Irish car buyers, who increasingly want to go green, are utterly confused about their options and do not know if the electric vehicle (EV) market is at the motoring equivalent of "the Nokia or iPhone moment".
That is the verdict of motor dealer Neil Connolly of the Connolly Motor Group based in the west of Ireland. Moreover, those wishing to embrace the electric vehicle invariably find it is totally impractical in rural areas where mileage is inevitably higher than in urban areas, especially for those with busy families.
As the country seeks to put one million EVs on Irish roads by the end of the decade, Connolly is well-positioned to know what reality is on the ground. He sells Volkswagen, Mercedes, Seat, Audi and Hyundai brands – which offer some EV and plug-in hybrid models – and add up to 40 per cent of market share.
The problem is the range for EVs is not there yet for those driving long distances, while “customers are very confused; there are a lot of mixed messages”.
This is illustrated by a typical recent sales inquiry from a motorist with a sizeable family – a two-car household including a larger vehicle – seeking to trade in a 2009 Volkswagen Sharan (paying €700-€800 in car tax). He was inquiring about electric options; the cheapest is the ID.3 Volkswagen which comes in at €40,000 plus without subsidies.
On been told that, “his face dropped”, Connolly says. “The dilemma is people are expecting a full range of EVs. We don’t have them.” With few models available, supplies are limited. They sell close to zero EVs, and hybrids in “low double-digit numbers”, and there is no market in second-hand electric cars.
What he is hearing from Germany, the heart of European car manufacturing, is the range issue will soon be solved, but mainstream electric models in volume will not be available until 2027-2028.
A multi-faceted solution is needed in Ireland in the meantime, Connolly believes. Top of his wishlist is getting rid of 10-year plus cars, so four to five-year-old vehicles dominate the second-hand market, achieving 50 per cent reduction in carbon emissions.
A one-size-fits-all solution does not work, he insists. Current policy, in effect, means every vehicle sold from now on should be electric. Yet an EV is not suitable for him at present as he drives 60,000km a year and chooses to live in a remote area, but it’s suitable for his mother who drives 6,000km a year and lives closer to an urban setting.
In seven to eight years’ time, however, things will be very different, he predicts. “Euro 7/VII” engine standards will be fully in place, requiring next to zero emissions in all new vehicles.
Out of step
However, Ireland, he says, is pursuing its own course, out of step with the rest of Europe and car manufactures that are set to get rid of internal combustion engines (ICEs) by 2040. The Irish approach, he feels, is summed up as: "It's 1 million [EV] cars by 2030. That's it!"
This is happening without taking clear, necessary steps to a transition everyone accepts must happen, while difficulties are compounded by a motor tax regime that promotes “safer and greener cars”.
Connolly stresses the EV route is the way to go “unless new technology emerges”. The hydrogen fuel option is a possibility. He believes there will be zero-emission cars to suit everybody’s needs, “and you don’t have to compromise on the environment side”.
Mindful of new close to zero emissions exhaust systems in the offing, Connolly endorses the approach of the Irish Car Carbon Reduction Alliance, especially its view that “replacement of the car fleet with newer ICE models should not be discouraged prematurely”.
"With the supply of EVs outside Ireland's control, it is vital that we address the mitigating factors that are within our ability to control," says its spokesman, Denis Murphy.
Furthermore, as national new car sales figures demonstrate, showing a continuing decline in registrations, motorists in Ireland are sticking with their current older cars, which have higher carbon emissions.
“Our taxation system is actually facilitating rather than reducing carbon emissions. New cars in 2021 with ICEs will emit 28 per cent less CO2 than the average car currently on Irish roads, so for every car we replace with a newer cleaner car, we can achieve significant reductions by 2025.”