Something has gone wrong in our smooth transition to electric cars. A nasty noise is coming from the (silent) engine, and there’s a curious smell of burning. Here’s a Tesla, that motor for the environmentally-aware show-off, with a £5,000 price cut, which was immediately matched by the value of the used motors.
Just a little local difficulty? Well, hardly if Paul Philpott is right. He’s in charge of Kia Motors in the UK. His customers are not really in the Tesla league, and they never will be, because zero-emission electric cars are just too expensive for the mass market as far ahead as he can see.
This is close to heresy for electric car fans, but it shows that the days of wishful thinking may be over. Range anxiety – the thought that you could run out of juice and be stranded, especially in cold weather – has a new friend in pump anxiety – fear that all the charging points at the service station will either be occupied or broken. Perhaps you’ll have to book an appointment.
The number of electric cars being sold in the UK is still rising, but the growth is slowing. The government’s own agency has just cut its 2025 projections, because people are “expected to stick to cheaper options”. It was always a not-so-hidden subsidy to exempt electric cars from road tax, and astonishing that they defeated the laws of physics and somehow did not cause congestion in cities.
Would-be owners are on notice that the tax privileges are going to be withdrawn, and the parking concessions must follow. Besides, the dirty little secret of electric cars is that two-thirds of them are not bought by the driver, but by the driver’s employer, where the benefit-in-kind tax is 2 per cent for electric, against 22 per cent for petrol. A bonus for the well-paid executive. No wonder so many of their motors are Teslas.
Despite all this taxpayer largesse, the cars are not even cheaper to run. At current prices, running on petrol is actually less expensive than charging, despite the punitive fuel duty, thanks to the dramatic rise in the cost of electricity.
Looming over the whole industry is the ban on new petrol and diesel cars in the UK, now just seven years away. The multi-billion cost of this Johnsonian crowd-pleaser has barely registered yet, except in the motor industry itself, which is in a pretty grim state, with UK production down to a 70-year low last year.
The fate of the factory that produces the mini outside Oxford illustrates the mess that casual green commitments have got us into. From 2030 it will be only making a car that cannot legally be sold in the UK. What was until quite recently a success story, painfully rebuilt from the ruins of a crumbling British motor industry, will be reduced to Nissan and some luxury manufacturers. The farce of BritishVolt sums up successive governments’ wishful thinking.
As for the British motorist, she will be forced to pay up for electric, or join the growing underclass who will run the ageing fleet of petrol cars through the 2030s, or until they are banned. Mass-market electric cars are likely to come from China. They are made, of course, by companies powered by coal.
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Andy Haldane is the best Governor the Bank of England never had. Yesterday he was on the radio warning that there is more pain to come for the British consumer, as higher mortgage rates feed through into bigger monthly payments, made out of inflation-squeezed incomes. “I would have preferred the Bank and other central banks to have started their rate rises a bit sooner.”
Well, he can say that now, having left the Bank, from his eyrie as chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts. Except that he did say that when he was there, and was voted down by the rest of the Monetary Policy Committee. He saw the risks they didn’t, and we are paying the price today for the MPC’s failure.
His analysis of where we are now is uncomfortably accurate: a lost decade and a half of growth, “a ministerial merry-go-round, that increases the probability of measures not being followed through and of programmes that are working not being scaled up”, and the lack of any coherent economic strategy.
To which he might have added: an inability to tell the truth about where we are, and an addiction to foolish announcements designed to get the government round the next corner. Next week the MPC has another chance to try and make amends. Can they do it without him?
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