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Auto Express Opinion

Posted on 04/05/23 |

Reproduced with permission of Auto Express

Andy Palmer thinks the UK is missing a trick by putting all its eggs in the electric car basket and ignoring other technologies.

“When the EU announced that it will allow the sale of combustion engined vehicles designed to run on e-fuels, despite the 2035 ban on petrol and diesel vehicles, I saw this as a common-sense policy.  Perhaps naively, I assumed the UK government would follow suit.    I was wrong.

Instead, the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said “we are not in Europe, we don’t have to do what Europe does”.  Not only is this a worryingly myopic approach to the road towards net zero, it is atrociously bad policy-making for our domestic auto industry.

When I worked at Nissan, I was responsible for the launch of the world’s first mass-market electric vehicle, the Leaf.  It will therefore come as no surprise that I am a vocal advocate for electric cars and the role they can and will play in helping to achieve a healthier planet.  Yet I am a strong believer that battery electric vehicles are only one component of a myriad of options required if we are to move towards a cleaner future.

By following the lead of the EU and classifying e-fuels as a net zero technology, not only would we be enabling engineers and scientists to continue to develop this burgeoning industry, but it would also provide a much-needed boost to the UK’s boutique manufacturers of sports cars, already worried about what the future holds thanks to a lack of strategic direction from the government.

Imagine a world where Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini are permitted to using e-fuels while Aston Martin and McLaren cannot.  Grant Shapps’ announcement is a real kick in the teeth for those of us who are passionate about not only British motoring, but also the future prospects of our planet. 

Having spent over forty years in the auto industry, I’ve seen my share of political interference having a negative impact on the industry.  Diesel is perhaps the most high-profile example.  In the early 2000s, the UK provided incentives to motorists to purchase diesel cars.  The reasoning was that they use less fuel than petrol vehicles, therefore they were an environmentally friendly alternative.

Less than a decade later, though, and the truth has proved very different and very damaging.  The crux of the diesel saga was that politicians overstepped their mark. Instead of identifying the problem, writing the cheques and leaving much of the rest to scientists and engineers they fatefully dictated what they believed to be the solution.  I fear we are repeating the same mistake by pinning all our hopes on battery electric vehicles as the only solution to net zero transport. 

Whilst I accept all technologies inevitably have their unexpected consequences; diesel, its particulates; EVs, the higher Co2 to manufacturer them; Fuel cells, the grey hydrogen as a result of the manufacturing process and with e-fuels, net zero is achieved at the tailpipe - but you have to deal with the NoX and particulates.  But on these grounds, we shouldn’t dismiss any of the zero emission/ net zero carbon initiatives as they all further the science and prove the Darwinian philosophy”.

Ed; Anyone doing a high mileage will have followed the diesel route, blissfully believing we were doing the right thing.  And we may also have been caught in the ‘dieselgate’ emissions testing scam by most manufacturers.

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