Electric cars: more hope than expectation?

"These two don't have a clue, either."

"These two don't have a clue, either."

The good news is that the government has come over all evangelical about cars at last. The bad news is that they still don’t want us to drive anything powered by fossil fuels.

No, the future is electric, if Lord Mandelson and Geoff Hoon are to be believed – and Mandelson and Hoon are both politicos who have a track record of being economical with the verité, so believing them is going to be a stretch for anyone.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with electric cars, in principle. Friends who have driven the Tesla Roadster have eulogized about it and I’m looking forward to getting in one at some point. Non-carbon-emitting vehicles have to be part of our future. But we have to be realistic about how and when we start to count on them as a viable alternative to petrol and diesel-powered vehicles.

The first issue to consider has to be where they get their power from. The electricity generation industry is the worst carbon criminal in the UK. Six UK companies between them produce more CO2 than all the country’s cars: five of those six are electricity generating companies. A recent study by Treehugger.com suggests that electric cars powered by electricity drawn from the grid produces the equivalent of 160g/km, more than many fossil fuel-powered cars.

The government is clearly putting the cart before the electric horse here: if it were to think about the issue logically, it would realise that the sustainable generation of electricity needs to be addressed before creating additional drains on a grid that draws it power from dirty means.

The other sticking point, as I see it, is that the government wants to start its scheme – which will incentivise consumers to the tune of £5,000 if they buy an electric car – in 2011. One problem: there won’t be any electric cars on sale from major manufacturers by then.

The Mini E, for example, will be undergoing research trials over the next year or so, which will be followed by a “comprehensive report”. And how long will it take for Mini to decide that the E is viable and start producing the car in Oxford in significant numbers? Even if it starts coming off the line before the end of 2011, that’s still only one model. Nissan-Renault have said that they’re embarking on an “initiative bringing electric mobility to the global markets”, but on a fleet basis, not for consumers.

It all seems to be another eco-exercise involving carbon monoxide and mirrors: lots of appealing words, but no real thought behind it.

We’ve become used to the substance-less spinnery of modern politics, but when it comes to something as important as the future of the planet, you’d think that politicians would take it more seriously.

It’s all rather fitting that the scheme was launched in Scotland, home to Dad’s Army‘s Private Frazer. Remember his catchphrase? “We’re doomed, doomed“.


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