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Electric Vehicles: Too Much Hype?
Renault all-electric 2020 Twingo Z.E.

Summary: The importance of achieving zero carbon is accepted to be critical.  One area where we can see how to achieve that is by eliminating fossil fuels from transportation.  Unfortunately the reality is very different from what government and particularly manufacturers are planning.  There is widespread unreality about what has to happen and the timescales and costs of achieving the necessary goals.  The move to electric vehicles, and hybrids must not count, will happen far too slowly with present plans and the emphasis on large heavy SUV type electric vehicles completely misses the point.  The approach to battery charging also needs to change since most people will not have access to charging points in high-density housing areas.  Only by restricting the use of heavy vehicles in urban areas can we hope to move in the right direction.

Electric vehicle sales are booming in the UK.  The government has announced that internal combustion vehicles (ICV’s) will no longer be sold in the UK after 2035 and possibly not after 2032.  Within a few years all vehicles on our roads will be electric.  Job done!  Unfortunately it’s a little bit more complicated.

Let’s start with affordability.  At present the cheapest ICVs cost under £10,000.  The cheapest all electric vehicles cost about £25,000 even with the government grant.  Prices of EV’s are high as manufacturers cater to the demand for SUVs rather than city cars.  Keeping the prices high helps while demand outstrips manufacturing capacity.  An electric car is dramatically simpler than ICV.  You don’t need to have any of an exhaust system, petroleum delivery, internal combustion engine, radiator and cooling system, gearbox, petrol tank etc. You need a battery and you need an electric motor and brakes but not much more.  The 100% premium is clearly good for the manufacturers if not for the public and certainly not if you want to go green.

Headline sales of electric vehicles are dominated by plug-in hybrids, the great majority of which are run solely on petrol or diesel.  Garages report that at their first service most hybrids have their charging cable pack unopened in the boot.  Pure electric vehicles only account for 2.3% of car sales. Hybrids are even less efficient than ICVs being heavier and more expensive to build and worse polluters than their purer ICV cousins.  If you really care about the environment the only choice is pure electric.

The average car in the UK is over 8 years old, and new ICVs are dramatically more reliable than they were.  Indeed a recent Which?  report remarked that the least reliable cars in that report were more reliable than the most reliable cars 10 years earlier.  We must expect current new-car purchases to last long after the 2035 deadline. 

The lack of significant growth in personal income means that the average car age in the UK is likely to increase and by 2035 may well be in excess of 10 years.  This means the average car in 2035 will have been manufactured in 2025 and with present growth rates that will be a very small fraction of the total car sales in the car sales in the UK. With 31.5 million cars (82.5%), 4 million vans (10.5%) and 0.5 million heavy goods vehicles (1.3%) in the UK, by 2035 we must expect the vast majority of vehicles not to be electric and the 120 million tonnes of CO2 per annum generated now to be only somewhat reduced.

Current EVs are expensive but above all big and heavy.  Basic physics shows that cars driven identically in terms of speed and acceleration etc. have double the energy consumption of a vehicle half that wait, irrespective of the fuel, petrol or electric.  Great strides have been made in the efficiency of ICV’s in recent years but that has now been largely lost by the move towards bigger and heavier vehicles.  Many British villages, towns and cities with their origins in the Middle Ages have narrow streets made narrower by car parking.  The move to SUVs is difficult to justify for the vast majority of users and causes increased congestion, increased pollution including from tyre wear and tear and reduced parking space because of their size.  Again, if you really care about the environment, the only choice is smaller, lighter cars and always pure electric, not the great electric juggernauts favoured by the relatively wealthy who can afford them.

Anyone thinking about going electric will worry about battery charging.  If you are relatively wealthy or live out-of-town then you are much more likely to have a garage or at least a driveway to park your car and charge it.  A great number of British houses however are terraced or multi-storey flats.  Reserved parking for your car is out of the question.  If you can’t park near a charger you’re done for.  Despite the hype about high-speed charging, most vehicles need to be charged for a time comparable with the time they are driven between charges.  Five minutes filling up your ICV now makes an EV much less appealing.  Fast charging points are expensive, and the risk of running out of power away from home is a serious disincentive if you drive a good distance at all regularly.

