The Covid 19 pandemic has taught us that business as usual does not work when we are faced with new circumstances. Some issues mean that we need to rethink how we live. This is a crucial lesson for how we address climate change and decarbonising the economy. We need to rethink a whole range of issues, not assume old thinking will provide the answer.
Electric cars are a good example. Most car manufacturers of internal combustion engine cars want to sell us electric cars that look like ICE cars and have the same characteristics. But do we need the same type of car, or is this an opportunity to rethink what we need in terms of personal transport?
First, weight. The mini (from the 60s) became the MINI and the weight increase is dramatic. The old mini weighed 580 to 686 kg, a new MINI weighs 1440kg (roughly 2.5 times heavier). This is a general trend, and over time our cars have got a lot heavier. Do we need electric cars which are this heavy? A heavier electric car needs a bigger battery to achieve the same range as a lighter one. Should we be aiming for lighter electric cars?
Second, range. Battery range is often raised as a “problem” with electric cars (see the Lexus advert below). Aside from the weight issue, what range do we really need? In the UK, according to the RAC the average length of a car journey is 10 miles. 56% of car journeys are less than 5 miles. Less than 6% of car journeys are longer than 200 miles. So, battery range for electric cars does not seem to be an issue for nearly 95% of journeys.
Most of our driving is short, local and urban journeys. So, in fact, one could question whether we are buying the cars we need, if over half our journeys are less than 5 miles? Do we really need fully loaded heavy cars which have a large number of “features”. Should we instead, be buying cars which are primarily for short, low speed journeys? Urban speed limits are falling, shortly, most of inner London will have blanket 20mph speed limits. In this environment do we need electric cars that have outstanding 0 – 60 mph statistics?
The motor industry is still living in a world where cars are about freedom (just watch car adverts for both ICE and electric cars) not about how we primarily use our cars. So, does the change to electric give us the opportunity to downsize to cheaper cars with less gadgets which actually serve the real needs we have for most of our driving?
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