The plan to switch Ireland to all-electric car sales by 2030, and to put almost a million electric vehicles (EVs) on the road by then, is based on a fundamental misreading of the Irish car market, according to a major motor dealer and lobbyist for the sector.
Denis Murphy, manager of Blackwater Motors in Co Cork, with franchises for Volkswagen, Audi, Seat and Skoda, says the Government's plans are based on incorrect data and, worse still, those in charge have been ignoring the pleas of those within the motor trade to change the plan.
“Government policy on reducing transport emissions has failed, is failing and will continue to fail unless policy is changed to focus on emissions reductions, as is EU policy, over the means of producing these emissions,” Murphy wrote in a paper submitted to the Government, and which has been seen by The Irish Times. “Substantially all of our emissions reduction strategies are concentrated on the private car and specifically on the pricing of private cars.”
Murphy says that this is unfair in the extreme, as transport accounts for 20 per cent of Ireland’s total emissions, but private cars account for only half of that.
“Private car journeys account for 50 per cent of transport emissions, thereby accounting for 10 per cent of Ireland’s total emissions, yet the car sector was the only sector hit with punitive measures in last October’s budget,” he said.
Given that Murphy is himself involved heavily in the motor trade, you might assume that this is someone reluctant to make the changes necessary to move towards an electric-based motoring economy. Not so, says Murphy. “The EU car sector has aligned with the Paris Climate Accord and is on target to achieve net zero carbon by 2050, independently monitored by the EU. No other sector in Ireland can make this claim today. We are in the first year of the 2030 decade of emissions reductions targets and we are already on the road to increased emissions from cars as Government’s strategy is fundamentally flawed. It’s not too late to recognise this and change strategy.”
Murphy's frustration is focused on several areas of the proposed ending of internal combustion engined sales in 2030, not least that he feels that the Government's Tax Strategy Group (TSG) has wilfully ignored the basic tenets of the Irish car market. "We believe that quick fleet replacement is the only way we will reduce our transport emissions substantially by 2030. And a saving of 1.3 million tonnes of CO2 by 2025."
When it comes to the concept of fleet replacement, the Government appears to be at loggerheads with Murphy, and others in the motor trade, not least Toyota. The trade favours a more gradual move towards an all-electric new car market, making use of the emissions reduction potential of hybrids and plug-in hybrids along the way, with many looking at a date of 2040 for a total ban on sales of new cars with internal combustion engines. On the other hand, the Government, and the TSG, favours a sharper, shorter change from a largely internal-combustion-based new car market to total electric from 2030.
“Private cars are responsible for around twice as much annual CO2 emissions as heavy goods vehicles and light commercial vehicles combined,” states the TSG’s report from last year. “Overall, private motorists have more scope to reduce their CO2 emissions than transport operators.”
On the subject of fleet replacement, the TSG is unwavering: “Fast car fleet renewal, when assessed on a lifecycle basis, can significantly add to overall emissions due to the relatively high emissions embedded in the manufacturing and end-of-life cycle of a car. The notion of continually replacing cars for those with moderately lower emissions is unlikely to have a net effect of reducing CO2 when measured over the lifecycle CO2 of a car.”
Given the influence of the TSG, it’s unlikely that the Government will be swayed from its current trajectory.
Murphy has nonetheless flagged up other issues, such as the continued importing of older used models from the UK, a factor which was considered in a car market report commissioned by the Government from McKinsey, but which Murphy says is now being ignored.
High-emitting used vehicles
“We are importing high-emitting used vehicles, completely negating the acceleration of battery electric vehicles we see in 2021. To the end of May, there were 3,951 EVs registered while 22,152 used cars more than four years old were imported. This is caused by increased prices caused by increased taxation caused by fundamentally flawed Government policy and Brexit,” said Murphy. “If a consumer could afford to spend €10,000 on a car last year, that got them a three-year-old car; this year it gets them a five-year-old car. If this trend continues, our emissions from cars will increase, not reduce, and the answer is less taxation not more. Affordability is key to the car market and the car market is key to reducing emissions.”
Recent comments from a senior member of the Green Party will not have offered much succour to either Murphy or the rest of the motor trade in Ireland. Brian Leddin, who chairs the Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action, said that pushing for more cars, even electric cars, is not necessarily the answer.
“It’s neither achievable nor desirable considering we sell about 100,000-120,000 new vehicles every year, so every vehicle sold between now and 2030 would have to be an electric vehicle,” he said. “I don’t see how we can reach that target without throwing huge subsidies at the purchase of electric vehicles. But also it’s not desirable because electric vehicles are still vehicles. They still give us a lot of problems.”
Those statements have awoken the ire of the AA, whose head of communications, Paddy Comyn, told The Irish Times: "The messaging coming from the Green Party last week concerning electric vehicle targets is soul-destroying to read for any motorist that is trying to decide on how to choose their next vehicle. We have to remember that it was not so long ago that motorists were encouraged to choose diesel cars, and motorists flocked to them accordingly. Many eyebrows were raised about the target for one million electric vehicles by 2030, but it showed ambition towards moving to a cleaner future.
“Reducing electric vehicle grants and speaking about discouraging electric vehicle use without tangible public transport alternatives serves only to confuse and bring inertia. We all accept car usage is something that needs to be optimised. Nobody wants to see clogged-up roads, and nobody in their right minds wants to sit in traffic, but let’s not discourage the progress we are making by moving the goalposts.”
Comyn also said that more needs to be done to encourage used car buyers to make the switch to electric power. “Cars older than 10 years inevitably have much higher CO2 figures than newer cars, so it is left to new-car buyers to lower the CO2 emissions by purchasing new EVs, PHEVs and low-CO2 models. If the Government were to offer some sort of ‘green pass’ in the form of a discount or amnesty from annual motor tax for qualifying low-income buyers of cars with emissions under a certain level, it would serve to create more demand for specific models and help move them out of vehicles over 10 years old and into something cleaner.”
The inherent problem, as pointed out by both Murphy and Comyn, is that the Government, in its electric car plans, is basically putting the onus of emissions reductions onto the private motorist, while neither acknowledging the impacts of decisions made on public transport and planning policy by previous administrations, whether that be the filleting of the rail network in the 1960s and 1970s, or the boom-bust cycle of house pricing and housing policy that pushes people further and further away from their places of work.
“Any attempts to curtail car use outside of Dublin will place an unjust burden on rural and suburban dwellers. They are not the ones responsible for decades of failure of spatial planning and lack of investment in public transport. They should not be penalised for these failures,” said Murphy. “We are left therefore with driving more efficient cars which we believe should include a blended mix of modern low-emission internal combustion, mild hybrids, conventional hybrids, plug-in electric hybrids (PHEVS) and EVs as identified in the Climate Action Plan.”