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The Race To Zero Emissions

Once upon a time, we were all whispering about a possible conspiracy that someone had invented a car that ran on something that wasn’t fossil fuel but the Big Oil companies resorted to various forms of skulduggery ranging from buying out the patents or technology through to murder to ensure that petrol and diesel continued to reign supreme in the motoring world.  Fast forward to nearly 2020 (i.e. today) and there’s a new rumour on the block: the rumour that petrol and diesel powered cars are going to be phased out.

In fact, this is more than just a rumour.  They’re starting to do it already in the UK.  The famous university city of Oxford is going to ban fossil fuel powered cars from the city centre by 2020, meaning that only electric vehicles (and probably hydrogen powered vehicles) will be allowed to buzz around in the heart of the city.  Looks like the complaint made by JRR Tolkien back in the day about “the roar of self-obstructive mechanical traffic” in the streets of inner Oxford is going to be dealt with… well, at least the roaring bit.  The idea is to make the city centre the world’s first Zero Emissions Zone.  (OK, to be picky, it will be Zero Emissions as far as car exhausts go – there will still be carbon dioxide and methane emissions as long as human beings breathe, burp and fart.)

This move to ban petrol-based cars is not unique to places as notoriously academic and ivory-towerish as Oxford.  In fact, the Government of Scotland has announced that it will phase out petrol and diesel vehicles by 2023.  Ms Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, has acknowledged in her statement (which covers other topics – the bit in question is about one-third of a way down if you want to find it) that it’s an ambitious project and is going to need a lot of infrastructure established.

This move by Scotland to be the first to phase out new petrol and diesel cars is ambitious, but it looks as though it’s part of a race between the old rivals England and Scotland to be the greenest.  Apparently, the UK government has announced  that it wants all new vans and cars on the roads to be zero emission vehicles (which is not a bad term for lumping electric, hydrogen and ethanol vehicles together – although it probably doesn’t include biodiesel vehicles). Because the UK has rules about the age of cars that they allow on the roads, this means that all their vehicles are slated to be zero-emissions vehicles by 2050.

What this means for the owners of vintage and classic vehicles, I don’t know.  I guess they’ll have some sort of exemption or they’ll only be allowed out on special occasions.  Or maybe they’ll have to be retrofitted to take biodiesel or ethanol.  I suspect that even the royal Rolls-Royces and Daimlers aren’t going to be exempt.

Naturally, if there’s rivalry between England and Scotland to do something first, you can bet like anything that the other ancient rivalry will flame up and indeed it has: France has also announced that it won’t be selling any new petrol or diesel cars after 2040.  Happily, the French government has also said that it will provide some sort of subsidy for poorer households so they can get an upgrade.  And yes, this puts the pressure on all those French marques like Citroën , Renault and Peugeot  to up their game and make sure that they’re only making hydrogen and electric vehicles by this stage.

Naturally, Scandinavia is already in on the game (and, incidentally, they’re old rivals of Scotland’s as well – which is why the north of Scotland likes to keeps up a few Viking traditions).  Norway is already smugly announcing that half of its new vehicle registrations are electric or at least hybrid, and it says the Norwegian target is to end sales of fossil-fuel-only cars by 2025.  Norway has been handing out tax breaks and concession for electrics and hybrids for ages, and it’s got the geography and rainfall needed to sustain the hydroelectric plants that are necessary to charge all those batteries.  The Netherlands and Germany are also in on the act. This means, of course, that all the German and Swedish car marques we love are going to concentrate on electrics and hybrids.  My beloved Volvo announced  that every new Volvo car and SUV from 2019 onwards will be electric in some way: full-time electric, plug-in hybrid or at least a little bit hybrid.

However, if governments can live up to their promises (IF!!!), then it looks as though Scotland wants to win the zero-emissions race.  I feel a song coming on, to be sung to the tune of Loch Lomond:

Oh ye’ll take the low road, and I’ll take the high road

And I’ll phase out petrol cars before ye

And me and my diesel will never drive again

On the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond.

In fact, it seems as though Australia is a little bit behind here, as we’ve been slower to embrace electrics, although they are becoming more and more common.  I’ve seen a few new charging points popping up near where I live, so people are starting to get on board.  The Green Party has asked the Australian government to jump on board, but the Powers That Be are hesitant.

And I think they’re right to be hesitant.  I’ve still got a ton of questions about the whole thing, though, as I guess many of us do.  What happens to old classics and collectors’ items?  Do electric vehicles and hybrids have the range to tackle our long Outback roads without stranding people in the middle of nowhere?  What if we can’t afford a new car?  How are we going to charge all those vehicles – are we going to just burn petrol and diesel in electric power plants instead of car engines (which seems pretty pointless)?  Where do ethanol (which we’re already using in Australia) and biodiesel fit into this picture?  Do we have enough charging points and can our electricity system handle all the new demand?  What will happen to all those old vehicles internal combustion engines?  Do they go to the landfill?  Is there a way to recycle the metal and plastics used to make them?  And what if we LIKE the cars we’ve got and what they can do??? Does the average Aussie driver get a say in all this?

However, we can certainly expect to be including a lot more electric vehicles in our car reviews, and it’s certainly an exciting time of change for the motoring industry, so we’ll do our best to keep you updated.

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