Tech Torque

4 x 4 Australia - - Contents - FRASER STRONACH

THE UK gov­ern­ment re­cently an­nounced it in­tends to ban the sale of all petrol and diesel cars by 2040. This fol­lowed a sim­i­lar but slightly softer procla­ma­tion by the French gov­ern­ment, when it put its car in­dus­try on no­tice to­wards a 2040 ‘clean-car’ dead­line.

Both an­nounce­ments ap­pear to be more po­lit­i­cal grand­stand­ing and head­line-grab­bing than of any great sub­stance, though. No new laws have been passed and nei­ther gov­ern­ment may be in power af­ter the next round of elec­tions, let alone 20-odd years down the track. Plus, the UK ban doesn’t rule out hy­brids, which still es­sen­tially rely on petrol or diesel power and would – along with elec­tric cars – seem to be the big win­ner in all of this if such a ban comes to fruition.

Na­tional Grid owns and op­er­ates the ‘poles and wires’ part of the elec­tric­ity grid in Eng­land and Wales, and it has al­ready ques­tioned the prospect of a pre­dom­i­nately elec­tric-ve­hi­cle fleet in the UK. It said peak elec­tric­ity de­mands on an al­ready stretched sys­tem could rise by 50 per cent when elec­tric ve­hi­cles are in recharge mode in the evening or overnight. The ex­tra elec­tric­ity needed to run an elec­tricve­hi­cle fleet would also be nearly 10 times the out­put of a new nu­clear power sta­tion be­ing built in Som­er­set in south­west Eng­land.

Ac­cord­ing to cur­rent indi­ca­tors, fos­sil fu­els such as coal and gas will still con­trib­ute to elec­tric­ity pro­duc­tion in the UK in 2040, which fur­ther calls into ques­tion the idea of ban­ning cars that run di­rectly on fos­sil fu­els.

What must es­pe­cially irk the auto in­dus­try is that these de­ci­sions are be­ing made be­fore the ben­e­fit of new, tough and costly-to-com­ply-with ve­hi­cle emis­sion stan­dards – es­pe­cially for diesel ve­hi­cles – has fully played out. Air cur­rently sam­pled next to roads in the UK is deemed to be ‘dan­ger­ous’ to hu­man health by Euro­pean Union (EU) stan­dards, but UK roads are still in­hab­ited by mostly older diesels (and older petrol cars) that don’t meet cur­rent stan­dards.

Euro 6, the lat­est standard pri­mar­ily tar­get­ing NOX from diesels, only came into full ef­fect two years ago in the UK, so it’s not go­ing to play a big part yet, given the av­er­age age of cars in the UK is eight years and the av­er­age life­span is 13.5 years. Even the ear­lier Euro 5, which pri­mar­ily tar­geted soot from diesels, has only been fully in play in the UK for six years, so it will ben­e­fit less than half of the UK’S cur­rent na­tional diesel fleet. No doubt road­side air-qual­ity sam­pling when the UK’S na­tional fleet is at least Euro 6 or bet­ter will tell a dif­fer­ent story.

Of course, emis­sions stan­dards are on­go­ing and the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try is work­ing hard to meet the even tougher up­com­ing Euro 7 standard, as it did with Euro 5 and Euro 6. Much of this is about diesel cars, given diesels are cur­rently so pop­u­lar in the UK and Europe. Iron­i­cally, diesels only be­came

pop­u­lar off the back of an EU fo­cus to bring down car­bon diox­ide (green­house­gas) pol­lu­tion in the early 1990s. Diesel en­gines are far bet­ter than petrol en­gines in terms of green­house-gas pro­duc­tion, so the EU de­cided to fos­ter their de­vel­op­ment.

Nor­mal mar­ket trends are also play­ing their part here, with Euro­pean buy­ers start­ing to turn back to petrol cars thanks to so­phis­ti­cated petrol-en­gine tech­nol­ogy in­clud­ing di­rect in­jec­tion and low-pres­sure tur­bocharg­ing, which brings im­proved drive­abil­ity and fuel ef­fi­ciency and is find­ing its way into more af­ford­able mod­els.

Re­gard­less of the out­right ban, diesels may well dis­ap­pear; many car mak­ers al­ready say that up­com­ing diesel emis­sion stan­dards are too hard to meet any­way, so come 2040 there may not ac­tu­ally be any diesels to ban.

All this will, of course, trickle down to Aus­tralia one way or an­other. We have al­ready adopted Euro emis­sions stan­dards – for bet­ter or worse – and given we soon won’t have a lo­cal in­dus­try build­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing cars to our high stan­dards, we’ll have to be con­tent with what’s made over­seas.

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