One interesting approach which does not appear to have been taken seriously by manufacturers is designing an electric vehicle to have easily replaceable batteries.  Garages could offer pre-charged batteries which could be slotted in in just a few minutes with the right design of car.  The batteries are heavy, up to half a ton, and the cost to the motorist would be a combination of the electric charge plus a daily rental rate for the battery.  Batteries should last at least 10 years and cost several thousand pounds each, depending on their size.  Cars with rapid-replacement batteries could use smaller ones if that was all that was needed and that was all that was available.  Such an arrangement would allow a car to have an effective recharge time of only a few minutes.  This would also provide a  role for garages otherwise  facing redundancy as the 2035-2050 window  approaches.  The nearest to this ideal was Renault who offered their Zoe vehicle with a battery rental, but that approach has been removed at the end of 2019.  The Zoe did not have a rapid exchange battery design but the principle was there.

Going green properly  will only really get going once manufacturers reduce the price of their vehicles,  and concentrate on smaller lighter vehicles. They must  become dramatically easier to recharge, probably by having rapid replacement batteries supported by garages.  In the meantime we have to appreciate that progress is currently very slow and not all of it moving in the right direction.  Hybrids need to be discouraged now as do large and heavy vehicles of all sorts.  Only then can we honestly hope to reduce our energy demands for personal transport.

Small Really Is Beautiful.

2-seat all electric Renault TWIZY, under 0.5 ton.

4-seat all electric Mitsubishi_i-MiEV, about 1 ton.

Restricting the use of large heavy internal combustion vehicles on our roads can have a dramatic effect on our consumption of fossil fuels and the generation of both CO2 and a range of damaging pollutants in the urban environment. 

There is broad agreement among scientists that climate change and rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are linked.  Only by reducing CO2 generation might we stabilise and hopefully reverse some of the effects we associate with climate change.  Governments across the world set targets but it is absolutely essential that we do as much as we can sooner we can and not wait for “the authorities” to actually do anything.  It’s just too important.

In the UK a major part of our energy consumption is the petrol and diesel fuel used for transport.  Climate change activists insist there should be wholesale movement away from private cars to walking, cycling and public transport.  Walking and cycling is fine for those who are young, fit and healthy and preferably live in a flat city.  Make sure you don’t have small children or a lot of shopping to carry and certainly don’t live in a country with often pretty ghastly weather.  Public transport is often little better than taking us from somewhere we are not to a place we don’t want to be at a time that is inconvenient.  For many, these aspirations are a bit like St Augustine’s famous words “Oh, Master, make me chaste and celibate-but not yet”.  Many activists are happy to encourage others to make changes but are somewhat slower with their own responses.  Few have the dedication of Greta Thunberg!

We Love Our Cars!

The motorcar has given vast numbers of people the capacity to be mobile, to go where there are jobs, shops and entertainment.  It allows families to travel together and it is naïve to think that a society like ours will give up this capability quickly or easily.  It doesn’t have to but it does have to be managed.  Ultimately widespread availability of low-cost electricity from renewable sources will help greatly but in the meantime there is a lot that can be done now to accelerate these changes and deal with two major problems we have now: consumption of fossil fuels and urban pollution.

