Keeping your old petrol car may be better than buying an EV

Read what I have to say here, then let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

I recently read an article by Rowan Atkinson in the Guardian titled: I love electric vehicles – and was an early adopter. But increasingly I feel duped. Does this apply to you if you are an electric car owner or fan.

I myself have yet to buy a fully electric car, we as a family own a hybrid, but I am not ready for fully electric. An electric car is not as good for the environment as many may think, and the range anxiety will not work for me and my busy life.

Mr Bean, I mean Atkinson is not the only one that may feel duped. The British government has proposed a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030. However, the problem with this initiative is that it is based on conclusions drawn from only one part of a car’s operating life: what comes out of the exhaust pipe.

Electric cars, have zero exhaust emissions, however, if you zoom out a bit and look at the bigger picture which includes the car’s manufacture and maintenance, the situation is very different.

At Cop26 climate conference in 2021, Volvo released figures claiming that greenhouse gas emissions during production of an electric car are actually 70% higher than when manufacturing a petrol one. 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.

A lot of effort is going into finding something better, but even so they are years away from being on sale, by which time, of course, we will have constructed millions of 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.

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.

A manufacturer can make a car for £15,000 which with tender loving care, will last for 30 years then car production and the CO2 emissions associated with it, would be vastly reduced. We’d be enjoying the same mobility, just driving slightly older cars.

The honeymoon period with electric cars seems to be coming to an end: 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. My view is no, not yet, however, if their car is an old diesel and they do a lot of city centre motoring, they should consider a change. Electric propulsion will be of real, global environmental benefit one day, but that day has yet to dawn. So for now hold fire and see the developments over the coming years ahead. I believe the future fuel will be a hydrogen/ EV hybrid or synthetic fuel/EV hybrid. Who knows the future, but it will be intresting to see what happens.


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