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Opinion: an EU-turn on e-fuels will not halt the transition to all-electric cars

Fraser Brown, managing director of automotive consultancy MotorVise

The UK's 2030 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars was called into question following reports that the EU has watered down its restrictions following opposition from German carmakers.

But in his latest 'guest opinion' column for AM Fraser Brown, managing director of the automotive consultancy MotorVise, spells out why the 'road to zero' must remain a one-way street.

In a major display of wishful thinking those hoping to stall the irreversible transition to EVs hint that the decision in Brussels could make the British policy untenable.

I firmly believe the UK government must stick to its guns and ignore the EU-turn – which involves running internal combustion engines on carbon-neutral petrol alternatives.

The first point I’d make is that the 2030 deadline in the UK and 2035 in the EU has encouraged all the major manufacturers to innovate and develop EV alternatives across their vehicle range as it responds to a growing market.

More than 260,000 EVs were registered in the UK in 2022, with 12,000 sold in February alone, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

While not as popular as the internal combustion engine, EV technology is constantly improving and this smacks of a desperate attempt to place the genie back in the bottle.

The use of synthetic fuels has its place but should only be used in specific vehicles, where there is no alternative to battery technology. German lobbyists are promoting e-fuels as the saviour of the internal combustion engine but the hard fact is that it is hugely expensive to produce.

The International Council on Clean Transportation estimates that the 2030 cost of e-fuels, if significant volumes can be made, will be between £2.60 and £3.50 per litre. In addition, they are highly inefficient when used to power the internal combustion engine.

For example EVs convert more than 77% of the electrical energy to power at the wheels, gasoline engines convert between 12% and 30%, and e-fuels between 10 to 15%. Meanwhile hydrogen fuel cell vehicles use up 40 to 60% of the fuel’s energy.

As you may have guessed, I’m a huge convert to the electric car, having run one myself for the past two years without mishap, any hint of range anxiety or charging difficulties.

However, the biggest challenge facing the UK’s transition to EV is not the technology, which is constantly improving and evolving, but the charging infrastructure. If the government is to be challenged on anything, then it is its policy on this crucial factor.

Until recently, one of the main charges levelled at EVs was that they cost almost twice as a conventionally-powered counterpart. But, according to a study by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, EV’s will achieve price parity within the next few years and will be 10 to 30% cheaper by the decade’s end.

So, to recap EV’s are more efficient, cheaper to run, emit zero emissions, while production costs continue to fall and new models emerge.

The 2030 ban on petrol and diesel is correct if we are to make a concerted effort to achieve net zero and, no matter how much they have been a part of our lives, e-fuels will not deliver an amnesty for the internal combustion engine.

The UK is leading the way in the transition to battery-powered cars and, forgive the pun, now is not the time for the government to take its foot off the gas!

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