Why Gordon Brown mustn't swallow electric car spin
04 May 2009 09:00
Gordon Brown can’t drive and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s plenty wrong with him preaching what sort of car we should drive.
By 2020, says our prime minister, all new cars sold in Britain should be electric or hybrid cars. What’s more, in the recent budget, motorists were offered subsidies of up to £5,000 to buy electric or plug-in hybrid cars. The details, predictably, were vague.
Now I’m sorry but there is no more chance of Britain’s new car showrooms being full of electric cars by 2020 than there is of Alistair Darling meeting his 2010 GDP growth target. It’s fantasy politics and, in the case of electric car promises, green posturing for the eco gullible.
Further, no government minister – let alone a non-driver – should be ramming specific technologies down our throats. Gordon Brown, I suspect, knows nothing about plug-in electric cars, or parallel hybrids, or mild hybrids, or new high-tech diesels. He probably thinks a common rail is somewhere to hang your coat.
Instead, all motoring legislation and financial incentives should be technology neutral. By all means set limits – by offering incentives for people buying cars that emit less than 100g/km of CO2, for example. But do not prescribe the technology to get us there. Brown knows as much about car technology as Toyota’s engine gurus know about the washrooms at Westminster. Set the eco limits and let the experts find the solutions. They may be electric cars, plug-in hybrids, biofuel, new-tech diesel or diesel-electric hybrid. Or very likely all of the above.
Electric cars will almost certainly be part of a greener future – but they will likely never be any more than an urban-specific solution, about as useful in the countryside as a pair of Gucci loafers. I drove the fine new electric Mini E – which government ministers Mandelson and Hoon used to promote their electric ‘initiative’ – a few months ago. The car’s chief engineer told me that, if coal-fired power stations were used to charge the Mini’s batteries (and 31 percent of UK power comes from coal), the current diesel Mini produced less CO2. So why give someone a £5,000 incentive to buy a higher polluting car?