Although time frames are far off, SA may benefit from lessons learnt in other countries

The Automobile Association (AA) has received a number of queries following reports that the United Kingdom will ban all new petrol and diesel vehicles on its roads from 2040, and the implications for South Africa.

It’s important to note, firstly, that the decision to ban all petrol and diesel vehicles is not in force yet. At the moment, it remains a proposal, still in the discussion phase. It is, however, a discussion based on sound reasoning; emissions from vehicles remain a serious situation in Europe, and lead to health and environmental issues. In addition, the United Kingdom has to meet commitments agreed to at the Paris Climate Accord.

Secondly, the proposal doesn’t seek to ban the existence of diesel and petrol vehicles, only the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2040. This also means there will be a significant period of phasing out of petrol and diesel vehicles over a period of time. With no new petrol or diesel vehicles being sold, manufacturers will have to produce alternative energy vehicles. How long this period is remains to be seen.

With no new petrol or diesel vehicles being sold, manufacturers will have to produce alternative energy vehicles.

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Already several major manufacturers are moving in this direction

Earlier this month, Volvo announced all new cars it launches from 2019 onwards will be partially or completely battery-powered (either completely battery powered or hybrids). The company called this move a “historic end” to its making vehicles with only an internal combustion engine.

Mercedes Benz has also made a clear statement regarding where it sees its future by announcing its withdrawal from the DTM Touring circuit to focus instead on its entry into Formula E racing for the 2019/2020 season. Porsche and Audi have made similar decisions to withdraw from the World Endurance Championship (WEC) in favour of Formula E.

Britain’s proposals, as well as others in Europe – such as France’s decision to ban diesel vehicles on certain roads, and ban all older vehicles on public roads – do, however, raise several questions.

Among these is the question as to whether battery-powered vehicles are more environmentally friendly or not. Several people argue the production of lithium batteries for electronic vehicles in turn creates vast amounts of toxic waste. Others say the resulting dependence on power to charge the batteries will strain power grids, especially at peak times in the morning and evening. It also raises the issue of moving the pollution from the back of a vehicle, to a coal powered smoke stack, locally at least.

Another question is on the availability, and reliability, of public transport, in those cases where people cannot afford new electronic vehicles.

These questions need to be resolved in the intervening years, before any major policy shifts come into place.

These questions need to be resolved in the intervening years, before any major policy shifts come into place.

Impact on South Africa

To date there has not been any suggestion from the South African government of a ban on internal combustion engines, anytime in the future. While this may be the case, South Africans may be forced into the electronic car age as there may be no other new vehicles available.

But, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For one, a lot of time and money is being spent on developing electronic vehicles throughout the world, so much so that many of these vehicles are performing as well, or better, than the petrol or diesel versions.

Another benefit for South Africa is that the country may leapfrog the growing pains of a complete ban, and arrive at a place where the conversion to electronic vehicles is more seamless than in other parts of the world.