After the Government's announcement that electric cars will soon be mandatory, we revisit our comment on the subject from 1975

A rather important announcement was made by the Government yesterday, outlining a planned ban of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040 - which really isn’t as far away as it seems.

In light of this, among the deluge of comment and proclamations, Twitter user Not-Quite Classics sent Autocar a fascinating article of ours from June 1975 regarding ‘The electric challenge’. So fascinating, in fact, that we reckon it’s worthy of revisiting.

“The electric vehicle is the key to our future,” Neil Carmichael, Conservative parliamentary under-secretary for the environment, had said. Clearly, the actual rate of progress has been far outstripped by talk of it.

Just as today, Autocar said that there were “unanswered questions in the development of practical electrically powered vehicles for everyday use”, although Carmichael had emphasised that the Government was “deeply committed to the development of the necessary policies and programmes”.

Autocar continued: “Official enthusiasm – backed by official money – for such a project is welcome. In the long term, it is clear that electricity is the most likely motive power to supplant hydrocarbon fuels in vehicles themselves, if only because alternative energy sources, be they nuclear, solar, tidal or any other type, can only be practically harnessed in major centres, such as power stations."

However, it would seem that progress was held back by similar issues to those experienced today.

“The technology is available to generate this extra power (it is accepted that present power supplies – mostly generated by fossil fuel combustion – could not cope with a large-scale shift to electric vehicles), but the intermediate storage system in the vehicle is sadly lacking.

“Battery development is the key to the practical possibilities of electric cars and, at the moment, in the words of one industry research chief, ‘a breakthrough is not even in remote prospect’.

“The yet-to-be-developed storage unit needs to be cheap, of high capacity and low weight.

“More efficient batteries than the familiar lead-acid type do, of course, already exist but they are expensive because they use materials in short supply and, in any case, the best projection of battery efficiency in the next few years is only one-twentieth of the potential of a poor piston engine.”

Back in 1975, sodium-sulphur was being researched, because the lead acid units were too heavy to be used in anything other than tiny cars such as the Enfield 8000, which had a top speed of only 48mph and a range of about 40 miles.

Daimler-Benz had ruled out even hybrids because these would be 20% more expensive than diesels.

Electric cars could not be put into normal use, said the German company, because they would need to be capable of cross-country distances and, in 1975, “this could not for the foreseeable future be put into effect”.

Thankfully, battery technology has come a long way since then. Lithium ion batteries have emerged, with the Teslas of today and forthcoming Audi E-tron and Jaguar I-Pace all claiming incredible performance, driving ranges of more than 300 miles and short charging times.

The challenge for the future remains to find ways to rapidly build up the charging infrastructure, ramp up the National Grid and flatten peaks in its demand, and to continue the shift to renewable energy sources. Not to mention cutting down charging times, increasing ranges and making battery production and recycling sustainable.

That’s a hell of a lot that needs doing in a mere 23 years, but having a target that must be worked towards will hopefully push things further than they have been moving over the past half-century – even if the pace of change has picked up of late.

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Comments
6

27 July 2017

It seems that the government has already backtracked on the pledge, by clarifying that the target is for all cars to be electrified by 2040. That of course means more hybrids, which are not really electric cars at all - just combustion engine cars with electric assistance (and in some cases that assistance can be very slight indeed). So it seems that the petol engine and probably the diesel - which can also be hybridised - may be with us for a long time yet. 

27 July 2017

Whenever the governemtn taalks about stuff like this it always turns out they don't really know what they're talking about. The real experts will need to clarify things or the car industry will not know what it has to do. Plus, we don't want the likes of Ferrari and Range Rover thinking they can stick a 48V battery in their cars and call them hybrids.

27 July 2017
androo wrote:

Whenever the governemtn taalks about stuff like this it always turns out they don't really know what they're talking about. The real experts will need to clarify things or the car industry will not know what it has to do. Plus, we don't want the likes of Ferrari and Range Rover thinking they can stick a 48V battery in their cars and call them hybrids.

Isn't that the VW plan too?. Also the Volvo T8's, yes they have some battery range but with a 300bhp petrol engine onboard the need to ever plug in is totally negated.There was talk of the CO2 bands being sub-divided at the bottom end in the ULEV zone, so only EVs or hybrids with a realistically useful larger range got the truly cheap company car tax to weed out the current glut of 'tax dodger' models. I think initially something like a battery only range of 75 miles was considered.  

TS7

27 July 2017
androo wrote:

Plus, we don't want the likes of Ferrari and Range Rover thinking they can stick a 48V battery in their cars and call them hybrids.

 

I think thta's EXACTLY what many of us want.

TS7

27 July 2017

Why won't Autocar enable post editing!

27 July 2017

To return to the subject of the Enfield, it occurs to me that this isn't too dissimilar in concept - and range and performance - to today's renault Twizzy. And at least it has doors and side windows. Some progress we've made in  the last half century! 

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