Vir Cantium

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Electric Cars Subsidies – Not A Gimmick

So, the government wants to give us up to £5,000 to buy electric cars.

Whoop. Ee. Doo.

Where to start?

The intentions are good, let us assume. That is, let us assume that this isn’t just a stitch-on to the environmental cloak that the state bailout of certain car manufacturers is covered in, to get round EU state-aid rules. Let’s assume that the reason the government doesn’t just zero-rate the VAT on electric cars isn’t because the EU won’t let them.

Just how environmentally friendly is the idea? I’m not talking about the fact that the cars will still be charged from the existing power generation network – much of which runs on fossil fuels (until we see sense and start building nuclear again), but that fact that the intention is clearly to have – at the end of the chain – old cars being scrapped. Motor vehicles have the maximum impact on the environment at two points in their life: when they’re made, and when they’re scrapped. The best thing you can do with many vehicles – especially the older ones, which were made from less recyclable material (apart from the obvious metal), is to keep them on the road.

Then there is the small detail that might make one think this is just an ill-thought-through headline-grabbing gimmick: why electric cars? What about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles? If the government is going to subsidise installation of the electric charging infrastructure, what happens if hydrogen proves more sustainable – environmentally and/or financially? If the energy companies find (as is quite possible) that it makes more sense for them to use their existing infrastructure to ship and sell hydrogen, what happens to all those taxpayer-subsidised plug sockets? It seems rather early to be putting all the eggs in one basket.

The biggest problem with electric cars, though, is not the cost – they already qualify for beneficial rates of road tax, company car tax treatment and, of course, don’t incur fuel duties. No: the problem is that they’re rubbish. And if you go for a less nerdy model like the Toyota Pious Prius, then you’re buying something which is more environmentally damaging in its production (some parts have to be shipped halfway around the world … twice) and heavier than an equivalent petrol/diesel vehicle.

Alternatively powered cars are coming, but like all new technology, it takes time to mature. It may be that this is another example of where the best thing government can do is nothing … because it doesn’t have to do anything.


3 responses to “Electric Cars Subsidies – Not A Gimmick

  1. Middle Man April 16, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Nice blog! I agree with you entirely. This is no solution. You may also enjoy reading this:

  2. William Shaw April 16, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    I hate to echo Middle Man’s naked attempt to get you reading his blog on this topic, but on the subject of electric cars and the new intiative, you may also enjoy reading this:

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