We knew it was coming, and this week it happened: the UK has banned the sale of brand new petrol and diesel cars by 2040. The thing is, the big news story the mainstream media is raving about isn’t really a big news story at all.
The likes of the national newspapers and the BBC have made a big deal out of the UK’s decision to match France’s commitment to ban the sale of solely petrol- and diesel-powered cars 22 and a half years from now, but what seems to be the big issue isn’t really even worth a second glance. Let me explain.
It’s 2017, and electrification is a reality. The technology is in use and working well. Toyota’s hybrid revolution, begun in the 1990s and laughed at by more or less everyone else until those same observers realised Toyota was on the right track after all, has proved to be a stunningly forward-thinking move some 20 years ahead of its time. It even already has a superbly-engineered hydrogen car; the pug-ugly Mirai.
We have neat ‘closed’ petrol-electric hybrids that can biff around town easily averaging over 60mpg, we have plug-in hybrids that will cover anything from 10 to 50 miles without having to go near internal combustion, and the latest ‘affordable’ fully electric cars boast a range of 150 miles between charges – and you can double that for a decent Tesla. The technology is here and it’s working.
Across the range of car makers that hawk their wares in the UK, there are almost none who aren’t already dabbling in electrification. The richest, like the Germans, already have a suite of part- and full-electric options, while the minnows in the pond like Suzuki are getting into their stride with much simpler mild hybrid setups.
There’s no mainstream car maker that can’t come up with part-electrification on every car by 2040. The likelihood, given how fast the technology is moving, is that all but the smallest and least-polluting internal combustion-engined cars would have switched over to some level of hybrid tech by that time anyway in order to keep pace with emissions regulations. The ban does mean we’ll definitely lose performance cars that might have stayed petrol-only, but such is ‘progress’. There is, however, a real problem to consider: cost.
Batteries are not easy to manufacture. They’re all-round expensive, hence why electric cars are so damn pricey. How do you reconcile that with the current crop of £8000 city cars? You can’t. The best you can do under the new rules is make them mild hybrids and increase the price. It might be as much as an extra 10 per cent on each car, which is a bit annoying. Especially so when advancing internal combustion tech and weight reduction could feasibly see those cars’ carbon dioxide emissions cut to hybrid-esque levels by the 2040 deadline.
But this is what will have to be done. It’s not a drastic stretch, the industry won’t be panicking and internal combustion engines still aren’t going anywhere for a long, long time. They’re just getting some help. Sure, sentimentality kicks in once we realise that 2040 spells the end for the likes of the BMW M3, the non-hybrid Ferrari and the Ford Focus RS as we know them today, but new, exciting projects will take their place. We knew this had to happen, and it has. Move along, people; nothing to see here. Yet.