A former Motoring Editor at the Telegraph, Erin combines a bike licence and race licence with a love of high-speed cars and penchant for embarrassingly low-speed crashes. Now she has two sons, she’s largely put her leathers to one side, preferring the cut and thrust of automotive industry debates and wondering which cars have Isofix…
Are electric cars really going to be as ubiquitous as the internet? Andrew Jones, roads minister, claimed as much last week. In 1998, just nine per cent of households had access to the internet, a figure that now stands at 85 per cent. Critical mass occurred when users, providers, retailers and investors came together. Mr Jones sees the same turning point by 2050, with ‘virtually every car and van on the road’ producing zero emissions.
And here lies the crux of the argument about whether electric vehicles are on the same curve as the internet.
Sales of ultra-low emissions vehicles (ULEVs) have doubled in the past year, of that there is no doubt: 28,188 ULEVS were released onto the roads in 2015.
But. It’s a tiny fraction still of the 2.6 million vehicles sold in the UK last year, and where is the giant, all-pervasive infrastructure needed to accelerate the sales volume? More charging points and investment have been announced but we’re a long way still from zero emissions for every car, aren’t we?
Look at the anecdotal evidence. I don’t know a single ULEV owner. Not one. And I’m 37, live in south-west London, work in the media and have a lot of early-adopter tech friends and high-earners who can afford to take a gamble on vehicles that are expensive compared with their nearest rivals, and whose residuals and aftersales experiences aren’t properly known.
In fact, I’d say the vast majority of my high-earning friends, all of whom are in double-earning households, many of whom have two cars, are buying up petrol and diesel SUVs and sportscars like there’s no tomorrow. They don’t know anything about hybrids or electric vehicles and care less. Not only are they not informed, they’re not even bothered about asking the pertinent questions.
No one has a driveway in London unless you’re a millionaire. These cars are aimed at the affluent middle classes but they’re precisely the ones with nowhere to charge their cars overnight.
Thirty- or forty-somethings want a German V6, not a Japanese 1.4. They get annoyed by the green arrow in the dashboard that suggests they change gear. They react against a nanny state telling them to be more conscious of their environment. They’re the squeezed middle classes – they earn too much to get benefits or credits, but not enough to get disproportionate tax relief or hide earnings overseas. When they can afford to treat themselves, they want fun and glamour, not an automotive hair shirt.
About the only thing that will stop them in their tracks is the price of fuel, and two supermarket chains are currently offering 87.7p for a litre of petrol or diesel, for pete’s sake. That’s a ticket straight to a hot hatch or breathed-on SUV.