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Opinion: Time, not laws, will make buying an EV inevitable

By Tim Keen, 29 Nov 2020 Features

Opinion: Time, not laws, will make buying an EV inevitable

Instead of legislating a ban on combustion cars, law makers just need to bide their time.

The Governor of California recently announced that internal combustion engines will be banned in new cars by 2035. It puts California on par with the UK, Germany, India and more, all of whom have announced a ban on petrol and diesel cars in the next 15 years.

And a lot of brows were knitted, moustaches were bristled, and harrumphs were harrumphed at the news.

And a lot of reasons were trotted out why it’s a deranged pipe dream: The electrical grid won’t be able to handle it. The power stations will melt down. Consumers won’t stand for it. The state will grind to a halt. Or, simply, that it’s ridiculous, and impossible, and will never happen.

In some ways, it does seem like an optimistic timeframe – 15 years to not only replace the primary power source for California’s million new cars a year, but retool the auto factories, and rebuild the infrastructure, and replace the petrol stations, and redistribute a massive slice of the economy?

And what about people who invested their super in asthma inhalers and fire insurance? What are they supposed to do now, invest in trees? Fifteen years, harrumph. I’ve owned cars for longer than that.

But by 2035, banning the ICE might be a moot point, because electric cars might be so good by then, that consumers have made the switch on their own.

And if that seems far-fetched, think about this: 2035 is as far from today, as today is from 2005.

Remember 2005? I do, sort of. It was a banner year for Carlton Draught sales, thanks to me, so it’s a little hazy in parts.

But John Howard was the prime minister. Scott Morrison wasn’t even a politician yet, he was still the boss of Tourism Australia. Schapelle Corby was convicted of drug smuggling in Indonesia. Remember that? Schapelle Corby got convicted, served her time, got parole and returned to Australia faster than the ICE ban will take effect.

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2005 was a heady time on Australian dealer lots. Holden produced 153,000 cars in 2005, and a quarter-million locally made vehicles were snapped up by Australian drivers. The VE Commodore was a year away from release. The BF Falcon hit the streets. The Ford Territory was brand new.

In 2005, the Holden Commodore was Australia’s best-selling car, and Holden was the second-biggest-selling car company.

Imagine telling people in 2005 that you were going to ban all new Holdens by 2020: it would have seemed impossible, unthinkable, laughable. But now, it would be tragically irrelevant.

By the time our hypothetical new-Holden ban was due to come into force, the company would have already ceased to exist, in this instance due to market forces, not a government ban.

Technology can make once-dominant brands, even whole industries, redundant in just years.

In 2005, the very first iPhone was still two years in the future. The top-selling phone in the world in 2005 was the Nokia 1110, one of those old brick phones with the squishy buttons. It operated on a 2G network and had five hours of battery life.

It also sold 250 million units in 2005 alone.

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Of the ten top-selling mobile phones in 2005, the Nokia 1110 sold about as many as numbers two to ten combined – and five of those were also Nokias. Nokia was everything.

If you had told people in 2005 you were going to ban Nokias by 2020, people would have gasped and said it was impossible.

Fast forward to now, and Nokia owns about one per cent of the mobile phone market. One per cent. No ban necessary. Just new technology, changing tastes, and customer choice.

Maybe it’ll be a better battery. Maybe it’ll be a better power station. Maybe it’ll be something we haven’t even imagined yet. But come 2035, I bet we’ll be saying, “Petrol engines? Oh yeah, I remember those.”

Then we’ll teleport home to watch Tenet on the movie classics channel.

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