How big is the problem? There are approximately 31.5 million cars (82.5%), 4 million vans (10.5%) and 0.5 million heavy goods vehicles (1.3%) in the UK (from DoT, 2019).  In total they generate about 120 million tonnes of CO2 per annum (UK DoBEIS, 2019).  The weighted average combined fuel economy of cars and light trucks in 2016 was about 22 miles per gallon and the average vehicle travelled about 11,500 miles per year.  The fuel burned within the engine generates the heat used to propel the vehicle.  There have been significant improvements in engine efficiency in recent years but it is still the case that typically 25% of the energy actually propels the vehicle.  The remainder is heat which is dissipated through the exhaust and cooling systems of the vehicle.  Electric vehicles transfer the pollution away from the vehicle to where the power is generated.  If the source is renewable then the pollution produced is low.  The efficiency of electric motors is very high indeed and, particularly if breaking regeneration is used then electric vehicles are dramatically more energy efficient than fossil fuel.  The spin around renewable power is somewhat different from the reality.  About 30 % of electricity generation is currently renewable, but it’s only less than 12% of the energy provided by petroleum (petrol plus diesel).  Building eight times as many wind farms or solar panel farms would be an enormous investment and take many years.  However it turns out there is a great deal we could do now to halve the energy used for transport.

Motor vehicles are also responsible for another major problem, that of pollution particularly in the urban environment.  That pollution is a combination of exhaust fumes, both gas including CO2 and nitrous oxide as well as particles from diesel and from the tyres which inevitably wear away on the road surfaces.  In several British cities pollution levels regularly exceed permitted safety levels.  In addition, surveys indicate that the noise from vehicles significantly affects the quality-of-life of around 30% of people in the UK.

Heavy Vehicles Waste Far Too Much Energy

Now for a bit of physics. The energy used by a vehicle allows it to accelerate.  The energy needed to double the speed of a vehicle goes up in proportion to the square of that velocity so it takes four times as much energy for a car to reach 60 mph as it does to reach 30 mph.  Once it has reached cruising speed a significant part of the energy is dissipated to overcome wind resistance.  The kinetic energy of the vehicle is reduced whenever the brakes are applied and that energy turned into heat which is wasted.  In the UK the average length of a single trip for a vehicle is only about 8 miles.  85% of trips are less than 10 miles and 95% are less than 25 miles.  A typical trip involves several acceleration/braking cycles wasting considerable amounts of energy and therefore generating considerable amounts of CO2.

Typical cars sold in the UK now weigh up to 2.5 tons.  That weight has crept up in recent years because of the popularity of larger SUV type vehicles offering bigger load carrying capacity as well as greater levels of comfort.  Most journeys only involve a driver with possibly a single passenger contributing an almost negligible additional weight to the total.  Older readers may remember how cars became much more sluggish when laden with three or four passengers.  This is not something most drivers experience these days now that cars are bigger, heavier and more powerful.  Every additional kilogram requires additional energy to accelerate it.  Reducing the weight of the vehicle will improve its energy efficiency markedly.  A mass move from internal combustion propulsion to electric will take very many years to complete.  I will argue that motorists and city planners need to do their bit to encourage strongly the use of smaller electric vehicles.  This is something that can be done simply by banning internal combustion and bigger vehicles from inner-city regions where pollution and noise are problems.

In the UK the average car is over 8 years old.  Worries surrounding Brexit have reduced new car sales significantly so we can expect a jump in sales once Brexit is resolved.  Anything you can do by choosing a lighter, smaller car next time or persuading others to do so will make a significant contribution towards reducing our national carbon footprint.

Small Electric Vehicles Are Increasingly Attractive

Most of the electric vehicles manufactured today are expensive and targeted at the luxury end of the market.  They are big, heavy and although electric still consume unnecessary levels of energy.  Cars used to be much smaller but would this be at all practical to move to much smaller electric vehicles? Small, efficient all electric cars are already in production.  Manufacturers greatly prefer to sell large vehicles with big engines.  Many have already produced all electric variants on their main ranges but surprisingly little effort seems to be going into making much smaller vehicles.  One exception is the Mitsubishi i-MiEV introduced 10 years ago.  This is a five door hatchback weighing only one ton.  It has a 16 kWh battery giving it a range of up to 100 miles.  The ability to go for 5 miles on one kWh can be compared to the typical level that we get on a modern car of about 1 mile/kWh. the Mitsubishi vehicle can carry four.  An even smaller all electric vehicle that can carry two and is less than half a ton in weight is the Renault Twizy, currently selling for around £7000 in the UK.  It has a range of about 60 miles with a 6kWh battery giving a consumption of around 10 miles/kWh, a tenfold improvement over a typical modern car.

