On Saturday, while shopping with my daughter in Oxford Street, we came upon a large protest against the ULEZ here in London. All decked out in yellow, it was a very civil protest, but not a single person under about 40 years old. I must say, I was shaken, so much so that my daughter had to buy me a brownie (though perhaps an ulterior motive there as she had chocolate cake).
Our journey towards an EV future has been fairly placid so far. Supported by progressive policies echoed around the world, the UK saw strong uptake of electric vehicles last year (about 1-in-5 sales) and supportive growth in the publicly available charging network (maintaining about 15% utilization nationwide).
Yes, there are public funds devoted to this essentially health- and climate-centric initiative, but the initiative is on publicly-led and privately sustained investment in proven technology for the benefit of the planet and its economy. We're already seeing a dynamic drop in the cost of battery cell production, and a key policy objective of the government's Office for Zero Emission Vehicles is the attraction of private capital to commercially viable projects.
I know far more about the development and funding of EV charging technology than I do about political power, but let's take a look at the horses and riders:
- On one hand, you have broad acknowledgement of a climate emergency influencing public policy,
- On the other, you have vested interest in the incumbent technology and its market.
Incumbents have a lot to lose. Some manufacturers will prove unable to economically engage new vehicle technology. Some within the wider power sector will find enormous infrastructure investments at risk. Some fleet operators will struggle to maintain cost-efficiency throughout their EV transition.
Meanwhile, governments will need to work hard and be agile to keep all interests engaged by anticipating the "carrots" of public policy needed to balance the "stick" of regulation.
Ultimately, it seems inconceivable that the cost of EV road transport won't be fundamentally cheaper than the status quo of ICE road transport:
In the meantime, while there will be transitional costs through our EV journey, the larger dynamic will be about winners and losers. Which commercial interests will benefit within the EV paradigm, and which will suffer? What are the dynamics of generational politics? What is the risk of Chinese production? What about our pension funds invested in Daimler, Volkswagen and Ford?
Changing the dynamic of road transport is an unprecedented shift with risks and opportunities for individual producers, investors and consumers. While we shouldn't expect a wholly smooth ride, the transition to an EV future must be a fundamental step forward for the planet and its economy.