x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Electric cars need a boost to keep up

With a plush interior carriage, 36 volts of electricity and a top speed of 20 kph, the Columbia Victoria Phaeton was the car about town in its heyday ... of 1906.

With a plush interior carriage, 36 volts of electricity and a top speed of 20 kph, the Columbia Victoria Phaeton was the car about town in its heyday ... of 1906. Today, electric cars and their hybrid cousins have progressed far beyond such meagre beginnings as urbanites search for a vehicle that is at once cost-effective, convenient and kinder to the environment. Nissan Motor's blue-hued Leaf is the latest car to try to meet that demand. As a fully electric, zero-emissions vehicle, it would seem to be an ideal ride for carbon-concerned commuters. But for drivers here, the message is lost amid the roar of petrol-powered engines. Drivers such as Hassan Ahmad, who was interviewed for yesterday's report on the Leaf, say that "nice, new and fast" tops the priority of buying a clean car for "the environment's sake". As long as petrol-powered cars continue to outperform their electric rivals - and cost the same or less - demand will continue to putter along. This is doubly true for the Leaf, whose Dh36,000 battery is an expensive addition whose cost is being supported by government subsidies.

And despite more than a century of tinkering with electric-powered vehicles, there are still technological hurdles to surmount. The electric batteries are vulnerable to higher rates of corrosion in hot climates, a crucial handicap not just in the Middle East but on the highways of eco-conscious California and in the boom-towns of southern India. But there are incremental steps that can be taken to promote cleaner transport. Hybrid cars, such as those sold by Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, offer a combination of fuel and electric technology better suited to a country that does not yet have the infrastructure to support fully electric cars. Their relative success so far has pointed to the reality that going green doesn't have to mean giving up luxury and comfort.

To make a difference for the Gulf's environment, new technologies need to be encouraged. Otherwise, this trend towards zero-emissions cars risks becoming another historical artefact - like the Victoria Phaeton.