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Electric vehicles = crony capitalism

Steve Baker is one of the small number of free-thinking members of the UK parliament. His latest post, on the House of Commons Transport Committee's hearing on electric vehicles is a must-read.

The Transport Committee met today for an evidence session on low carbon vehicles. It illustrated that crony capitalism is now not merely entrenched and passed over, but borne out of the good intentions of a global regulatory elite.

In the first session, we learned that “consumer demand is lagging policy”, which I translated as “people don’t want to buy these expensive vehicles” (I’ll link to the transcript later). We learned that electric vehicles are expensive and impractical: £30,000 for a subsidised car with a £15,000 battery and a short range. Of course the electricity comes mostly from carbon sources, although in the end we were asked to believe that combustion-kinetic energy-electricity-transmission-charging-discharging-kinetic energy is a more efficient process than combustion-kinetic energy. Perhaps.

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Reader Comments (64)

my understanding is a Nissan Leaf will likely need the batteries changing at a cost of around £5K every 3-5 years depending on how it's driven and charged, although the Nissan website doesn't tell you this. Wouldn't want to buy a 2nd hand Leaf (or a new Leaf for that matter).

Jun 13, 2012 at 2:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterMangoChutney

oops, £19K according to the Telegraph and suggestions by Nissan that the batteries will last longer than the car - wonder if that's build quality ;)

Jun 13, 2012 at 2:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterMangoChutney

@ MangoChutney Jun 13, 2012 at 2:08 PM

Right, and with the current state of the electricity grid an electric vehicle is no better on emission than a modern petrol or diesel vehicle. How do you like the enormous mountain of large, disused batteries in the landfill? These two items together make the socalled "green vehicle" very black.

Jun 13, 2012 at 2:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlbert Stienstra

Green is merely the colour of the emotion the owner of said vehicle hopes will occur in the hoi polloi nearby.

Jun 13, 2012 at 3:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterAC1

“we were asked to believe that combustion-kinetic energy-electricity-transmission-charging-discharging-kinetic energy is a more efficient process than combustion-kinetic energy. Perhaps”

Doesn’t sound very likely, does it? Especially when the manufacturing/environmental costs of producing (and ultimately disposing of) large lithium batteries is taken into account.

As it happens, I quite the dynamics of electric power (e.g. high torque at low revs, possiblity of a motor in each wheel) but the obvious solution of fitting a small petrol/diesel generator in the vehicle to keep a much smaller battery topped up doesn’t seem to have happened, presumably because the greenies hate all types of exhaust pipe.

Jun 13, 2012 at 3:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Anybody know what he means by CD?

Jun 13, 2012 at 4:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn in France

Anybody know what he means by CD?

A 4" silver disc for a CD player, also going the way of the Dodo.

Jun 13, 2012 at 4:35 PM | Registered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

I think he was just using the introduction of CD’s as a comparator for new technology. CD’s worked, though, and did not leave you stranded when the batteries ran out.

Jun 13, 2012 at 4:46 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

To mangochutney, if you were to buy a new Nissan Leaf to replace your first one could you be said to be turning over a new Leaf (sorry).

THe Scottish Government is GIVING FREE Nissan Leafs (Leaves?) to local authorities. These guys have money to burn. My local authority has its HQ in Dumfries and is 120 miles from end to end and about 50 miles across and the Nissan Leaf has a range of 60 miles. So somebody going for a meeting in Stranraer (round trip of 150 miles would have to charge it twice with a stop of 8 hours each time at Newton Stewart, and would be gone effectively for 3 days. Might be better giving him or her a horse and could change horses at NS. Sorry but all electric cars are pigs that just will not fly. They are an evolutionary dead end.

Jun 13, 2012 at 4:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterWilson Flood

It's not the cost of the cars, it's the cost of the provision of recharging stations - that's going to be handed to council tax payers.

Jun 13, 2012 at 4:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterSleepalot

To have battery cars on the M1 with battery change stations, you'd need 20 such stations, each the size of Fort Dunlop.

Worse, you'd need a quarter of the UK's estimated 80 GW power generation in 2030.

No professional engineer has been near the planning.

Jun 13, 2012 at 5:21 PM | Unregistered Commenterspartacusisfree

That's the best article I've ever seen written by an MP of any party. I'd actually written off MP's as a homogeneous bunch of dim-witted, greedy charlatans - but I'd make an exception for Steve Baker.

I agree that all-electric cars, with current battery technology, are probably a dead end for the mass market - and certainly not deserving of public subsidy.