Reducing the mass of our cars has a dramatic effect on our national energy consumption.  If we imagine replacing our cars with others half a ton lighter yet continuing to drive them in the same way we do now we would reduce U.K.’s energy consumption by 10%, cutting CO2 production by 40 million tonnes per year, saving each of us perhaps £800 per annum.  If we all managed to reduce the weights by a full ton it would cut option by 20%, reducing CO2 production by 80 million tonnes per year.

Persuading People to Change Their Habits.

What could be done to encourage and indeed accelerate the move towards such a reduction in energy consumption as well as effecting a substantial reduction in pollution that damages so many urban environments?  It should be clear from the above that encouraging the use of smaller and lighter vehicles would make a great difference.  Further, requiring that these smaller vehicles were either fully electric or hybrid so they could be operated without liquid fuel would be even more effective.  The most direct approach is to plan a phased tightening of the controls on vehicles entering and being driven around key urban areas.  Start by limiting larger and heavier vehicles so they cannot be driven around in the restricted urban area.  Next insist on electric/hybrid operation exclusively initially during core busy hours but eventually at all times.  The size limitations could be progressively tightened.  One of the key features must be the development of substantial pressures on automotive manufacturers to produce small light and economic city vehicles.  At present electric/hybrid vehicles are very much positioned at the top end of manufacturers range rather than at the bottom end which is where there will be most impact.

There is even more that can be done.  City cars do not need to be built to reach 80 mph (as does the Mitsubishi one above).  Having a lower overall performance allows the vehicles to be made even lighter and cheaper as well as being more reliable.  Electric motors give good silent acceleration but city cars don’t need to exceed 50 mph. The cost of these vehicles will be key to ensuring that they become generally acceptable and eventually highly desirable. There will be considerable opposition to these moves from oil companies, automotive manufacturers and parts of the public who feel their divine right to drive a vast vehicle through the centre of our ancient cities must not be violated.  However we can only deal with climate change if we genuinely start to make changes like this.  It is not a complete solution but it is a start.  Many realise that it’s just not enough to be careful with plastic waste.  All around us we can see that the motorcar is a significant part of our problems and this is how we can start to manage it in a way that will work for the UK.

Outsidethebubble lives!

Summary: has been silent for about 18 months. This was because there was so much other political blogging activity because of Brexit that there was simply no more space in people’s minds to cope with anything else.  There seems a chance that we might start to move on to other things and that Brexit might well get sorted over the next 3-6 months.  In the meantime there will be occasional postings on other issues and in particular what we have to do practically to reach zero net carbon consumption.

A great deal has been written which is frankly hyper-optimistic pie-in-the-sky.  I will try to look at some of the misunderstandings that need to be dealt with if we are to make any progress.

A Truly Dreadful Night for Labour.

Summary: Now that most of the election results are in, the spin masters are working flat out to try to persuade us that Labour have been doing well and that Momentum are a key part of doing so well. Sadly it is difficult to believe that four years on from the last local election very little indeed has changed. In those areas that voted to Leave in the referendum both in the North and outside the metropolitan centres Labour is not even treading water. The image both Labour and Momentum project is not particularly appealing and they don’t really seem to be that concerned to do something about it. Until they sort out their public image problem Labour have little chance of winning another general election.

The local elections held on 3 May 2018 have turned out to be particularly worrying for Labour. You don’t have to be particularly left-wing to realise how much is bad in the country and just how poorly the Conservatives are running the country. There is widespread acknowledgement even amongst the right-wing media that lots of things in our society are bad and getting worse. Growth is collapsing and we may even be heading towards recession. There are massive problems with the NHS and social care, the education system, the justice system including prisons, austerity, the gross and increasing inequality, taxation of multinationals and tax avoidance by wealthy individuals and so many other things.

