Let’s make believe it is 10 years hence. And let’s take some liberties in ‘looking back’ to show what could happen along the way to the 2030 deadline, when all new cars bought will have to be electric under current Government plans.
Scenario one: How we plugged in to the 2020s
That went well, didn’t it? OK, we didn’t meet the projection of one million electric vehicles (EVs) on the road by 2030, but we sure gave it a run for its money.
A surfeit of political jostling and policy changing didn’t help. In some ways, it is a wonder we bought as many as we did.
To refresh your memory, way back in 2020 – yes, it only seems like yesterday – we bought a paltry 8,000 EVs.
Cars we now take for granted established themselves, as the number of buyers increased significantly each year. One such case is the previous-generation Volkswagen ID.3.
The volume brands were only getting into their stride in the early 2020s. It’s hard to imagine that Tesla was a stand-alone brand then and that Ford paid so much for a majority chunk of it. Yet, it has continued to make electric cars people want.
One of the drawbacks that had dogged electric car buying was overcome by mid-decade, with the first solid-state batteries going mainstream. Allied to more in-car use of solar power, and better charging networks, we don’t worry any more about going from Dublin to Westport and back on one charge. There is loads to spare. It used to take hours to fully charge up at home; now technology helps make that possible in 40 minutes.
We even have sections of road where inductive charging boosts your battery as you go.
Setting up proper battery charging areas in apartment blocks means thousands more can avail of an EV, through ownership, car-sharing or one of the many use-as-you-need schemes.
It is hard to believe that Dublin has been an electric-only city centre for three years now. Latest figures suggest the level of emissions around the capital has decreased by 7pc year-on-year ever since.
Hydrogen-powered vehicles – we forget they are electric too – made their tentative entry in 2022, but now play a key role in truck and public transport. It is a growth area; hydrogen power has replaced some farm machinery too.
All in all, it has been a decade of great change and momentum, even if we’ve fallen short on EV targets.
I think we’re further advanced than many might have forecast.
The new Government’s latest green paper stretches to 2050 and envisages an exponential increase in autonomous cars, facilitated by the country going electric. Happy days.
Scenario two: Looking back in anger
What a mess we made of those 10 years. We paid multi-billions in EU fines because we didn’t meet emissions parameters we’d earlier signed up to. We can blame the main political parties, facing backlashes from every side, who retreated from taking the tough vote-shredding decisions on carbon dioxide in public and private transport, industry and farming.
Coalition after coalition, always with a precipitous hold on power, blustered and flustered when what the country really needed was leadership.
Yes, they took some big decisions. There were plenty of announcements, launches and scaremongering about saving the planet, in particular from transport and farming.
But when it came to pushing through with radical action, there was little stomach for it. Why? Because many of us, individually, collectively (yes, we motorists included) or organisationally, railed against measures on the grounds that we were being unfairly picked on.
Everything was watered down. We’re counting the cost of compromise.
Yes, we have a few hundred thousand electric cars on the road. But there would be a lot more if successive governments were really intent. Silly stuff damaged too.
Slashing incentives to buy an EV in the early years of the decade was ill-timed and meant a slower start than could have been achieved.
One million cars on the road was never on the cards; early decisions made certain the improbable was impossible.
More people held on to their diesels and petrols for far longer than they ordinarily would, as technological strides helped make the fossil-fuel users much ‘greener’. Replacing declining tax income from diesel and petrol with electric car revenue bridged the financial gap but increased new car prices too much for too many.
It now seems like fantasy that there was once a combined €10,000 knocked off the price of an electric car to get people to buy.
After a bright start, by the time the mid-2020s arrived, we were well off schedule.
Things have picked up since, but it was too late to create the sort of buying momentum needed.