Electric Cars

Most of the work we do on the select committee I sit on is in dingy committee rooms for hours and hours, but sometimes we manage to escape out into the real world! We’re doing an inquiry into electric cars at the moment and today we legged it out of London to drive the cars ourselves and meet the people making.

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We first went to Milton Keynes where there’s a brilliant place in a mall that lets people see, discuss, and drive loads of different types of electric cars. It’s totally independent so you’re not pushed to any one brand, instead they try to understand your driving habits and match you with a hybrid / plug-in hybrid / fully electric car depending on your needs.

I took a BMW i3 our for a spin. It was amazing and not what I expected at all. Unlike most automatics there are no gears plus when you reduce the throttle a reclamation brake kicks in that harnesses electricity back. It makes the ride unbelievably smooth as there much less braking and gear changing. Also, it was so quiet which makes it a really different experience.

Then we went on to Coventry where we visited the assembly plant for the London Taxi Company who are now making the brand new London cabs that are all electric. The plant was remarkable, and the product is just stunning.

We went out in the taxi after the visit. The cabs are bigger, totally silent, and if you see the photo notice the roof - it’s totally transparent to make it feel light and spacious. I was seriously impressed.

Driving a car and being in the cab left me with the very strong feeling that electric vehicles are already much more mature products than I’d previously thought. There are genuinely positive reasons to get one in addition to the environmental factor. They are almost a quarter cheaper to fuel, even the cheapest versions do things like heat up the cab and defrost before you arrive in the morning (some expensive cars do this but it means running the engine) and the ride quality and engine power is really very good.

We must now get the infrastructure right. We all know of charging stations in the area and in motorway service stations, but many are not convenient enough.

The government has a target of 2040 when new cars must be electric. My experience today has made me feel strongly that this is not ambitious enough. This technology is here, it is extremely robust and desirable, and it is ready for prime time.

Sadiq Khan has set a target for new London cabs to be electric in five years and industry has responded brilliantly. Government should show ambition like this knowing the more that are made the cheaper they will become and demand for charging points will develop.

The car I drove has a range of 125 miles on one charge, way more than the average driver uses in a day which is less than 30.

I don’t have a car, I sold it ten years ago as I wanted to commit to public transport. If I ever do get another one though, after today I have no shadow of doubt that it will be electric. And with the Rampion Wind Farm going live, we in Sussex know that much of the electricity we would use will come from renewable sources too.

Are you open to going electric? Let me know I’m really keen to hear your thoughts...especially as I’m now back in parliament and we have very late votes tonight! Yours, Peter

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commented 2018-05-21 14:16:01 +0100
I’m so glad this is finally happening, there is now a real momentum building to make this technology accessible. This is a great thing for the future, however there is still a considerable transition period until we see mostly electric vehicles on the road. Personally I can’t wait to see the end of diesel as it damages our health and quality of life. My daughter walks along a busy main road to school and back every day and this bothers me as it is clearly toxic air that she breathes just so others get cheap motoring. I would like to see air quality improved in the shorter term however as there still is some time to go before the majority of cars on our roads are electric. I would also love to see more done to encourage pedestrians and cyclists as well as where possible rail access with all UK rail gradually being electrified.
I don’t understand why diesel car use is still incentivised. It is still very cheap for most diesel car drivers to use their polluting vehicles particularly if compared to expensive rail travel which surely is even better than electric car use as it avoids road congestion.
Diesel was promoted as it was thought to cut CO2 production but diesel itself produces 10% more CO2 then petrol for a given volume, so mpg figures flatter diesel economy by 10%. Then with the tax incentives and the exaggerated economy figures from manufacturers, large and heavy diesel models have become popular further increasing CO2 emissions – negating the supposed benefits of diesel. Only now we have Nitrogen compounds and particulate pollution added, not to mention the increase in particulates from brake and tyre wear due to the increased weight of the vehicles. The well publicised fact that many diesel models produce many many times more pollution than specified is also scandalous, why is this acceptable? A Nissan Qashqai (one of the most popular models) for example produces 18 times the allowable NOx emissions, yet still is Euro 6 qualified, so escapes measures to reduce pollution. Add to this the problem of many people including commercial drivers, removing the DPF filters and disabling other pollution reduction measures, the problem is much worse than anticipated.
In the short term we should stop demonising petrol cars, in a transition to hybrids and ultimately electric only cars, they are now more efficient than before and are so much cleaner than diesel. Even some older petrol models (all have catalytic converters since 1992) are generally much cleaner than all but the best diesels in real world conditions. Some measures to remove older petrol and diesel cars could actually backfire when cleaner petrol cars are replaced with modern diesels (such as a Nissan Qashqai) where the diesel is actually producing more air pollution. Smaller lighter petrol cars are so much better environmentally than big heavy diesels we see so much now. Why can we not tax vehicles based on weight, and real world pollution instead of just CO2 emissions based on optimistic lab results. Fuel tax could cover the actual C02 emissions so should be priced not per litre of fuel but per kg of CO2 when burned, this way CO2 produced by petrol or diesel is priced equally and the incentive will be to reduce CO2, not as it is, to switch to diesel and pollute more.
Finally those who complain that the government is to blame for encouraging diesel use and should therefore allow the continued cheap access to highly polluting vehicles indefinitely should instead realise that they have had it good for a very long time. It is now time to move on, it was many years since these incentives were introduced so surely long enough for people to have saved at the expense of air quality to finally be prepared to give this up.

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