A decade ago, we were promised that by 2020, 10 per cent of all cars sold in Ireland would be electric cars, and that the days of burning dead dinosaurs in our engines was fast drawing to a close.
Yet, here in 2017, in spite of the debacle of diesel, concerns over air pollution, and the hurricane-based evidence for just how bad climate change is going to be for us all, we’re still not buying in. In fact, as a nation of car buyers so far this year, 96 per cent of new car sold here so far this year are petrol and diesel.
According to environmental lobbying group Transport and Environment (T&E) that's just not good enough, and it's because those self-same car makers haven't put enough effort into convincing the public that batteries are the way to go.
Julia Hildermeier, T&E's clean vehicles and e-mobility officer, told The Irish Times that "most car makers are failing to meet their own targets for electric vehicle sales because they are making little effort to do so. Instead they blame governments for a lack of incentives and recharging points.
“ The reality is that if carmakers provided more choice, and marketed and sold the vehicles more aggressively, they could meet their own goals and clean up the emissions. European carmakers should put their money where their mouth is and start focusing on clean cars rather than resurrecting the market for obsolete dirty diesel cars.
"The new regulations for car and van Co2 emissions, to be proposed by the Commission in November, will determine whether Europe remains a dirty diesel island or becomes a world leader in zero-emission cars. If the Commission sets annual emission reduction targets of 7 per cent and a zero-emission vehicle sales target of 15-20 per cent for 2025, this bold policy will effectively trigger a significant shift in the market and ensure zero-emission vehicles and their batteries are made here in Europe. Without effective targets electric cars will largely be made in China, the world's biggest market with strong EV sales targets, and imported back into Europe. Bold policy will deliver a good outcome for industrial output, jobs and the environment."
According to T&E's analysis of the market, there are a mere 20 distinct battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) on sale across Europe, compared to 471 models that have petrol or diesel engines (T&E doesn't include hybrid cars in its analysis - a fact which you may take with as large a pinch of salt as you see fit).T&E further claims that "many of these models are simply not available for sale in showrooms - notably the Opel Ampera and Bolt - and others have long waiting times due to a lack of manufacturing capacity, such as the Hyundai Ioniq and BMW i3."
T&E also claims to have analysed data from market experts Ebiquity, which shows that car makers are under-spending in their efforts to market electric cars. According to the data, says T&E, "the average across Germany, France, UK, Spain, Italy and Norway was only 2.1 per cent of carmakers' marketing budget was spent on zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) and 1.6 per cent on plug-in hybrid models. The marketing spend on electric and hybrid cars is rarely higher than their market share, suggesting manufacturers are reacting to latent consumer demand from early adopters rather than actively growing the market share of zero-emission cars."
Actually, in the case of the Irish market, that’s not the case. Here, so far in 2017, 4.01 per cent of new sales have been either electric, petrol-electric, or plugin hybrid - well behind the Government’s intention of growing electric car sales, but ahead of the average pan-European spending according to T&E’s figures.
Nissan Ireland has also hit back at T&E's analysis of the marketing of electric cars, saying that while car makers are striving, not enough is being done in government circles, especially in Ireland, to incentivise buyers towards electric.
T&E is unstinting in its criticism, though, pointing out that "the advertising budget for battery electric cars in Norway, where more than one in three new cars sold are now electric, was much higher. BMW spends 24 per cent of its budget on promoting BEVs in Norway, and Daimler spends 14 per cent for its BEVs. Renault spends approximately six times more promoting its EVs in Norway (39 per cent) than in other countries. These are all indications that companies tend to follow demand rather than create a new market."