Not to mention the shambles that surrounds the Brexit negotiations. Yet the most dreadful thing is that despite all these problems with a country that suffered nearly 10 years of the most damaging Conservative rule the local election results have barely changed from the results of four years ago. The last general election was very good for Labour and showed how popular change led by Jeremy Corbyn actually was. Labour came very close to being the governing party. But these results suggest the country has got beyond that.

However since the last general election there has been very little change in the public opinion polls with the Tories and Labour close to level pegging. Labour have to appreciate therefore that the general view in the country of Labour is that it’s not that much better or different from the Conservatives. It is shocking that with so much going wrong at present Labour have failed miserably to make any significant impact on the polls. A general election held tomorrow would be unlikely to give a Labour majority.

The media are now talking about the UK having reached “peak Corbyn”. The big difficulty with Labour is that nobody really knows what Labour is all about. Jeremy Corbyn has policies which he has held for over 40 years. In many ways those policies have simply not changed over that period and that is very concerning. Jeremy Corbyn was central to energising the revolution a year ago in the general election. Yet many think that he is not the right person to lead the party into the future. He may not be a very convincing leader and for many voters he personally is a significant turnoff. It is a heresy, of course, to suggest that Jeremy Corbyn might consider standing down. Yet the party does need strong and articulate leadership. The impression that Labour gives is of uncertainty about what it is doing and has so far been unable to articulate what it is going to do about all these issues. That’s what a leader must sort out, and sort out quickly.

Momentum is widely seen as being an left-wing cabal within the increasingly left-wing Labour Party. It’s not clear what Momentum are contributing positively to Labour policy and the Labour image. Even reading the left-wing websites it appears that most of their energies are going into trying to gain strategic power within the Labour Party with a view to manipulating the party rules to their benefit. Some claim that Momentum was key in Labour successes in the local election. They certainly provide a good supply of activists to work for Labour but that does not mean that the way they are perceived more widely is helpful. The idea of Momentum doing anything that might help to improve Labour’s image doesn’t seem to worry their members very much. The impression of being a party within a party is unhelpful. Nobody likes tails wagging dogs!

One of the big problems is that the Labour leadership do not seem to have the capacity to project an engaging image to the public. Jeremy Corbyn is widely accepted as being a man of integrity. Sadly, many years ago he had a charisma bypass operation. In the 21st-century leaders will only be successful at gaining power if they project a successful and compelling image. Sadly soundbites are everything.

Labour are instinctively dismissive of anything that smacks of public relations, image management and effective use of advertising. Unfortunately that isn’t good enough anymore. The public want clear messages presented in a simple and understandable way that are compelling. Labour are not providing those.. If they are they are being crowded out by others that do understand how important these things are.

A good example is the Labour view of Brexit. Labour Party members are strongly for Remain. Some MPs, believing that the guidance they had from their constituents from the referendum must be followed blindly, even though it is widely accepted that the results was a consequence of some fairly impressive lies. Everyone interprets the referendum result differently but what Labour want is pretty unclear. It is at present one of the key areas that people are looking to Labour to provide a coherent alternative to the incoherent Tory negotiations.

There needs to be strong and unambiguous criticism of the way the Brexit negotiations are be handled by the Conservatives with a message that unless the final deal is good for the less well-off and allows the UK to grow strongly in the future then we may need to go back for a renegotiation and perhaps even a second vote. Whatever they do it really requires that they say something plain and clear and stop beating about the bush.

As a strong Labour supporter myself with many Labour supporting friends I have sensed their frustration with the party not capitalising on the breadth of support that it has for a radical new agenda. Whatever interpretation one might put on the referendum result there was a very clear call for change. Many of my Labour friends have openly expressed their frustration with the party as it is now. They do not want any other party in power but they do want a party that they can connect with and that they respect.

To achieve that Labour needs to be very clear about what it will do in each and every sector that is doing badly and explain simply how they will handle this in future. Labour instinctively hates the idea of spin but that is how the world works. Suck it up boys and girls, get on with it and try to recreate yourselves as an energetic left-wing party in the 21st-century. The 1970s weren’t that great and most people on the left realise that.