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Renewing our national fleet can cut emissions and meet our climate targets

While traditional engine types are still in the majority, there is an acceleration towards newer technologies in the new car market

The Government’s plan to have one million EVs on the roads by 2030 is looking precarious

The Government’s plan to have one million EVs on the roads by 2030 is looking precarious

 

The Government may have electric dreams, but the reality might be quite different. With predictions that mainstream electric models in volume will not be available until 2027-2028, the Government’s plan to have one million EVs on the roads by 2030 is looking precarious.

In the interim a broader range of vehicle options with many that are more environmentally friendly may form a bridge as we await the widespread availability of EVs.

Brian Cooke, the director general of SIMI, notes that at present there are a few different types of vehicle technologies available, such as internal combustion engines (in both diesel and petrol), hybrid and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), as well as EVs. Cooke stresses that in order to reduce emissions and meet our climate change targets we need to renew our national fleet.

“Currently the average age of cars on Irish roads is nearly nine years, with almost one million cars over nine years old; we simply have not been selling enough new cars over the last decade to materially reduce the average age.”

Why is this a problem? Well, newer cars are less environmentally damaging than older cars from a CO2 and NOx perspective. A new car emits 30 per cent less CO2 than a 10-year-old car, and three times less NOx.

Cooke acknowledges that individual needs and preferences means everyone is on a different journey towards zero emission.

“The key for them will be the ability to trade up to newer lower-emitting cars than they are currently driving. For this to happen there needs to be a strong new car market, which due to both the industry’s commitments under EU law and Ireland’s taxation favours low-emitting cars.

“This would free up younger used cars to be sold and facilitate renewal of the fleet through both new and newer/younger cars as quickly as possible through all vehicle technologies,” he says.

“While the industry can supply the cars, governments need to support the rapid pace of the project with investment in infrastructure and incentives to encourage customers to make the change while not doing anything that would affect their vehicles current value or impact on their cost to change.”

Fuel technology

The move towards alternative fuel technology is only in its nascence, but the signs are positive. Around 4,000 new electric cars have been registered so far in 2021 compared with fewer than 2,000 for the same period last year. But consumers still seem wedded to traditional petrol or diesel models, which make up almost 70 per cent of the market.

“While the traditional engine types are still in the majority, we can see an acceleration in the move towards newer technologies in the new car market,” says Cooke, who notes that it will take a few years for this to feed into the used car market. “Change can happen but it will not happen overnight as the journey to alternative fuel transport has just begun.”

According to Jeremy Warnock, Renault’s lead product specialist, the move towards EVs becoming fully mainstream is well under way.

“Things are definitely moving in that direction. Fully electric cars already account for over 6 per cent of car sales in Ireland and have been growing consistently. That’s in spite of the fact that even the most prolific of EV manufacturers doesn’t yet have models available in every segment.”

Warnock agrees that full market coverage is the key to more widespread uptake, noting that Renault will have a full EV in each of the main market segments by 2025.

“In fact Renault is clearly signalling its intention of making EVs mainstream with the announcement of the fifth generation of the popular Mégane. The Mégane E-TECH Electric launches in late 2022 with a 100 per cent electric line-up, with 30 pre-production prototypes to be tested on public roads during summer 2021.”

According to Warnock, what will be critical is the management of the transition period from today’s 6 per cent electric car share to 100 per cent in nine years’ time.

“Between now and then customers need to be helped to make that transition. As ranges and charging capabilities improve, cars like the Renault ZOE with 395km range become viable for more and more customers.”

Fast chargers

For customers who are concerned about the poor availability of fast chargers (Warnock says it is improving but has a long way to go) may find that a plug-in hybrid allows them to drive on electric power during the week, yet still make occasional long-distance trips using hybrid power.

He also notes that motorists who don’t have a driveway on which to charge overnight may be unable to go for either an electric car or a plug-in hybrid.

“Until affordable, plentiful and local charging access exists for people living in apartments, their eco-friendliest options may be hybrids such as the Renault Clio or cars offering the option to run on bio-LPG, like the newly-released Dacia Sandero and Sandero Stepway.”

Accelerating the move towards EVs is the threat of an EU ban on internal combustible engines (ICEs) but Warnock believes it will not come to that.

“There’s a theory that the pace of development in electric cars and electric infrastructure means that an outright ban on ICE vehicles may not even be necessary by 2030,” he says.

“Product line-ups, evolving consumer tastes and increasingly stringent emissions limits for ICE cars mean that electric cars would most likely end up accounting for the majority of sales by then anyway.

“That said, a deadline for the transition focuses the mind, not just of manufacturers and dealers but also of consumers – many of the sales executives I speak to tell me of customers asking if it’s best to get ahead of the trend and buy an EV today so that, when trade-in time comes in 2024, they have a car that’s attractive in a rapidly evolving used market.”