Now that the Prime Minister has officially confirmed that the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars has been moved forward to 2030, the clock is ticking.
In less than nine years time, to paraphrase the famous motor manufacturer Henry Ford, you will be able to buy any kind of car, as long as it is electric, or hybrid (electric and diesel/petrol). The latter is expected to be allowed until 2035.
This is of no comfort whatsoever to millions of my people like my dad, who at 77, is reluctant – and more than a little afraid – to change the habits of a lifetime.
He’s in the process of swapping his car, which he does every few years under the Motability scheme. We’re fully prepared for the months it always takes for him to make up his mind, but this time there is an extra factor to consider.
He’s a very careful man, my dad, and he doesn’t like to take a hasty decision which he might come to later regret.
My nephew, who is very well-informed on all things car-related, has been trying to persuade him to go for an all-electric or hybrid model.
However, even though my dad’s days of long motorway drives are but a happy and distant memory as he doesn’t pootle much further than the local moors for a picnic these days, he’s anxious that an electric vehicle would run out of charge and leave him and mum stranded. He’s also fearful of becoming flummoxed with the charging points and concerned that “silent running” might not alert him to potential problems with the engine.
At his age, you can see why all of this might be of concern. Running out of charge and the purchase price are the two major reasons holding motorists back from making the switch, according to Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders research.
The Prime Minister can profess his commitment to reducing the UK’s carbon footprint as much as wants, and he’s certainly upping the ante as we approach the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this November, but he faces a long road ahead to change hearts and minds.
And what worries me is that without the necessary engagement, electric cars are going to become yet another marker between the “haves” and “have-nots”.
That is, I can see the world rapidly dividing into those with the knowledge and finances to choose an environmentally-friendly car, and those with no choice but to just pick the cheapest and the one they feel most comfortable with.
It’s bad enough being stuck in the company of a car bore who wants you to know that he’s about to spend an eye-watering sum on the latest all-electric SUV.
What’s worse is that for millions of people, even an entry-level model such as a Skoda Citigo-e, from around £20,000, seems well beyond their reach.
I was speaking to a lady the other day who works as a shop assistant. She’s been left a modest sum of money by her father, who recently passed away. He’d instructed her to treat herself to a new car, because she was driving around in a battered old hatchback which barely scraped through its MOT every year.
“Did you go for an electric or a hybrid?” I asked her. “Oh no,” she said. “I don’t know much about them really, so I’ve just gone for a diesel like before.”
These are the people that the Government, under the aegis of both the Prime Minister and his Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, need to reach, and fast.
Knowing government communication campaigns as I do, I’m not holding out much hope. Buying or leasing any kind of “new” car can be a hugely intimidating experience, which is why I only ever do it when absolutely forced.
Hands up. I drive a diesel Kia Sportage, because it’s solid, reliable and very economical on long journeys. I bought it in 2019 and it took me two years to pluck up the courage to go to the showroom and ditch my VW Polo. And before that I had a workhorse Landrover Freelander which, literally, fell to pieces.
If the Government communications team needs a crash test dummy for its “electric and hybrid” campaigns, I’ll happily volunteer to help save the planet. I know, and if I drive to London, I’m reminded by the numerous penalty charges for diesel vehicles I must negotiate (and pay).
My husband keeps muttering about upgrading to a hybrid model, but I can always find something more interesting to do than looking on the internet at things that cost more than I earn in a year. I realise that this attitude is unhelpful, but at least I have accepted that soon I will have to consider it. The challenge is to reach those who have no idea what lies on the road ahead.
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