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The future of electric cars

By raccars Published

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Auto manufacturers are investing furiously in new electric vehicle technology, touting not only its clean and green properties but also its smooth ride characteristics. Furthermore, the UK government is practically throwing money at consumers to encourage them to buy. The problem is, people aren't. While the traditional combustion fuelled engine market is thriving in the UK, electric car uptake is lukewarm at best.

Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has announced yet another government scheme to increase the low emissions vehicle market, this time to the tune of £500 million. Could he be throwing good money after bad here?

Given the slow assimilation of low emissions vehicles into the public arena, it is questionable whether car manufacturers could be doing the same, with pretty much every major brand spending huge sums to develop hybrid and all electric models.

The motivation behind this push on consumers to buy electric is largely driven by EU legislation, requiring manufacturers to reduce their fleets' average CO2 emissions, from 130g/km in 2013 to 95g/km by 2020. This is a far lower figure than Japan's target of 705g/km, for example, or 117g/km in China and 121g/km in the US.

Manufacturers are therefore obliged to create ultra low emissions output, to soak up some of the excess of their wider product range. For a company such as Fiat, whose product output is in any case largely based around small, efficient and economical cars like the 500, this is relatively achievable. However, premium brands such as Daimler or even BMW, selling major quantities of high performance, large, heavy vehicles, will struggle to reduce their average to these levels without diluting their output with some cleaner products.

Manufacturers who fail to comply with the EU's stringent limits will be subject to substantial fines.

While both governments and manufacturers are so keen to reassure customers of the advantages and benefits of buying electric, ultimately the consumer is the one who is funding the move. An Aachen University study estimates that the cost of development, to reduce that 130g/km fleet average down to 95g/km, will be passed on to the consumer to the tune of up to nearly £3,000 each.

It's a necessary step, however. While cynical minds could make a good case for manufacturers' clean and green aspirations being driven by the urge to keep EU penalty fine collectors from the door, it's had to argue against the desirability of simultaneously finding sustainable, long term alternatives to fast diminishing fossil fuel reserves.

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