“Kingdom of the electric car? An illusion!”
With the announcement of the end of the combustion engine – at last in 2040 in France and the UK, already in 2025 in Norway – it looks like we are at the advent of the ‘kingdom of the electric car’. Not for Philippe Casse, car history expert and former spokesman for Belgium’s largest car importer, D’Ieteren and now retired. “It’s an illusion or even a lie”, he writes in a column in La Libre Belgique.
There has always been a market for electric cars, since the invention of the automobile, in 1880. In 1900 half of world’s car fleet, some 20.000 cars, was electric. At that time the cost of a combustion engine, a gear box and a clutch was far higher than the cost for the components of the electric motor.
Only for the milkman
The introduction of mass production of cars and the shear unlimited range of the petrol cars, almost make the electric car vanish. Except for very specific applications like the milkman’s rounds in Great Brittain. With the outbreak of the first ‘motorized’ war, World War I, the electric car disappeared for nearly a century.
Today there certainly is a market for electric cars again with professional usage in urban areas and no other choice possible, as a base for it. Private people can use them too, if they can get over a few handicaps mentioned further on.
Plug-in hybrid cars could turn out to be indispensable to go to city centers where combustion engines are forbidden. But they are economically absurd and their consumption and emissions are heavier than those of its non-hybrid counterparts.
The announcement of the ban on combustion engines is flooding the media, while technical foundations, as well as economical, social an environmental ones are doubtfully. One has the impression there is ever higher bidding, without a single voice raised to bring politicians back with their feet on the ground.
One can fear they don’t realize the consequences of what they’re declaring. Authorities prefer to do some ‘green washing’, rather than risking political suicide by enforcing every owner of a house to isolate it properly.
On the premise we are going to live ‘the absolute kingdom of the electric car’, one is temped to answer: “It’s an illusion”. Why? Because it is simply impossible: technically, environmentally, socially and fiscally.
1. Technical impossible
If the whole Belgian car fleet (5.750.000 units) would be electrical, we had to produce 30% more electricity. Can we do that while shutting down nuclear power houses? One forgets also there is no circular economy yet for recycling lithium-ion batteries and the only two viable ‘fuels’ are hydrogen and methanol.
Hydrogen asks more energy to produce than it can deliver. It’s the only fuel to be known being highly explosive and it is mostly produced today by cracking methane gas (CH4). And bio-fuel like methanol is compromising human food production.
For the transport sector, there is no electric alternative for heavy trucks yet and in a lot of places in the world there is no electricity or distances between charging stations are too large.
2. Environmental impossible
The energetic efficiency of the electric car and its CO2 production, counting its construction, usage and recycling at the end of its live (well to wheel) is at its best equivalent to a diesel car. Besides for Norway, no European country is able to provide with its electricity production an efficiency level better than a similar diesel car.
Moving the CO2 production from the road where it is used to an electric power house is an illusion of a solution. And electric cars will still produce half of the ultra fine particles (brakes, tires,…) of a diesel car or petrol car with direct injection.
3. Socially impossible
First two thirds of the Belgian car fleet is ‘sleeping’ on the roads (some 3.8 million units) and the EU Commission asks Belgium to install only 21.000 public charging stations. Secondly, most families can’t do with only one car for their movements and need a car for doing long distances with luggage. Imagine only the millions of electric cars on the same route during the holidays!
And finally, there is the vast number of professionals who are on the road constantly during the day and have no time to spare for recharging…
4. Fiscally impossible
How long will the ‘government’s present’ last to tax deduct an electric vehicle for 100%? And every new electric vehicle will mean a vehicle with a combustion engine less. How to compensate the loss in taxes and excises, some 5 billion euro? Giving incentives like in Norway (free bus tickets, free parking space, no road tax,…) can’t last forever when electric car sales starts booming.
And to end: nobody talks about the difference in energy consumption between someone driving moderately or someone who doesn’t. With a diesel car, the difference can be 50% at maximum, with a petrol car it will be more than 100% and with an electric car even up to 200%.