert Lane

5th February 2020 at 10:10 pm

I could never understand why electric cars are being forced on us, until I read this: https://conservativewoman.co.uk/the-great-green-myth-of-electric-vehicles/

Makes you think.

Rock Ape

5th February 2020 at 9:43 pm

There is a “climate emergency” just not the one the “useful idiots” of XR think there is.
Published in “Nature.. Scientific Reports [https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-45584-3]
Quote:- “Recently discovered long-term oscillations of the solar background magnetic field associated with double dynamo waves generated in inner and outer layers of the Sun indicate that the solar activity is heading in the next three decades (2019–2055) to a Modern grand minimum similar to Maunder one”
i.e. a new “little ice age” only this time with 7.4 billion mouths to feed and not just 500 million we are looking at a world wide cataclysm.

Cold wave grips northern Saudi Arabia, meteorologists fear strongest cold snap ever…https://watchers.news/2020/01/30/severe-cold-wave-grips-northern-saudi-arabia-meteorologists-fear-strongest-cold-snap-ever/

Rock Ape

5th February 2020 at 9:45 pm

Amanda Purdy

8th February 2020 at 10:18 pm

I think we have the ability to feed 7.4+ billion using GM and hydroponic greenhouses etc and having more CO2 in the atmosphere will help as it is already greening the planet. When we are freezing through this little ice age I hope stupid arguments about renewables will fall away as we have to use nuclear and coal and gas just to survive and grow our food. Bring back fracking now.

Jerry Owen

5th February 2020 at 8:45 pm

The day I see a successful combine harvester in America’s Midwest working all day without the need for a charge as there will be no charging points in the middle of thousands of acres of land is the day I’ll concede that electric vehicles are a goer.

R Rodd

5th February 2020 at 6:37 pm

Actually, electric cars are pretty much “there” as far as performance is concerned. The new Tesla Roadster has a range of 670 miles. Its 0-60 time is faster than any other car in existence. You don’t need a special adapter to charge from home.

Cost is a problem and the fact that in many countries people don’t have garages. Also the enviros will fight tooth and nail to prevent the power companies from increasing capacity.

Jerry Owen

5th February 2020 at 7:04 pm

Ha .. cost is a problem , yes from 185 k it certainly is and the figure is 600 miles on a charge.

James Knight

5th February 2020 at 5:32 pm

If you are worried about the environment it makes much more sense to hang on to an existing petrol car. Even the Guardian figured that out. The only way they could make sense is if – like solar panels – they had a 20 year guarantee to amortise the high initial cost over a long time frame. But instead they seem to be built for planned obsolescence.

The main purpose of electric cars is as an advertisement for how good petrol cars are. Petrol power cars may soon be like rare and exotic, we will look back at them with wonder and envy.

Jim Lawrie

5th February 2020 at 5:10 pm

Electric cars involve more CO₂ per mile because of the heat waste in electricity generation and the loss incurred transmitting it from the Scottish Highlands.

Battery technology has not advanced in decades. James Dyson spent c.£450m on a battery company only to discover he had bought a dud.

Anyone who has tried using an 18v cordless drill with a 5mAh battery instead of a 1.5mAh will know what is involved in supporting or carrying the weight of that extra capacity.

Scarp Batteries. We need nuclear power and electricity on stream in the street. Not girly gimmicks like cars that “are easier to drive”.

Jerry Owen

5th February 2020 at 4:49 pm

The first argument should be that there is no such thing as AGW as I regularly state here with science as does Steve Moxon above. The second argument is ‘why we need to run transport on fossil fuels’ as they are the cheapest most effective reliable form of transport. Those two debates just honesty thrashed out would end the debate about the need for electric cars.. if you want to have one to prove you are holier than thou that’s fine by me.
I remember electric cars being first introduced in london some twenty years ago or abouts. I see more electric cars but nowhere near enough if they were the answer ( to a non problem ) and I see so few electric charging points even in our cities now.
There is no logical case against fossil fuel driven vehicles. Try getting an electric van, they are virtually all diesel thanks to Blair.
Just 8% of car pollution is from the fuel burnt the rest is brake dust, clutch dust and road dust activated by car tyres.

Jerry Owen

5th February 2020 at 5:09 pm

Personally I will buy another car and keep it for when my current car is clapped out as electric cars will never be viable by then.
I can, albeit carefully, get 100 miles out of my 4.2 V8 for around ten pounds or so and 100 miles out of my 2.2 diesel for not a lot less, I can also ‘recharge’ them in around five minutes freeing up the ‘recharging’ pump for someone else quickly. The power to weight ratio of an engine can have significant effects on its economy. Electric cars judging by the authors numbers aren’t spectacular in comparison for the huge efforts needed to get us out of fossil fuelled cars.
Top Gear did a programme many years ago driving three cars back from Europe to Blackpool on one tank of petrol, the smallest eco engine driven by May of course really did no better than the biggest engine .. as driven by Clarkson of course. We have so many preconceived ideas about transport that we really need an honest appraisal, unfortunately the anti human eco fascists will not countenance it, so as far as I can tell western civilization is somewhat doomed to collapse. I always thought I would be gone before eco lunacy ran the show but now I really am not so sure. Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsomes’ ideas on net zero carbon emissions are very worrying indeed.. in fact they are dangerous.

