A short circuit for electric cars

April 20, 2009

REUTERS— Neil Collins is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own —

LONDON, April 16 (Reuters) – Poor old Alistair Darling. The Chancellor is girding himself to deliver a truly ghastly Budget, and lined up a crowd-pleasing headline-grabber to distract attention from the financial horrors ahead.

Then his colleague transport minister Geoff Hoon goes and grabs the headlines for himself, revealing plans to bribe motorists to ditch the gas-guzzler for an electric car.

From 2011, buyers are promised 5,000 pounds towards the cost. Smug drivers pottering along in a subsidised electric car, powered by juice generated from subsidised wind farms, can feel in perfect harmony with nature.

This is an illusion. Carbon dioxide, which is all modern conventional cars emit, is generated by electric cars too, but it’s out of sight and out of mind at the power station. In terms of the total energy needed to propel the occupants around, there is no saving from going electric.

There are other snags. Sales of the G-Wiz, a toy car which will still cost 4,000 pounds even with the subsidy, are unlikely to be helped by this*. Drivers will be reluctant to venture far from the comfort of a friendly power point, for fear of being stranded. The exotic metals in the batteries present a sitting target for thieves. If enough people go electric, the concessions like avoidance of parking and road use charges will quickly disappear.

Subsidies distort behaviour, and today’s subsidy is tomorrow’s tax loophole. Cars use valuable public space, and energy of all kinds is going to get more expensive. If Darling has any strategic sense, he will take advantage of the low oil price to raise the tax on road fuel.

But that wouldn’t be popular, would it?

((Edited by David Evans))


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It is incorrect to say that electric cars will still be emitting the same amount of CO2 as conventional cars. A large proportion of the power generated by central power stations is by nuclear power which contributes no CO2 to the environment. Furthermore most fossil fuel power stations will have a higher thermal efficiency than motor car engines and hence produce power with a smaller amount of CO2 production. Electric cars will be largely recharged overnight when the most efficient generating plant will be on load thus further reducing the production of CO2 when compared with the inefficient car engine.

Posted by A Marshall | Report as abusive

If the manufacturers are to be believed there is a large demand for the existing designs such as the MIEV1.Why are they not at least taking orders particularly as they are desparate for sales?I am not saying they will be a large percentage of the market though Australia says they suit 85% but even a few percent would absorb the initial production fro years.

Posted by Brian Gilbert | Report as abusive