I quite like hybrid technology however. I've run a Lexus RX400h for over six years and 55,000 miles and thoroughly enjoyed it. The acceleration under engine + battery power is amazing - and smoothly delivered because of the CVT gearbox. It's been 100% reliable, with no obvious deterioration in battery performance so far, and, although not as economical as claimed, it gives a reliable 30mpg - which is reasonable for such a big, comfortable car.

I bought it 'cos I'm an engineer and a bit of a technology freak - but the idea that less well off people should be forced to subsidise vehicles like these through their taxes is just absurd.

Jun 13, 2012 at 5:22 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

I tow a diesel generator behind my Nissa Leaf.

Jun 13, 2012 at 6:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Reed

The electric car lobby is using the introduction of the Compact Disc as an example of the slow growth of an ultimately popular technology - but it wasn't that slow.
The first CD players were launched in 1982 and labels were slow to allow their records to be released on CD thus, no doubt, putting off many potential buyers. Add to that the fact that the cost of a player was about £1,000 in today's money. Despite this, Brothers in Arms sold over 1m copies only three years later.
That's the kind of growth rate electric car manufacturers can only dream about.

Jun 13, 2012 at 6:16 PM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

Thorstein Veblen coined the term “conspicuous consumption” in 1899 to describe how the affluent spent lavishly on things that showed of their wealth. He thought it a bad thing, I think it a good one as (a) it employed a lot of people (b) Many technological breakthroughs have been beyond the reach of most people initially, but the rich "testing" leads to development with reliability rising and the costs coming down.

However, electric vehicles, along with solar panels are a new phenomena - “conspicuous environmentalism". making "sacrifices" to show that one is saving the world. By the way - the cost to the rest of us goes far beyond the £5,000 subsidy. Many car companies are losing money hand over fist, as low sales volumes they are never likely to recoup their investment. Guess where they will offset their loses?

Jun 13, 2012 at 6:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterManicBeancounter

The way forward for transport is hydrogen fuel cell. The hydrogen being produced by a Thorium based nuclear plant. Or electolysis units located initially in bus depot or tranport hubs until national net work can be run out. (All using nucear generated electricity of course). The US is already rolling out natural gas hybrids.

Jun 13, 2012 at 7:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoss Lea

THe Scottish Government is GIVING FREE Nissan Leafs (Leaves?) to local authorities. These guys have money to burn. My local authority has its HQ in Dumfries and is 120 miles from end to end and about 50 miles across and the Nissan Leaf has a range of 60 miles. So somebody going for a meeting in Stranraer (round trip of 150 miles would have to charge it twice with a stop of 8 hours each time at Newton Stewart, and would be gone effectively for 3 days. Might be better giving him or her a horse and could change horses at NS. Sorry but all electric cars are pigs that just will not fly. They are an evolutionary dead end.
Jun 13, 2012 at 4:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterWilson Flood
Cripes, Wilson, I am not a Scot (or even British) but have Dutch ancestry. The point I'm getting around to is - how on earth did a canny and careful people like the Scots fall for this flummery? Was it reflected vanity because of the glamour of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown? My Dutch cultural roots are very much focused on the here and now, and the Scots people have always seemed very similar in that regard. We do not believe in fairytales and unicorns to provide for us. What has happened?

Jun 13, 2012 at 7:25 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

johana@7:25 PM

tut... have ye nae seen Rab C. Nesbitt ?

Perhaps a script idea for the next series = Scottish Energy Policy? - I live in hope.

Rab going green with a stolen milk float ?

Jun 13, 2012 at 7:50 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Well johanna there are a lot of theories about that one but ever since our Scottish politicians got their own parliament they do seem to have lost the plot a bit on common sense and spending money wisely, trying to outbid each other in being politically correct and green. There is a lot of money being wasted on crazy schemes but none of this money tackles the many social problems that really haunt Scotland. If you ever come to Scotland, arrive via the M74 and prepare yourself for a shock just where it starts to get hilly. I hope you like wind turbines.

Oh, and Ross Lea, hydrogen fuel cell cars have decent range but I have been researching this and, boy, are there problems there too. I hope to have a paper soon in Environment and Energy on this very topic. I have heard of a substance called "petrol" or "gasoline" which is rumoured to make cars go quite well and another called methane which you have mentioned. They have the drawback in that they produce a gas called carbon dioxide but I also hear that plants like this gas and it helps them to grow. It may make the climate warmer but I see no sign of that in Scotland.

Jun 13, 2012 at 7:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterWilson Flood

I'm warming to the idea of Renewable Electric Rab - an electric car chase with frantic searches for a charging point as the dashboard plaintively bleeps and the music turns menacing.

