The government’s announcement of plans to ban petrol and diesel cars by 2040 had barely been made when the debate over electric cars was once again reignited. Extreme views on both ends of the spectrum were on display, with the harshest critics claiming smoke and mirrors and the most ardent supporters touting the moral virtue of driving on batteries. Not much was said about the reality of things like car sales, energy production, and what the market will actually bear.
As you know, the government now plans to force manufacturers to stop selling cars with internal combustion engines just over two decades from now. The announcement is, in all likelihood, just a feel-good move meant to provide an optic of government leaders working to reduce air pollution. Given how hard car manufacturers are already working toward producing a viable electric vehicle within the next five years, the government plan amounts to little more than PR.
Having said all that, it would be helpful to look at a few more things that play into the future of electric car sales and the potential demise of internal combustion engines.
The Realities of Market Demand
Let us just assume that the big-name car companies do not come up with a viable product by 2040. They will still have to comply with the government mandate unless that mandate is changed between now and then. But how could they support that mandate financially? They couldn’t. So we are talking heavy government subsidies to get and keep electric cars on the roads.
We have already demonstrated that the government subsidy strategy does not work in the long run. How long have we been subsidising clean energy initiatives like wind and solar power? For decades, and yet very few of our renewable energy options are even close to being self-sustaining. Cars represent an even bigger problem. It is one thing to subsidise wind turbines; it’s another thing to subsidise millions of cars.
If Tesla cannot come up with a viable product within the next few years, it is unlikely we’ll see anything from the likes of Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, or even Ford either.
Not as Green as They Appear
It is hard to argue against the fact that electric cars are greener than their internal combustion engine counterparts. But there is some measure of smoke screening going on here. Electric cars are not as green as they are purported to be. In fact, they are only as green as the fuels used to manufacture them and generate the electricity they consume.
Moreover, electric cars have to be extremely light to be energy-efficient. That means mining metals in ways that are environmentally damaging. Electric car batteries are also a problem. The metals and chemicals they contain are an environmental hazard waiting to happen.
The government announcement to ban petrol and diesel vehicles is not necessarily a bad thing. But it’s also not a panacea. Electric cars are not a magic solution to air pollution, car sales notwithstanding.