Life Motoring

Saturday 20 July 2019

Creating a climate of doubt

Campbell Spray tries to chart a way through the Government's proposals to reduce our transport carbon footprint

Timely: The Kia Niro and Soul, right, are good electric vehicles but price and luggage space must be considered
Timely: The Kia Niro and Soul, right, are good electric vehicles but price and luggage space must be considered

Campbell Spray

It's already looking a bit of a mess. While we can congratulate the Government for at least trying - after a good Green kicking - to face up to some of the ways we can change our carbon footprint, some of the figures and aspirations look like they were plucked from thin air. A million electric vehicles in 10 years. Hmm.

And, as always, the announcements, when they don't come at the same stage as actual budget measures, completely unsettle all aspects of a market - buyer, seller and user - and all, in turn, become unsure of how to react, which can lead to paralysis.

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Comments by transport minister Shane Ross that the Government wants "to force private motorists out of their cars" doesn't help anyone to have a rational debate. It's fine for me in the middle of Dublin, try that in Inishowen.

If you were planning to buy a car in the next month, six months, or a year, what do you do? Will you be able to drive it in the big towns? Could your investment collapse in value over the next five years? Could you be investing massively in the wrong type of technology?

And is the State itself doing the right thing by putting nearly all its eggs in one basket - electric-powered vehicles - when some of their major manufacturers, Hyundai and Toyota, are putting a lot of money, time and expertise in other forms of power, like hydrogen. Big companies don't pour money down the toilet.

We shall see. At the moment, the vehicle industry is on the crest of a wave with an enormous number of new vehicles - hybrid (HEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and fully electric (EV) - being rolled out over the next few years. That is in addition to an incredible amount of really good, conventionally powered cars that are hitting the streets at the moment. Too much choice, perhaps giving too many different messages.

Where to go? I would love to help you. But, like so many of the people on both sides of the counter, I don't really know. But unless you have money to burn, I'd hold off doing anything until a bit more certainty arrives.

However, there is a big shortage of EVs and PHEVs, so don't be surprised that if you go down that route, your options for the moment will be limited.

They are very costly now and while you will probably get the difference back over five years, the cost to buy new will come down by 2023. However, by then the Government will have to make up the money it gets from fuel taxes in other ways.

As the Government was putting out its climate change proposals, Kia Ireland was fortuitously launching its Niro EV SUV and Soul EV MPV. Both are very tasty propositions although their luggage space has been heavily compromised by the space taken by the lithium/ion/polymer batteries. Nonetheless, they have good space beyond that and are very easy to drive. The EV Niro has either a range of 289km or 455, the Soul has one of 452. Prices aren't cheap; €33,495 for the lower range Niro and €37,495 for the long-range one and the quirky Soul.

A better bet might be the Niro PHEV at €31,495 if you can get one. It is the sector bestseller and another 150 will go out of the showroom next month. PHEVs get VRT grants of €2,500, EVs receive €5,000 and both also get SEAI top-ups of €5,000 - all of which are included in the prices already given.

I will be testing the Soul very soon and the Niro will follow, so I will hold back other comments. However, the Niro EV, especially, is getting massive thumbs ups from many of my colleagues abroad and while its sister, the Hyundai Kona, is the biggest EV seller in the country at the moment, the Niro has more room and has that seven-year warranty over the Kona's five. Incidentally, Kia is guaranteeing that after that seven years, the Niro battery will have 70pc of the power it has on day one.

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The Volkswagen group was showcasing its wares to the motoring press at Mondello Park on the Friday before Kia's and the Government's respective launches. Again, much of the talk was of electric with Carla Wentzel, the new CEO of the VW group in Ireland, saying that she thought that new electric cars would make up 21pc of the Irish market in 2021 and that by 2025, 25pc of Volkswagen group vehicles will be electric. Automatic transmissions are also making massive inroads in our driving style with the number up 18.5pc over the first five months of last year.

Representatives from both Seat, the "sunshine brand" with a 20pc increase in market share so far this year, and Skoda, which has entered the top five marques in the country for the first time, were in great form at Mondello. However, I had the most fun not by driving a car - the best of which was the new VW T-Cross - but by taking out an electric scooter around the racecourse car park. They are being given free with Seat purchases. That's one way of going electric painlessly.

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Before I leave the debate, I want to draw attention to the Honda CR-V Hybrid which has prices starting at €38,200, although I was driving the very top-of-the-range 4WD version at €11,000 more. If I had the money and was after a family hybrid, subject to all the earlier caveats, it would be top of my list. I will come back to it but expect to see a lot of them about.

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And for those people whose nostalgia index is being upset by all the talk of ending petrol and diesel cars sales, they should hightail it out to St Columba's College in Whitechurch, Dublin 16, today.

There, the National Council for the Blind (NCBI) has invited individuals, families and car enthusiasts to the annual Des Cullen Classic and Vintage Vehicle Show, taking place from 11am-5pm in the college grounds.

Joe McKenna, NCBI Head of Foundation, said: "Every year this show goes from strength to strength and this year we've over 200 cars on display including Bentleys, Triumphs and Minis. Our show is now a respected and popular fixture on the classic and vintage vehicle show calendar. We are grateful to the Des Cullen Classic & Vintage Vehicle Show for raising funds for NCBI since 1997, last year raising over €8,400 for NCBI services."

Des Cullen was a prominent figure in Irish motorsport and, following his death in 2017, NCBI renamed this long-running show after him to honour his commitment and support of this event.

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