News & Events

Malta News - 05/09/2019

Electric cars for all… utopia now

Author: George Mangion
Published on Business Today 5th September 2019

It was announced this week by Jose Herrera, minister for environment that it is time for Malta’s to gradually shift away from petrol and diesel engine cars. A cut-off date for such vehicles will be announced “in the first months of next year”.

Obviously, major importers were not happy that all new cars will – starting from the cut-off date – have to be zero emissions – even though as it stands today the government scheme is offering a €7,000 grant when one scraps an ICE vehicle for an electric one.

A representative of the Mizzi Organisation, one of Malta’s main importers of new vehicles, argued that 60 per cent of cars sold were second-hand so the ban should not exclude these. In a small island with practically one car for each citizen. Drivers face daily traffic congestion.

Most cars are predominantly diesel engines, and as can be expected these pollute with heavy particulates. As a general comment, one must admit that progress and higher affluence has resulted in all strata of the population owning a car given that public transport albeit improving, yet is not perfect.

With so many cheap second-hand vehicles (not forgetting heavy trucks and construction machinery) imported by dealers at prices which reach the budgets of most workers this has acerbated a chaotic traffic problem and air pollution. Certainly, the future prosperity of our country depends on its ability to remain fully and competitively integrated through an efficient transport system, yet also in the immediate future it takes into consideration its impact on both the natural health and environment.

With close to three million tourists expected to grace our shores this season, it is no wonder that emissions have accelerated. One therefore, applauds MEP Miriam Dalli who has led an EU commission to determine when combustion engine vehicles will be banned in Europe.

The legislation sets a CO2 reduction target of 37.5 per cent for new cars and a CO2 reduction target for new vans of 31 per cent by 2030. Dalli said that “This is a step forward to ensure that Europe remains ahead of the curve when it comes to zero- and low-emission vehicles’ technology eagerly replacing internal combustion engine models. This sounds all very Utopian and one is excused for expecting protests from existing car owners (some still on hire-purchase) needing to dump them for brand new electrics.

Some complain that unless you own a garage, charging your electric vehicle is near impossible given the increasing number of families living in flats. Another complaint, is the cost of charging at home given that electricity consumption is metered and each household is allowed a concessionary annual rate of 10,000 units at the basic rate of 12c per unit.

Once that household buys an electric car, that allowance will no longer suffice to cover normal consumption, hence the charging of the car and general household consumption will both be charged at the next bracket and possibly the one after reaching the rate of 34c per unit.

So far there has been no feedback from Enemalta (a State utility) although Government policy seems to hint that a special tariff is to be granted for home users who opt to charge their vehicles. Having seen the challenges ahead, let us examine how other countries have solved the problem of this radical changeover.

The trophy goes to Norway. The Nordic country, made a conscious decision to create hefty incentives for its citizens to purchase electric vehicles. As a result, the country is the undisputed leader in EV adoption. For example, one notes that last year, one-third of all passenger vehicles were fully electric, and that percentage is expected to increase in the near future.

The Norwegian government has even set the ambitious target of requiring all new cars to be zero-emission by 2025. It prides itself of registering a total of 86,290 electric cars in 2018 alone. In Germany, we note that this year Volkswagen announced pre-booking in Europe for the first model of its new full-electric ID.3. The first special edition includes high-quality, high-performance equipment and is limited to 30,000 vehicles.

Hydrogen cars and solar-powered cars are, for instance, competing technologies challenging a zero-emission alternative to electric. Malta should be ready to welcome all of those options by facilitating the establishment of the infrastructure adapted for the different technologies. European laws already provide the regulatory regime for these technologies.

A noteworthy case is the regulation on hydrogen-powered cars. Certainly, enthusiasm for EVs is spilling over to countries outside Europe, which are also seeing a high percentage of EV sales.

In the USA, Tesla this year launched its fully electric Model Y, which can carry seven passengers and their cargo. It has two ultra-responsive, independent electric motors that digitally control torque to the front and rear wheels – for better handling, traction, and stability control.

Equally successful is the Japanese manufacturer Nissan. It announced that the new Nissan Leaf would go on sale in Indonesia and the Philippines by 2020, underscoring Nissan’s commitment to driving electrification in the region.

China is also ahead of the curve and its leading car maker BYD announced the launch of the K12A in Shenzhen, the world’s first 27-metre electric bus. With a passenger capacity of 250 people, it is the longest pure electric bus in the world and can travel at a maximum speed of 70 km/h.

Having hailed the accolades for electric one cannot omit to give equal merit on the arrival of the fuel cell vehicles. Fuel-cell (hydrogen) technology is nearly as quiet as the drivetrain in battery-electric vehicles.

Such novelties are also zero emission and are being offered as a challenger to the electric variants. In fact, hydrogen could be used as a direct replacement for fossil fuels in internal combustion engines, although mostly they focus on using it to power fuel cells.

The maverick technology forces hydrogen gas through a catalyst-coated membrane where it bonds with oxygen from the air. The process creates water vapor and a stream of electrons that can power the same electric motors that are found in a battery-electric vehicle. Not forgetting passenger cars designed by Japanese car makers such as the Toyota as these present the Mirai or Clarity FCV versions.

The breath-taking technology is so fast that it takes about five minutes to refuel a hydrogen tank with a range of around 300 miles, far less than required to recharge a battery.

To conclude, one patiently waits to hear the announcement next year of the planned change-over policy to zero emission car imports. A sober thought makes us reflect about affordability which is the primary consideration by low-income earners.

Safe, small or medium-sized new EVs cost double an equivalent new conventional car. One hopes that the 2020 budget will announce further reductions in the duty/taxes charged on zero emission vehicles so as to make our Utopian dream of protecting our environment a reality.

George Mangion

Author: George Mangion
Published on  Business Today 5th September 2019
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