21/09/2017
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Critical Mass by Phil McCoffers

Critical Mass by Phil McCoffers

Another few lines were written in the obituary of the internal combustion engine last month as Volvo, and France announced their own measures to phase out the engine that changed the World.

Volvo, now owned by the Chinese, said that it would have an electric motor in every vehicle that rolls off it’s production line by 2019, in a year and a half. Now that’s not the same as an all electric vehicle, but, at least initially will be a hybrid mix, essentially a car with a normal engine, but with electric motors used in urban areas.

Emmanuel Macron the new French leader, and something of a revolutionary it turns out, announced that France would stop the sale of all petrol and diesel powered cars in the country by 2040. That’s quite statement. France still has a some pretty big hitters in the European automotive sector, with Renault and Peugeot Citroen, and is a large import market for not only big European brands, but increasingly from the far East. It is a gamble obviously, but not as big a gamble as you might think.

Electric cars are nothing new, but until very recently they were something of a joke to many, or a badge of honour for the urban eco warrior. They were expensive, slow, heavy, had very limited range and required all day to charge them up again before you could drive home. The transition to electric cars is gathering pace as technologies become ever more efficient, and ever more affordable. Dutch bank ING forecast that by 2035 100% of new vehicle registrations in Europe would be electric only. As battery costs are falling and ranges expected to rise from 150 miles currently to over 400 miles projected for 2024 many of the practical issues that prevent people from making the switch are evaporating. There will come a tipping point at some moment soon, perhaps this is it, when the big companies see electric as not only the future, but the very near future that they must invest in for fear of being left behind. Similarly, with the fuel retailers. They too must soon realise that basing your business on selling liquid fuel has a very limited future and they must will invest in a network of charging stations adding momentum to the changeover.

Falling costs of manufacture, as technological innovations become everyday business suggest that by 2024 across much of Europe the total costs of buying and running an all electric vehicle will be on par with running the equivalent petrol or diesel car, and in subsequent years, even cheaper.

Other countries have also made steps in the same direction, Norway, Holland and India are planning similar initiatives, with similar, or even more ambitious target dates. It is no longer a question of if we will all be driving electric cars, but how soon, perhaps the next car you buy.

Moving to an all electric future is obviously great, but only address part of the problem.

The next question is how cleanly you generate your power. If you do it by burning coal, oil or gas, then you have just shifted the problem, rather than solved it. The French again seem to be a bit ahead of the game here. They currently generate 80% of their electricity in nuclear power stations, so removing polluting cars and powering them with clean energy will, at a stroke, move them closer to the targets of the Paris climate change agreement that the whole world, apart from Donald Trump, signed up to.

It seems that critical momentum towards a shift in how we power our cars is here, or at least not far over the horizon, and with the rapid innovations in renewable energy and battery efficiency a future of cheap, pollution free vehicles really is only a handful of years away. This is great news, just make sure that you are backing the innovators and changemakers, not the dinosaurs.