British motorits have mixed feelings about the UK's new move to catch up with France and Germany's race to end the era of petrol and diesel cars over the next decades, as the environment agenda takes center stage in Europe.
The UK government recently announced the phasing out of all petrol and diesel cars by 2040. British energy firm BP followed suit and said last week
it plans to introduce charging points for electric vehicles across its global network of fuel service stations.
British motorists are split about the benefits of having electric charging stations, which may not help the environment, according to some.
One London motorist cut to the core of the issue: “If you’re producing electricity, you must be burning fossil fuels. Therefore, how does that help us save the environment? The other point, how efficient are they going to be? Because people don’t want to spend ten hours a week charging their vehicles.”
Others pointed out to the cost of buying electric cars, which are more expensive than those that run on diesel and petrol
“I’ve always had a diesel as a cabbie, and I bought a diesel car in 2001 [after then-chancellor Gordon Brown cut fuel duty to encourage their uptake for environmental reasons]. And they’re going to be bringing taxis out in electric from 2020 I think,” a black cab driver said.
“Well, if you can afford to buy them, because they’re going to be about 70-grand. The way it is at the moment, with Uber and all that, I don’t think many drivers are going to be buying them.”
An exception here may be Ben van Beurden, boss of BP’s rival Shell, who stated last month that “my next car … will be an electric vehicle” while announcing an extra £1 billion investment in green energy.
“I can’t imagine that they are going to be able to get the power delivery system work,” the cabbie continued, “because the electric cars that I see at the moment, they’re usually parked up in bays, and hooked up overnight or for three to four hours. I can’t imagine how quick it’s going to be to charge them up.”
“In small forecourts, I can’t see how they are going to have the turnover to match the revenue that the petrol station currently makes. And then there’s going to be the investment in getting rid of the old batteries as well.”
One motorist pointed out that the charge points would be blocking spaces. But for a petrol station owner, his prime concern was green: “Well electric, that’s good for the environment, isn’t it? Especially compared to diesel cars.
“At the moment my concern is not about making more money, it’s about the environment, about what we are doing for the next generation. And electric cars will help them to live in a good environment.”
British motorists may not be enthusiastic about having electric vehicles, but in Germany
Europe’s leading car producer, the picture is even gloomier.
While in Britain, the focus has been on seeking to accelerate the growth of greener driving, with the government committing to invest more than £800 million in driverless and zero-emission technologies, as well as £246m in research into producing more efficient batteries, the German government hosted a summit on Wednesday which sought to ‘save diesel’.
Wary of damaging the enormously powerful car industry, which is the country's biggest exporter and provides about 800,000 jobs, the national, regional and municipal governments have been forced to work with automobile-makers to resolve the environmental issues that have helped to tarnish the image of companies such as BMW, Daimler, Audi, Porsche and Mercedes. With national elections coming up in September, and the environment a key issue for German voters, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat party is trying to show its green teeth without angering the industrial sector.
Merkel, who is hoping to win a fourth consecutive national election next month, has been accused of doing too little, too late, about the Dieselgate scandal which flared up in 2015 when it was revealed that Volkswagen had deliberately cheated on American diesel emissions tests. With an estimated 15 million diesel vehicles on the roads of Germany, this is also a key demographic that ‘Mutti’ will not want to offend.
“We still need a strong auto industry. We want our carmakers to continue to be successful in the world and to carry on building the best cars,” said Armin Laschet, the premier of North-Rhine Westphalia, home to many car firms. “We need to save diesel ... but there must also be a new push into the electric era,” he added.
But public anger remains strong, with many Germans demanding politicians take action against air pollution caused by the car industry. There are also investigations by European authorities into whether many of the carmakers engaged in a cartel.