Stuart Hart

5th February 2020 at 10:43 pm

I live in Manchester and visit my brother in the south east. I can fill up my car cheaply and travel there and back before I need to fill up and it takes 5 minutes for the 50 litres.
With an electric car I would need to charge it here, (30 minutes) on the motorway (+30) and there (+30) and on the way back(+30) and need to do it on my return.
Services currently have three or four charging points. If every car travelling over 150 miles needs charging on the way then nearly every parking space would need a charging point. What level of current would be needed at each service station?
If you tot up all the miles done by all the cars in the country you can easily work out the electrical need. From where will the electricity come? If you are not going to use coal/gas fired power stations it has to be nuclear but who wants to have another score of those round the country.
I hope the politicians will start asking the essential question of “Is it possible to get that electrical capacity?”

Danny Rees

5th February 2020 at 4:45 pm

Round my way in Muslamic East Londonistan the white middle classes have closed the roads under the Mini Holland scheme. Their justification is because cars are polluting evil monsters and their use needs to be curbed so everyone cycles instead of drives.

But when petrol and diesel cars are phased out and everyone is driving electric cars what reason are these cycling lycra warriors going to have to shut roads then?

Francis Lonergan

5th February 2020 at 4:21 pm

Rob Lyons, another writer that has adopted the language of climate alarmism, I’m guessing he means CO2 when he uses Carbon. It show how much the alarmist messaging has had an effect, they have everyone using their false descriptions.

Carlie Coats

5th February 2020 at 4:10 pm

There is a systematic error in “…charging is a lot cheaper…”: studies show that electric vehicles typically have only 75-80% of the range per full battery that they claim. Inverting this from “miles per charge” to “charge per mile”, this says that actual recharging power-use is 25-30% more than claimed, i.e., that electric cars are significantly more expensive to charge and run than is claimed.

FWIW.

Amanda Purdy

8th February 2020 at 10:29 pm

Gosh do you think it is possible for a car manufacturer to have fudged their figures to try to make themselves look good in the eyes of the public.

Philip Humphrey

5th February 2020 at 3:44 pm

I can think of one immediate negative effect of electric cars and the government’s ill thought out target setting already. Fewer new cars are being sold, so older, less efficient and more polluting models stay on the roads longer. Secondly, development of more efficient petrol and diesel engines has more or less stopped while electric cars are still less than two per cent of the market. Again potentially increasing pollution. And thirdly electric cars are very expensive, about 10,000 pounds more new than an equivalent petrol model. That for most people is simply not a practical or viable proposition. That has to come down a very long way before the electric car will really catch on, and I don’t see much sign that it will. Hence the collapse in new car sales.

steve moxon

5th February 2020 at 3:22 pm

Electric cars are nuts because battery development gets ever nearer to an asymptote in performance: there never will be an economic battery. The hydrogen fuel cell is the answer.
But all would take multiplying current electricity generation, re which wind & solar contribute virtually nothing, and as a proportion this may even fall as the scale of generation increases.
In any case, the premise of anthropogenic climate science is scientifically illiterate: CO2 has no effect on climate; CO2 is produced by heat (releasing it from the oceans), not the other way round; recent warming has been slight, and caused by several modes of non-thermal solar forcings — that the IPCC has never take into account; there is no such thing as average global temperature that can be measured; earth readings are from inappropriately sited apparatus, in large part just estimates, and repeatedly tampered with to artificially inflate them; only satelite data makes any sense and this shows recent cooling; the imminent grand solar minimum (in solar activity — not heat/light) will lead to temperature falls over the net three decades; ….. I could go on, and on …..
The green nonsense, if government continues to defy economic logic and push it further will be embroiled in endless judicial review, and the actually scientific data will bury it.
As the last hurrah of the Left’s hate-the-people backlash, it will be laughed not just out of town but off the planet.

Danny Rees

5th February 2020 at 4:45 pm

They don’t hate the people just motorists.

R Rodd

5th February 2020 at 6:27 pm

They hate all people not living as hunter-gatherers. They say this.

Jerry Owen

5th February 2020 at 7:31 pm

They hate people.
The fires in Australia spread because the fire breaks weren’t kept clear.. because the left wanted wildlife habitat to be protected. As a result humans died.
The radical left and eco loons prefer animals rights to human rights.

Jim Lawrie

5th February 2020 at 5:31 pm

The hydrogen fuel cell is Tomorrow’s World stuff. We are no nearer to it than 30 years ago, despite all the money poured in. The results of all research and practical attempts say it is not feasible. That often happens with good ideas. Remember recycled paper?

steve moxon

5th February 2020 at 7:31 pm

That wouldn’t surprise me, Jim: it’s certainly true of nuclear fusion reactors. There seems no prospect of controlling the instability of circulating plasma.

Jim Lawrie

5th February 2020 at 11:27 pm

One problem is scientists looking for a big bang solution, and engineers wanting to over engineer things.

An example of this is the idea that for double decker trains we would have to raise all the road bridges. We don’t. We need only lower the rails 2 feet, but that doesn’t create so much work for the engineering industry.

David Morris

6th February 2020 at 7:50 pm

So CO2 has no effect on climate eh? And how did you reach this interesting conclusion? Pray enlighten us!

Amanda Purdy

8th February 2020 at 10:40 pm

Please refer to any YouTube video by Dr William Happer a Nobel winning Physicist who says, and I think it is true, you must decide for yourself, that in order for the CO2 in the atmosphere to increase the temperature 1degree C it would have to double to 800ppm then double again for the next degree. CO2 is not the major factor In greenhouse effect, water vapour and clouds and solar radiation are the major factors and the IPPC leaves these factors out of its models almost entirely, mostly because it is too chaotic to model. The point is we have no control over it.

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