I'm done

Jun 13, 2012 at 8:09 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Mango is correct - although the cost of replacing packs can be as much as £7k. Most experts will tell you that the technology barriers are significant, scaling up will not make much difference to bringing costs down before 2030.

EVs environmental credentials are measured at the tail pipe which are of course are zero emissions. EU mandates are used to incentivise uptake of EVs via tail pipe targets but clearly this is not the carbon footprint (come to that later). To further incentivise the manufacture of EVs the EU commission credits pure EVs x3 emissions towards the motor manufacturers European average across all of the manufacturers range of models. This is why you see super car makers bringing out small minis and EVs. The motor manufacturer will soon have a tail pipe target of 140 gco2/km and will be fined 95m euro for every gram that it misses the target. This is why car manufacturers make EVs at a £22k loss each - because it is cheaper than being fined. Manufacturers will not make one car more than it takes to avoid the EU fine. The EU are now discussing lowering the tail pipe target to 90 which will promote EVs further versus traditional vehicles.

On carbon footprint, Albert mentions the electricity grid and this is a factor but actually the biggest contributor to the carbon footprint of an EV is the energy required to manufacture the battery - almost 50% of its total emissions in its lifetime. If you replace the battery pack after 5 years then the lifetime emissions of an EV is very similar to the lifetime emissions of an efficient petrol car. The average age of a vehicle in Europe is around 13-15 years - batteries may need to be replaced more than twice.

As has been mentioned there will be no second hand market for an EV because of the cost of having to buy an new battery pack. This means that depreciation will be so high that only very rich people who dont travel much could afford to throw their money away. The third highest cost in motoring after purchase and fuel is insurance. The insurance costs of an EV are astronomical compared to a traditional vehicle because of the high cost and high depreciation. Who would buy one?

EVs are supposed to be best suited in an urban environment . However there are 12 conventional vehicles which already beat the london congestion charge because of <100 tail pipe emissions. These vehicles have no range issues, no waiting on charging and are about the cheapest cars on the road. Why would anyone buy an EV? - almost all EVs bought in the UK today are bought for PR and marketing purposes.

The national grid and ofgem have said that to replace heat and transport with renewable electricity will require every electric cable to be replaced in the uk, smart meters and 3 phase electricity supply to every household. They predict the cost of this to be around £200bn. This equivalent to the amount of money spent developing the North Sea over 40 years.

We are at the top of the hype cycle on EVs. The make good political PR but do absolutely nothing for the environment or the economy. There will be a place for EVs but they will not be pure EVs they will be plug in hybrids with small efficient turbo charged petrol engines.

The EV boondoggle is clearly one of the biggest political frauds ever committed on the consuming public.

Jun 13, 2012 at 8:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterChairman Al

as for Hydrogen? ... well its been "the next big thing" for the last 40 years. Until someone actually finds a way to generate it cheaply from renewable sources and transport it safely then it will remain as viable as nuclear fusion. As always there are always niche applications, a wind mill, some water electrolysis and an EV. But this is only for very patient people who do not have to work. No use for a mass transit society.

Jun 13, 2012 at 8:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterChairman Al

Well Johanna you may not believe in fairytales and unicorns but Soapy Salmond our esteemed (sarc) leader certainly does. It's the only possible explanation for the SNP energy policies his government are promoting.

Jun 13, 2012 at 8:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterJP

Well if the Parliamentary gentleman really wants to know he will find the account of how HMG tried to develop an electric car forty years ago. On the usual shoestring budget.


There is nothing new under the sun.

Kindest Regards

Jun 13, 2012 at 10:57 PM | Unregistered Commentera jones

"There is nothing new under the sun"



I now work on the site where these were made, and once, in a former life, had to X-ray a worker who had connected the wires up accidentally while outside the car and had run himself over...

Jun 13, 2012 at 11:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

At one stage the UK had the highest number of electric vehicles per capita in the whole world.
The milk floats were ideal for the job.

Jun 14, 2012 at 1:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterDocmartyn

The Renault ZOE: on the road from £13,650 (after subsidy) plus battery hire £70/month (36 months, 6,000 miles/year), range 115 miles. For a low milage user, this looks interesting and a far cry from the £30000/£15000 quoted earlier. Not sure when it will be available.

David MacKay in his book "Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air" notes that electric vehicles are already at 100g CO2 per km from carbon-sourced electricity. The caveat is, as he mentions, the batteries, but the deal above alleviates that.

With better batteries, EVs will be BIG. Don't be afraid, the future is bright. The future is electric.

Jun 14, 2012 at 3:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

tomo, thanks for the rab c. nesbitt link - wonderful stuff, but I will need a phrasebook or Scottish Urban Dictionary to appreciate the finer points!

