Car in a car crusher

Now the petrol crush is fading, it's time to go out with electric

Image credit: Getty Images

As the world takes tentative steps to get moving once again, now is the time for electric vehicles

Are you ready to get back on the road? As we begin to emerge blinking into the summer sun after months of lockdown at home, we think about venturing further afield once again. But we’re not revving our engines, smoke pouring out the back, tyres screeching as we roar off down the highway. More a gentle hum and a smooth acceleration as we coolly and silently slip down the street, waving at healthy school kids as we go, happy in the knowledge we’re not producing any nasty fumes except perhaps a whiff of smugness.

2035 is now the official date for ending the sales of new cars powered by the remains of dead sea creatures but it feels like the time is now for electric vehicles (EVs). Many people enjoyed the quieter life for three months and yearn to keep some of that as the world gets back to business. EVs are less noisy: tick. On our daily exercise we’ve been enjoying the cleaner air. EVs have no exhaust: tick. Businesses are realising they don’t actually need their staff to travel quite as much as they had thought – whether to commute to the office or taking flights. EV charge times and range then become less of an issue: tick. 

Range anxiety can still be stressful, as Len Williams learnt on his electric road trip, but it is improving and the network of charging stations is developing even faster, according to Crispin Andrews, with more charge points than filling stations in the UK already. EVs also lend themselves to the shared ownership model now being pursued by all the major car manufacturers.

Environmental campaigners have been fighting to keep climate change a priority, looking for opportunities post-pandemic. As I write this, the UK Chancellor has just trumpeted a series of funding measures to ‘save money, cut carbon’, which is a better slogan than ‘eat out to help out’ and hopefully of more help to engineering and engineers – even very hungry ones. 

How do EVs fit into this? They are obviously cleaner when it comes to street-level pollution but what about the bigger picture? How do they compare to petrol or diesel vehicles? And how does that change when you consider the while lifecycle of a car, including the manufacture? Chris Edwards does the maths. 

Part of the problem is what to do with EVs’ batteries at the end of their lives. We’re looking at a quarter of a million tonnes today that will multiply many times before the middle of the century, and to cope with that our recycling must improve on today’s 5 per cent. Rebecca Pool outlines seven solutions. Their batteries can help out the smart grid – charging from renewables when plentiful and other demand is low, and discharging back into the grid when demand is high. Heidi Vella looks at progress. 

We peer down the road to beyond today’s electric too. Nick Smith scores the efficacy of eight alternatives to fossil fuels, while Lee Williams goes plane spotting to find ten electric aircraft taking off around the world. Could you be flying in one soon? Transport is changing, that’s for sure.

sales of electric cars are rising while petrol cars are falling

Image credit: Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders / E&T

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