It’s taken some time, but I may finally have worked out what kind of electric car I want. Also, coincidentally, I’ve been driving the new Volkswagen ID 3 this week; but, credible and interesting as it may be, that isn’t the car. In fact, I wonder if a big ‘legacy’ car-maker such as Volkswagen will ever make the kind of EV I want. It might take somebody new, with fewer factories to keep in business, fewer pensions to pay, and less baggage when it comes to the car business.
Hilton Holloway’s excellent piece explaining the implications of lifecycle analysis when considering the true environmental impact of electric cars started me off thinking. The research he summarises makes it pretty clear that, in order for EVs to have the impact we all want on lowering global CO2 emissions, they must be the kinds of cars we’re prepared not just to buy but to really keep.
I was surprised to read that, depending how sustainably-generated is the electricity on which you run it, an electric car might still need to do as many as 80,000 miles before it actually begins to represent a net saving on CO2 compared with a modern ICE equivalent. That’s taking into account the emissions associated with the production of it as well as the day-to-day mileage. Ten years ago, I would have easily believed that; but in 2021? I mean, really?
There will be differing views and estimates on exactly where that EV CO2 ‘mileage breakeven’ point is, I’m sure; every other academic will probably have one. And it’ll also be a moving target as battery production develops and energy generation ‘decarbonises’. But I don’t think anyone’s arguing with the idea that, if we want to drive in a way that’s really sustainable, the first thing we need to do is to stop buying a new car as often as every three- to five years.
So where’s the Polestar- or Rivian-like startup brand that’s ready to sell me an electric car built for a ten-, twelve- or even fifteen-year lifespan? The perfect zero-emission second-car-in-the-family-type-car, that’s not sporty or fashionable, but is solid, simple, practical, future-proof, and built to last twice as long as your average modern hatchback or crossover SUV. That certainly doesn’t sound like a Tesla, does it? Not this week, at any rate.
I suppose what I’m suggesting isn’t just a car but a whole new ownership model. One based on a product that has been designed with quality and longevity in pin-sharp focus; a new car built like no other. It might be priced at a modest premium – maybe 20 per cent more than a typical, medium-sized, volume-selling EV of today – but well within reach of the average UK family. Let’s say it costs £35,000. After a reasonable deposit, you’d spread that out over a six-year finance deal so it didn’t sting too much; but remember, you’re in it for the longer term.