It is very sad to see Scotland, one of the leading lights of science, the Enlightenment and good old-fashioned common sense brought so low.

Perhaps it is indicative of the corrosive effect of "free" money, as I understand that Scotland has for a long time been a mendicant on the Welfare State, of which truckloads of cash for "green" projects is just a variant.

Jun 14, 2012 at 6:26 AM | Registered Commenterjohanna

I believe the word for changing your Leaf for a new one is re-leaf.

Jun 14, 2012 at 7:11 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Jun 13, 2012 at 7:18 PM | Ross Lea
Jun 13, 2012 at 8:28 PM | Chairman Al

I listen to an interesting programme on BBC R4 last night (Wednesday) at 9pm (I missed the beginning) about artificial photosynthesis, apparently there has been a lot of progress on the technology by various groups recently. I think they were saying that the technology could be used to create hydrogen from sunlight. How long before it becomes commercially viable who knows, but we have quite a bit of oil and gas to use before it is needed.

Sandy Sinclair

Jun 14, 2012 at 8:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

...With better batteries, EVs will be BIG. Don't be afraid, the future is bright. The future is electric.
Jun 14, 2012 at 3:28 AM BitBucket

"With better batteries".

Yes - and with better telemores on our chromosomes we'll all live to be 500 years old.... and with controlled fusion we'll have unlimited cheap energy... and with ionospheric ramjets we'll be flying to Australia in a couple of hours...

You sound as if you got your science from those kid's TV programs we used to have (in those boring old monocultural days of yore).

Practical batteries with significantly higher energy density could still be decades away.

Jun 14, 2012 at 9:07 AM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

Jun 14, 2012 at 3:28 AM BitBucket
The deal with Renault does not solve anything. What do you think happens when the old battery is returned to Renault? They will dump it.
Your 100g/km does not include the battery manufacture and recycling - if that would happen.
The 100 mile range is only in ideal circumstances. In winter it is halved.
There is no sign of new battery technology. It is still Li-ion, for 14 years already.
The future will not be electric with batteries. The future will also not be electric with wind power; in Germany the blackouts are already very close without the electric vehicles.

Jun 14, 2012 at 9:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlbert Stienstra

I have got a couple of revolutionary suggestions.

1) We should have an economic system in which firms produce products that people want to buy. That would benefit everybody, the consumers, the owners (including shareholders) of the firms, and the employees of those firms. Admittedly this idea is not new. I believe that somebody who, like Your Grace, was resident in Scotland has already described such a system. I think his name was "Adam Smith."

2) We should have a political system in which the voices of the population count. Obviously it would need a name to distinguish it from the system we now live under and since many of our technical terms are of Greek origin I would suggest "democracy" which, I believe, means something like "government by the people".

I wonder if these ideas will ever catch on?

Jun 14, 2012 at 9:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

The biggest problem is recharge times, what is it 5hrs quick charge that will reduce battery life, or 10hrs full charge (overnight), so having charging points all over motorways and cities is pointless. If i went on hols to Cornwall it'd take me 2-3days to get there, who wants to spend 5hrs every 100 miles at motorway services.

Jun 14, 2012 at 11:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterFragpig

If you're desirous of travel by milk float, why not go for the real McCoy, I am sure it's a damn sight cheaper.

Jun 14, 2012 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered Commentercerberus

Battery technology, like solar technology, has been on the brink of the big breakthrough for at least forty years. Just keep giving us money, they say, and we'll get there. Your average confidence trickster/fraudster must be goggle-eyed in admiration. Billions and billions, for decades, with negligible results, and the solution is apparently more money!

None of us would care, except that it is our money that is being extracted from us by law and given to
"Executive Vice Presidents - Research" and academics with comfortable salaries and nice pensions waiting for them.

Jun 14, 2012 at 11:46 AM | Unregistered Commenterjohanna

as to future cars ...

I'm in the camp of James May, as in ...

as James P. says above, electric motor technology is well proven and well known ... it is small for big J or kW ... so nothing against using electric motors in cars ...

but batteries have only marginally changed since Volta invented them ... and if there was progress, as e.g. in standby time for mobile phones, it was mainly on the electricity consumption of the mobile ... therefore, using batteries as storage of the needed electricity in that car is a very dead end street ...

the fuel cell, as Ross said above, might be a very good producer of the necessary electricity ...

main problem (I'm looking forward to Wilson's study) is probably availability and/or cost of hydrogen ... in Belgium we have just 1 petrol station that also supplies hydrogen ... that is clearly way too little ! ... so provide more and cheap hydrogen, and Clarity sales (or identical) might take off ...

