You could argue the UK’s policy towards private cars amounts to “EV absolutism”. If you can’t afford an EV, with its green number plate stripe, then it doesn’t seem to matter whether you have a 20 year old diesel or a brand new euro6 petrol hybrid.
As always things seem much more complex when you look into to them. EVs absolutely reduce tailpipe emissions because, er, they don’t have them. However greenhouse emissions through the production cycle appear higher, and there’s also the implications of long and carbon intensive supply chains alongside the emissions arising from the production of the electricity itself. And critically supply is limited and they remain too expensive for many.
There are circa 32 million cars on the road in the UK, the average car is nearly 9 years old and EVs currently represent less than 2% of the total. Around 1.4m than normal fewer cars were registered in 2020 and 2021, which means we’re scrapping fewer cars and the average age is getting higher. Is there not an argument that we can do more now cut emissions from over 31.5 million ICE cars on our roads?
One place where the arguments are perhaps a little less complex is in France where much of the electricity used comes from nuclear power. Here at least the provenance of the electricity is clearer.
I’ve just returned from a road trip in France, and I saw lots of evidence of pragmatism towards car use. In every service station we stopped at there was a row of available shiny new chargers. I drove a mild hybrid, but I can tell you I think my trip would have been just fine in an EV based on what I saw.
One thing that impressed me was the approach to managing local emissions. Before you travel into certain cities, you have to apply for a “Crit’Air” sticker for your windscreen. There are many different colours reflecting fuel types and emissions standards (mine was purple, as a Euro6 mild hybrid). Signs at the city limits then show you which stickers can continue, and which are banned. It’s really simple, the same everywhere (although the rules vary locally on what sticker colours are admitted) and it cost me less than 4 Euros to buy the sticker (although I can’t help thinking the DVLA in the UK would round that up to £100).
It got me thinking. Why not put a simple colour sticker in every windscreen (or number plate) showing at a glance which cars cause the MOST local pollution? As I’ve already said, in the UK you might as well run a 20 year old diesel because the attitude here is that if it’s not a pure EV, then you are a polluter. Arguably the French system is more pragmatic; pushing people to move to newer cleaner vehicles on their budget.