Volvo, electric cars and the value of red tape

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Figure 1: There has been massive growth in EV’s in Scandinavia recently

Last week Volvo announced that they were planning to only build hybrid or battery electric cars after 2019. And France went so far as to suggest they will ban all petrol powered cars from 2040 onwards. Well in many respects this isn’t really a surprise.

In 2009 the EU brought out its latest targets for vehicle emissions, which included a target for fleet average carbon emissions of 95 g/COper km by 2021. I recall pointing out to students at the time that if you did the maths this was a very tall order to achieve with any conventional power train, for any car above the size of a small hatchback. So in effect what the EU did with these targets was effectively ban the sale of all non-hybrid, electric or alternative fuelled cars above a certain vehicle size from 2021.

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Figure 2: Falling vehicle emissions within the EU [Source: SMMT.co.uk, 2012]

And on the horizon is the possibility of driverless cars. Now fully driverless cars are probably some way off. However its probable that we’ll gradually see more and more driver assist features creeping in. This has some big implications, because such features do tie in a bit better with a system of car rental (rather than individual car ownership) which also ties in better with electric powertrains (as there will always be a car sitting on charge, you don’t need to worry about charging up your own car). Also cars under computer control tend to eliminate bad driving habits that lead to excessive fuel consumption (e.g. accelerating hard, driving too fast, etc.). So we could be on the verge of a major paradigm shift in how vehicles are owned and operated.

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Figure 3: Vehicle automation levels

That Volvo was the first car company to break cover isn’t really surprising, given that they tend to focus on mid-size to estate sized cars, they don’t really do small cars. So they were always going to be adversely effected by these proposals more than the rest of the car industry. And improvements in EV technology, combined with a large, cheap and low carbon electricity grid, means there’s been massive growth in the EV market in Scandinavia recently, in particular in Norway.

But wait, how can EU laws influence the sale of electric cars in Norway? (outside the EU, Volvo incidentally does a lot of its business in Norway but is based in Sweden). And isn’t Volvo owned by Ford?…actually now its owned by Geely in China…how can the EU influence the policy of a Chinese company? Well because this is the thing that the brexiters, both those on the right and the left, don’t get about the EU.

The EU sets the rules for the largest collective economy on the planet. The choice for any company is therefore relatively simple A) start singing from the EU’s hymn sheet. or B) Cut yourself out of the world’s largest market for your product. Unsurprisingly the vastly majority of firms will chose A and it doesn’t matter what Trump, the Brexiters or the Chinese say or do. Shock horror, capitalists will spend good money developing products to conform to EU law if they reckon they can make a profit out of doing so, who would have guessed!…..well…ah…me!

The fact is that if there was no EU, then we’d probably not be in the position we are when it comes to action on climate change, protecting the environment, promoting electric cars, tackling world poverty, removal of roaming charges or sustaining fish stocks (which recently reported improvements, largely thanks to EU rules). Its practically unthinkable that such progress could have been made in any of these areas had it not been for the EU.

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Figure 4: While EU fisheries policy isn’t perfect, fish stocks are starting to rebound

Back in the UK the Tories are pushing on with the so-called “great repeal bill” which will repeal nothing, instead it will transfer much of that pesky EU “red tape the brexiters claim to hate into UK law (you know, rules that makes cars safer, stop buildings burning down, or ensuring child’s toy’s are made from non-toxic chemicals, etc.).

But minsters and civil servants will have the opportunity too eliminate the laws they don’t like (which will probably mean stripping out all the rules that protect workers rights or the environment). Originally the Tories were promising a “bonfire of regulations” post-brexit….well until the Grenfell tower disaster. Even so the repeal bill does give them a chance to strip down the protections offered by EU law, once the news cycle has moved on.

Now Corbyn says he’ll try to stop the Tories. But what he fails to understand is A) he doesn’t have a majority. B) unless he’s prepared to vote against the law altogether and derail the brexit process, the Tories will just call his bluff, as they’ve done before. And C) we’re assuming that the present EU laws on welfare, labour and the environment are perfect, when they are not. By leaving the EU, the UK will have no input into future changes in EU legislation. Now granted, if they EU changes it rules in the future, this will produce a ripple effect and we’ll see some of those changes transfer to the UK, but that won’t always happen. And the UK will have no future say on what these changes will be.

In essence Corbyn’s policy on brexit is that he’s leaving it up to the 27 EU countries to be the grown ups in the room, while he and his supporters get to live in their hard left fantasy la la land….until the next election, when he gets wiped out and finds himself living in a UKIP fantasy land, but it will be too late to do anything then.

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Figure 5: UK car industry…in 2020?

Meanwhile the Tories, run the risk of the UK being left behind in a rapidly changing world. We could well see a scenario where Europeans come on holiday to the UK to laugh at those funny old cars the British drive (a bit like how the Trabant or Lada’s were viewed a few decades back).

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About daryan12

Engineer, expertise: Energy, Sustainablity, Computer Aided Engineering, Renewables technology
This entry was posted in cars, climate change, economics, peak oil, politics, sustainability, sustainable, technology, transport and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Volvo, electric cars and the value of red tape

  1. neilrieck says:

    Almost all manufacturers are installing sensors to alert the driver about things like lane departure, obstructions, and potential collision detection. This will provide the industry with experience to (eventually) conclude with total autonomous driving. Until then, the next big thing is called “Guardian Angel” mode where A.I. will intervene to avoid crashes (accidental or otherwise). I remember seeing an announcement last year claiming that all Toyota cars manufactured after Sep-2017 will have this technology which is being pushed by the automobile insurance industry to end American highway carnage. Someday soon (2022 ?) insurance companies will give discounts to drivers who buy and use fully autonomous cars (the vehicle will report the ratio of manual to autonomous driving to the insurance company)

    • daryan12 says:

      Those involved with transport research keep on telling me that the fully autonomous car is a given and will be out very soon. I’m less sure. Its not the technology that’s the problem its us. If robo cars have to share the roads with us that’s going to be a problem, humans can do all sorts of insane things when they get behind a wheel. There’s going to be insurance issues with regard to who is to blame in a crash, etc. Think about it, we’ve had the tech to fully automate a plane for some time now, there’s no technical reason to have two guys up front, yet we still have pilots and probably always will.

      So my guess is that we’ll more and more driver assist creeping in. We might eventually see a period of segregated highways, where the motorways and city centres are autonomous vehicles only, while the B, C and suburban streets are a mix of driverless and drivers, until eventually perhaps the whole is driverless.

      But Like I said, I think the obstacle will be legalities, public preconception and insurance rather than technology.

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