Howard Saunders   Jul 19, 2023   Uncategorized   0 Comment

For a while they were the undisputed future. Stinking, honking traffic jams would soon be replaced by a silent stream of shimmering Teslas, politely and autonomously giving way to one another as they wend their way to work: a utopian vision of our cities originally painted by Musk but eagerly endorsed and approved by governments right across the globe.

But as with Twitter, Musk is finding that the future ain’t always smooth and predictable. Those Teslas are losing their shine as the reality of energy transition bites back hard.

Let’s be clear, Big State’s push for an EV future has been colossal. The US government will have subsidised Tesla to the tune of $41 billion (yes, billion) in total. And here in the little old UK our highly respected government, always keen to manage our money wisely, has spent well over a billion pounds since 2011 incentivising us to switch to electric. 

Henry Ford released the first Model T in 1908. Elon Musk released the first Tesla in 2008. The images below, taken on New York’s Fifth Avenue in 1900 and 1915 respectively, demonstrate how swiftly the car was embraced. No government subsidies back then.

But subsidy may well be the root of the problem. Government mandated futures never, ever work: The Household Support Fund, Covid Business Grants, NHS patient records system, the Green Homes Grant, the Green Heating Scheme, the Emergency Services Network, the Post Office Computer System, the Pathway Scheme, the PPE scandal, the Hydrogen Village project…not forgetting HS2, these all began as well meaning, future focussed projects before they ran monstrously over budget, were either abandoned or buried seeped in corruption or left limping along leaking billions despite being doomed to failure. When will we learn that governments simply love to piss away our money in order to virtue signal on the global stage. And when a project’s intent is any form of greenification it’s almost pre programmed to fail. Cue King Midas in Reverse.

Sadly for the eco-zealots, the fluorescent green truth about EVs is gently bubbling up to pollute the mainstream narrative. But let’s not dwell on the negatives. Oh sod it, let’s: the purchase price, the excessive weight, increased road damage, faster tyre wear, rare earth minerals, child labour, the pathetic charging infrastructure, battery efficiency in winter, battery replacement times, lengthy charging times, constant range anxiety, stress on the national grid, plummeting second hand values, rising autopilot fatalities, rising insurance premiums…and last but not least, and hugely ironically: sustainability.

A conventional engine can be restored, upgraded, fixed and fiddled with for eternity. Literally. That’s why we wave when we see a vintage jalopy lolloping along on a sunny Sunday. That’s sustainability. By contrast, a vintage Tesla is just a big, plastic jelly-mould over a dead battery. (I realise I’m upsetting a few friends here, but tough. You still have the gas guzzler).

But none of these practical, real-world flies in the ointment will stop EVs from becoming universally adopted. Culture will. Governments don’t understand cultures.

We pretend that we choose our cars for practical reasons, but that’s a lie. We boast of the comfort, the cornering ability and the fuel efficiency but we don’t mean it. With arms folded we gently interrogate the salesman about warranties and how to upgrade the sat nav, but it’s just an act to show that we’re not completely stupid. If we were totally honest we’d sit in the driver’s seat and ask whether it made us look appropriately professional, too much like a family man or a mum ferrying her kids to school. We would ask if it made us more attractive, wealthier looking or whether the colour was too old for us. Yes, the main reason for our purchase is status.

Unlike humans, cars have limited genders. A BMW is clearly masculine. We choose it for its muscularity and purpose whatever gender we happen to be that week. A Mercedes, on the other hand, is feminine: sleek, elegant and much less pretentious about its true power. A Tesla is non-binary. And while being non-binary is fabulously fashionable, by definition it is sexless. In its stead, of course, it is virtuous. That’s why so many of its wealthy early adopters choose the Tesla for the Waitrose run.

But those seductively sculpted lines which for fifteen years heralded a better, cleaner future have suddenly grown ubiquitous and uninspiring. Worse still, Musk currently ranks alongside Hitler for his attempts to de-woke Twitter, so the eco-hippies now see the Tesla as the devil’s transport. Amusingly, their only other acceptable vehicle is the belching VW Beetle.

Sadly, the promise of a battery technology breakthrough still lies mockingly in the road ahead while the 2030 deadline approaches faster than government can organise a meeting about a meeting about an enquiry. So here’s my prediction:

In 2026 the UK government led by Sir Keir will fudge the 2030 deadline. He’ll blame the Tories for lack of planning and talk about commitment to Net Zero, but nonetheless it’ll shift. The price of second hand cars and the classic car market will boom following the news. Take up of EVs will stabilise among those of us fortunate enough to have a driveway or a garage. Our city centres will increase the restrictions on the internal combustion engine and ban diesel vehicles altogether. Council workers and big corporates will get a menacing nudge from ESG to switch their fleets to electric, which will leave little old us tinkering with our combustion engines in the suburbs and the sticks, buying the occasional gallon of silly priced synthetic e-fuel when we can afford it. The pre-owned EV market will crash, oh and the self inflicted collapse of the German car industry will leave the door wide open for China to dominate in both ICEs and EVs.

There will be plenty of EVs on the roads, no doubt about that. it just won’t be most of us ordinary folks in them. This can only enhance their image as one that is fully endorsed by government: compliant, non-binary, virtuous, and desperately uncool.

A bit like masks.

Join me on Twitter @retailfuturist for wry insight and unconventional truth seeking

About Howard Saunders

The Retail Futurist, otherwise known as Howard Saunders, is a writer and speaker whose job it is to see beyond retail’s currently choppy waters. Howard spent the first twenty five years of his career at some of London’s most renowned retail design agencies, including Fitch & Company, where he created concepts, strategies and identities for dozens of British high street brands. In 2003 he founded trend-hunting agency, Echochamber, inspiring his clients with new and innovative store designs from across the globe. Howard relocated to New York in 2012 where the energetic regeneration of Brooklyn inspired his book, Brooklynization, published in 2017. His newfound role as champion for retail’s future in our town and city centres gave rise to the title The Retail Futurist. Howard has been interviewed on numerous television and radio programs and podcasts for BBC Radio 4, BBC Scotland, the British Retail Consortium, Sky News Australia and TVNZ, New Zealand. His talks are hi-energy, jargon-free journeys that explore the exciting, if not terrifying, retail landscape that lies ahead. When not in retail mode, Howard has recorded, literally, thousands of digital music masterpieces, most of which remain, thankfully, unheard.

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