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STEPHEN GLOVER: After diesel fiasco, are eco elite about to inflict disaster with electric cars?

You don't have to have a PhD in engineering to understand that electric cars aren't all they're made out to be

Thank God for the European Union. I never thought I would write these words, so I’m going to do it again. Thank goodness for the EU.

Admittedly, this is generally not a repository of caution. I could give examples of Brussels behaving badly, particularly with regard to the Northern Ireland protocol. But on one point, at least, he shows a glimmer of common sense.

On Tuesday the EU approved a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035, five years after the UK. Brussels will also allow internal combustion engines after 2035 provided they use environmentally friendly “e-fuels”. The British government did not provide such an allowance.

You don't have to have a PhD in engineering to understand that electric cars aren't all they're made out to be

You don’t have to have a PhD in engineering to understand that electric cars aren’t all they’re made out to be


Clearly, the mighty German auto industry relied on its politicians, who twisted the arms of the bureaucrats in Brussels. German automakers love fast cars and they dream of their wonderful machines roaring down the highways, powered by electric fuels.

Our own dear politicians have no such hopes. They support electric cars wholeheartedly and have decreed that in just seven years new petrol and diesel cars will no longer be in showrooms.

But could e-fuels be an alternative to electric cars? I have no technical expertise in this area, but for a number of reasons this seems like a question worth asking.

According to Baroness Brown, interviewed yesterday morning on Radio 4’s Today programme, e-fuels are so expensive that they could never be adapted to ordinary cars. She’s a scientist with an engineering background and she may know her onions well. She is also very concerned about climate change.

A very different view is offered by Andrew Graves, an automotive industry expert and professor at the University of Bath. He says e-fuels are an “exciting technology that we’re not just using for motorsport, but also to keep existing vehicles on the road.”

Mr Graves adds that “there are a lot of things the government needs to consider before embarking on a blanket ban on diesel or petrol”. It was Boris Johnson, of course, who announced the 2030 cut, seemingly without giving too much thought to the consequences for the rest of us.

Of course, I hope Mr. Graves is right and Baroness Brown is wrong. You don’t need a PhD in engineering to realize that electric cars aren’t all they’re made out to be.

Nor do I forget that the man who specialized in doomsday warnings about climate change – King Charles – told us last year that he drove his Aston Martin with “a surplus of white wine English and whey from the cheese-making process”. There are perhaps more things in heaven and on earth than Baroness Brown’s philosophy dreams of.

One thing is clear: electric cars are extremely expensive to buy. You’ll be lucky to have plenty of change starting at £40,000 for half-decent change, and you can easily pay a lot more. As larger volumes are manufactured, the price may drop.

People used to say that although they cost a lot more to buy, electric cars are a lot cheaper to run. With the sharp increase in the price of electricity, this may no longer be the case.

On Tuesday, the EU approved a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035, five years after the UK (file photo from the petrol station in Savenay, France)

On Tuesday, the EU approved a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035, five years after the UK (file photo from the petrol station in Savenay, France)

Indeed, a recent RAC analysis suggested that electric cars are more expensive on the road than gasoline-powered cars. Charging to cover 484 miles on a public network costs £92.69, while filling a 55-litre petrol car to cover the same distance costs £83.03. However, recharging at home remains cheaper than buying fuel.

Then there is the difficulty of finding charging stations in the right place. As a gasoline-powered car driver, I’ve never endured this inconvenience, but I’ve read about anxious drivers looking for that elusive charging point before their car breaks down.

We should also consider the likelihood that electric vehicles are not as environmentally friendly as their proponents claim. Batteries are made of materials such as nickel, lithium, and cobalt, which are energy-intensive to operate. The electricity they use may be produced by gas, which is not considered green.

Maybe everything will work out, and in ten years we’ll be happily driving around with our cheap, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly electric vehicles. I wouldn’t count on it, though.

The truth is that our leaders have bet the farm (meaning us) on this policy in record time, and there is absolutely no guarantee that their bet will come true. It certainly wasn’t the case the last time they tried.

I think of the great diesel catastrophe. A quarter of a century ago, politicians and automakers conspired to trick us into buying diesel cars, which emit around 15% less carbon dioxide than equivalent gasoline models.


In 2001, Gordon Brown, as Chancellor, lowered excise duty on vehicles for diesel. He also reduced the tax on diesel at the pump to encourage motorists to give up petrol. The diesel was good. The diesel was green.

Except it wasn’t. Diesel cars emit far more nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide than petrol cars – which is why their owners are now tasked with driving older cars in London and other cities. They are being penalized for doing what the government and automakers encouraged them to do.

Could the headlong rush to get us to buy electric cars end in a similar debacle? Could there be a flaw in the plan – environmental or financial – that will end up putting us back together?

I don’t know. What I do know is that the decision to dispense with all new petrol and diesel vehicles in just seven years was made without any consideration for the pockets of ordinary people.

Our political elite forgot their previous bullshit about diesel. He happily pulls out a decree that commits us to as yet untested electric cars, and sticks a pin more or less at random in the wall calendar.

In 2001 Gordon Brown (pictured) as Chancellor lowered excise duty on vehicles for diesel

In 2001 Gordon Brown (pictured) as Chancellor lowered excise duty on vehicles for diesel


This is why I applaud the EU. At least he planned five more years before the guillotine fell. By allowing the use of e-fuels, it kept alive the possibility that there could be a practical, less disruptive and suitably green alternative to electric vehicles.

I wish the government had the courage to follow the EU’s lead, although yesterday Energy Secretary Grant Shapps said he would not. Today he will reveal his final thoughts on net zero.

Drivers in a hurry deserve a break, as does the declining UK car industry. It will have a harder time attracting investment as factories in Germany and France still produce petrol and diesel models.

Couldn’t our imperious government—not to mention the eco-warriors blowing down its neck—use a little more common sense, as the EU has? It is believed that this country is responsible for barely 1% of all global emissions.

According to official figures, transport accounts for a quarter of UK emissions. We are therefore talking about 1/400th of the world’s production of greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, China and India are barely paying attention. They certainly don’t dope their own weapons.

Brussels is right for once. But we could go even further. Now that we are outside the EU, we can chart our own course. Let go of the self-defeating 2030 deadline and think again.

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