‘Economic nationalism is the ugly face of the electric car’
“The car of the future will be electric because politicians are choosing for this in an auction of economic nationalism with China leading the pack”. This is in short the opinion ventilated by Marc De Vos, professor of the Ghent University and director of the think tank Itinera in a column in Trends.
The biggest auto show in the world – the IAA Frankfurt motor show – is coming to an end and the conclusion is: the future of the car is electric. But are batteries and electricity so much better than combustion engines? They’re not as user-friendly to start with. The range of conventional cars is far superior and charging takes longer than filling up the tank.
It’s not about price. Batteries are more expensive and last less long than combustion engines. Their resale value is a big question mark. Electric cars demand an expanded charging network at places were they park. This demands gigantic investments. And when we say goodbye to oil, excises won’t feed the hungry state treasury anymore.
And then there is the environment. Electric cars don’t emit stinking and harmful gases, but electricity production does. Gas, nuclear energy and coal will be an important part of worldwide electricity production for decades to come. For batteries metals like nickle, lithium and cobalt are needed, which are mined by a polluting mining industry.
Remaining are the cities with their polluted air. The electric car means the end of the smog. But there are alternatives which cost less. We can decrease car usage by restrictions and mobility services like Uber and car pooling or trading in cars for bikes like in Antwerp or Copenhagen. Or we can bet on public transport driven by hydrogen.
Off course, battery technology will improve on all levels. But the same goes for combustion engines and other technologies who remain under the radar for now. Intelligent policies give room for innovation, experimenting and competition to find the most sustainable mix. But that’s something we don’t do.
The electric car is heavily subsidized everywhere, for costumers and manufacturers. Without subsidies a company like Tesla wouldn’t exist. China, the UK, France, India and Norway have already put an expiry date on fossil fuels for private cars.
The race has started to become the new home market for the new car industry, simply by forbidding the old one. China goes most furthest in this. It chooses for the electric car radically and puts several billions of subsidies on the table for this. All major car makers make partnerships with Chinese companies to get a piece of the pie even if they have to give away their know-how for that.
It is no coincidence that Volvo, the Chinese brand with a Swedish name, is going completely electric already.
Economic nationalism is the ugly face of the electric car. The future is electric because politicians are choosing for it, hoping to breed their own champions of the green industry. If we continue this way, the electric car will be a Chinese one.