Over the past month the debate surrounding our progress towards an era of increasingly electrified and autonomous vehicles has continued to rumble on.
I was called to Westminster to give evidence to the committee tasked with defining the scope of the Autonomous & Electric Vehicles Bill, to which we have tabled an amendment which would require those working on the high-voltage systems of such vehicles to be regulated. In its simplest form this basically addresses the inconsistency which exists between those working on domestic or commercial electrics, who are regulated by the Electricity At Work Act, and those working on high-voltage vehicle systems who are currently unregulated.
Interestingly, in researching our evidence to put before the committee, we discovered that the Electricity At Work Act acknowledged the issue of electrified vehicles but (pardon the pun) parked it as electric vehicles were barely a consideration at the time. Even more interestingly though, it refers anyone interested in that issue to the IMI, which was something we had not previously been made aware of!
Knowing how diesel developed in the UK, with government encouraging its adoption as a way of addressing our burgeoning CO2 concerns – only latterly discovering issues such as diesel particulates and, later still, NOX – it is slightly concerning that government seems to have a similarly blinkered view concerning the electrification of vehicles, whether full EVs or hybrids (and many politicians aren’t actually clear on the distinction between them).
Concerns about local air quality and the effect of tailpipe and other emissions, including brake and tyre particulates, have currently gained political precedence over CO2. Unfortunately it is assumed that ‘zero emissions’ means just that, which in turn means that, once again, politicians could make ill-informed decisions that artificially distort the future market.
One of the concerns with diesel is not just the relatively higher NOX values compared to similar petrol cars, but the fact that their improved economy encourages motorists to upgrade to bigger engines which exacerbates the local air quality issues and cancels out many of their CO2 advantages. The gap in total CO2 emissions between diesel and petrol cars on the road has been steadily closing as a result.
With regard EVs companies like Tesla, who appear to have solved many of the range issues, have adopted very large and expensive batteries which is easy to do when a car costs around £100k! Whilst Tesla vehicles may still be significantly less environmentally impactful than equivalently large, expensive saloons, their whole-life carbon emissions from production to end of life recycling will still comfortably exceed those of a small petrol car – not least because of the raw materials used in the battery.
It’s thus clear that we have to work really hard to ensure that the legislative framework is well informed and does not take us down what, in the long-term, may prove to be another blind alley.