Transition vital as ban on hybrids speeds up drive to electric-only era
Naughten proposal on sales to put huge strain on EV network
The prospect of an electric-only era 12 years down the road has moved dramatically closer.
Gone by then will be sales of new diesel and petrols cars. But, in a shock development, hybrids and plug-in hybrids face the chop too.
That's if Communications, Climate Action and Environment Minister Denis Naughten has his way. He's confident he will, as reported in Saturday's Irish Independent. He wants nothing only pure electric cars sold as new from 2030.
Alongside the announcement is the recognition - by the minister as well as all involved - of the urgent need for a transition plan to make sure petrol and diesel owners don't lose out and can make the switch to electric as seamlessly as possible.
Pressed on the implications of banning new-hybrid sales, the minister remained convinced electric cars alone will be sufficiently advanced by 2030 to cope with everyday demands (range, availability, charging network etc).
As part of the transition, he spoke of the possibility of a special scrappage scheme for petrols and diesels as we move towards buying 125,000 or so new electric vehicles every year (on current sales).
Mr Naughten (above) insisted he is "pushing for there to be nothing but only new electric cars sold from 2030".
The thing about revealing such intent is that it suddenly brings the future nearer. People start to think about what they are going to buy next like they have never done before.
In that respect, perhaps the minister is doing the state some service in turning up the volume on the perceived need to switch to EVs.
He is also, however, risking greater unease and uncertainty among buyers and sellers in the short to medium-term. We need a central, Government-coordinated, planned-and-plotted outline of how we are going to adapt to all this in a relatively short timespan. After all, it's nearly a decade since the then government pledged that 10pc of the national fleet would be electric by 2020. The total on our roads is a tiny, tiny fraction of that now.
Our current infrastructure does not inspire confidence and needs massive input. Mr Naughten admitted there is a huge challenge on that front but insisted momentum is building. It would need to do so rapidly.
There are plans, starting later this year, for more fast chargers around the country but obviously the system will have to be expanded on a vast scale to meet 2030 demands.
A switch would also pose a major financial headache for the Exchequer, which currently derives €5.6bn a year in motoring-related taxes (VRT, VAT etc) with excise duty on fuel alone coming to €2.4bn last year.
Those sums would dwindle as the proportion of fossil-fuel cars diminished, making it imperative that an alternative taxation system is devised.
Mr Naughten's hybrid-ban plans - and presumably those of the Government - would be far more restrictive than those excluding sales of new diesel and petrol cars and vans in Britain and France from 2040 as they will still allow hybrids and plug-ins.
Reaction from the motor industry was summed up by SIMI chief Alan Nolan, who told Motors that the group would be hugely supportive of a shift to cleaner, zero-emission motoring.
But he added that we need that transition plan so that people currently driving 2.1m mostly diesel and petrol cars can make the change to EVs with as little hassle as possible.
Toyota Ireland marketing director Michael Gaynor - whose brand commands the lion's share of Irish hybrid sales - told Motors: "Hybrid is currently the best technology today, with pure EV driving at 55pc, and will support the gradual move to electrification."
Hybrid technology is continuously evolving, he added. "The next-generation hybrid and the generation after that will deliver pure EV driving experiences that will satisfy future legislators.
"Therefore we're confident that hybrid will play an integral role in helping Irish legislators meet their emission targets through 2030 and beyond."
He said the UK's ban excluded hybrid cars. "So if the Irish Government has a similar plan for 2030, are they also going to ban the import of second-hand petrol and diesel cars from the UK? If not, the ban becomes self-defeating."
Hyundai Ireland chief Stephen Gleeson told us: "I actually think the biggest danger to EV sales taking off is the Government giving more incentives to hybrids and, to a lesser extent, plug-in hybrids.
"The standard hybrid's CO2s aren't that much lower than decent diesel engines and for 90pc of the time are basically petrol cars. They have less of the other gasses but are not a long-term solution to the CO2 problem.
"The plug-in hybrid's CO2 is far lower and can operate as an electric car full-time for a lot of people who only do 40km or 50km a day."
He said he would be worried the "fantastic incentives" and recent BIK initiatives might not see the results they want this year and that they might look to level the playing field for 2019.
"I'm not sure that a complete ban is practical but I could not disagree with his (Mr Naughten's) point about everything including hybrids, or for that matter any propulsion system that emits emissions."
Volvo's David Thomas said hybrids help alleviate consumer concerns around range anxiety. "The Government should embrace hybrids as they bridge the gap between traditional and electric and will help consumers take their first step towards fully electric driving."
Meanwhile, Mr Naughten told Motors he thought "city commuters would want their heads examined not to have an EV" as soon as possible.
Anyone in the greater Dublin area should be definite candidates for an EV, he said, but admitted people "need reassurance - lots haven't tried".
His department is buying six EVs so people can see them up close and discuss them etc at rural shows, the ploughing etc. There is also a plan to provide funds to grant aid EV purchase in state and private companies.
More importantly, as mentioned, he's looking to increase the number of fast chargers along the primary network. There will be a minimum of 50 built this year.
The Department of Finance is also, he says, "looking at BIK for plug-in hybrids".
And there will be a home charging grant of €600 for used EVs for the first time.
The ESB, he said, would not be pulling out of running the electric infrastructure for the forseeable future. They have a 10-year window.
He agreed the decision has to be made for the ESB - to hive off or create a separate company.
He also agreed that the lack of infrastructure maintenance was undermining confidence.