You British are very lucky ! ... you seem to have at least 1 thinking politician ... more than we can say ... :-)

Jun 14, 2012 at 12:51 PM | Unregistered Commenterducdorleans

Nothing new - pt.2


Not sure what the range was like, but quite impressive for pre-1900!

It highlights the battery problem, and I recall Arthur C Clarke opining in a later edition of his 1962 book 'Profiles of the Future' that they had not developed as far as he expected. A great book, nonetheless.

I still fail to see the objection to a small generator on board, though. The military have some terrific portable gas-turbine ones.. :-)

Jun 14, 2012 at 1:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

As for 'academics with comfortable salaries and nice pensions' may there soon come a new Thomas Cromwell and a visitation, and dissolution, of the universities. All that cannot survive on voluntary public and commercial support, that is.

Jun 14, 2012 at 1:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterBob Layson

Are sceptics now against publicly funded research too? Are battery researchers now lumped in with climate researchers as grant-hungry liars and cheats? A strange perspective indeed.

Batteries will improve; they will be recycled; fuel cells will become widespread; the incentives are huge for companies that can master the challenges. It will happen.

Jun 14, 2012 at 2:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket


"Batteries will improve; they will be recycled; fuel cells will become widespread; the incentives are huge for companies that can master the challenges. It will happen."

This sounds like a religious fundamentalist preaching to the community. Is there any evidence that all this will happen?

Jun 14, 2012 at 3:46 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

It is only when we see these cars being sold with 7 year guarantees, that we will know that there has been some real progress with battery life.

Jun 14, 2012 at 4:11 PM | Unregistered Commenterrichard verney


The point is that the government is pushing industry to make electric cars right now, not when they are cheap enough and efficient enough to be attractive. Likewise with renewable energy.

Jun 14, 2012 at 5:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterDung

How do we make it cheap and efficient without research and incentives? Closing down university research programs doesn't sound like the way to go. To be fair though, maybe the comments to that effect were meant in jest.

If I were in the market for a city runaround, the Renault above would indeed be attractive. Or an electric moped. And if I had a suitable roof, I'd have solar hot water panels up like a flash. These technologies are attractive to me now.

Jun 14, 2012 at 5:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket


In the USA you will find EEstor.

Read their blurb. Then ask yourself this question. If Obama really is serious in developing new technology, why didn't he invest half a billion dollars with EEstor rather than Solyndra? Please let us know your conclusions.

Jun 14, 2012 at 6:06 PM | Registered Commenterperry

Perry, EEstor seem not to have their own website and appear rather secretive. Your link is not their site.

Solyndra was at the manufacturing stage and could use the money. EEstor seems still to be at the research and development stage and probably would have no effective use for such a large amount of money. So what is your point?

Jun 14, 2012 at 6:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

Ultracapacitors have been around for some time. Nice idea, they do not suffer from charge-discharge wear, like normal batteries. But they are only useful for tiny energy amounts, like in watches.
For 300 km range you would need about 150 kWh = 540 MJ. To store this energy at a voltage of 100V a capacitor of about 50 MF (fifty megafarad) would be needed. I just don't believe such a thing can be made and/or safely used.

Jun 14, 2012 at 6:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlbert Stienstra


Solyndra was a financial disaster waiting to happen. Half a billion dollars wasted and nought to show for it. EEstor doesn't have a future either. That is the point.

I'm trying to let you down easy. Personally, I think dodgem cars offer better prospects, if one were prepared to suspend chicken wire all over urban roads and insert steel strips in the road surface.

Do you think that HMG will allow drivers to charge their vehicles at low cost? Income to the Treasury from Road Tax is predicted to shrink over the next 15 years, because the majority of vehicles will be zero rated.

Cause and effect.

Jun 14, 2012 at 7:31 PM | Registered Commenterperry

Wasn't the Solyndra deal something to do with recovery act funding? If so, I guess the money was indeed spent and it maintained some economic activity, which was the goal. So maybe there was something to show for it.

Ignoring the batteries, dodgem cars, as you call them, have to be cheaper to make and maintain than petrol/diesel engined cars. Just look at the relative complexity of an engine. Their performance is good too so the only issue is the fuel source. Whether it is batteries, fuel cells or micro turbines doesn't bother me much. They just seem better.

HMG has to get money from somewhere to pay for all the things the electorate demands. If not from petrol taxes etc, it will be from other taxes. No point arguing about that :-) Personally I'm for taxes on externalities (pollution, emissions etc) and a land value tax in preference to idiotic taxes on employment.

Jun 14, 2012 at 8:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

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