Rowan Atkinson: I love electric vehicles … But increasingly I feel duped

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Essay by Eric Worrall

Comedy legend Rowan Atkinson, who plays Mr BeanJohnny EnglishBlackadder, and many other comedy roles, is not happy with his electric vehicle.

I love electric vehicles – and was an early adopter. But increasingly I feel duped

Rowan Atkinson
Sat 3 Jun 2023 17.00 AEST

Sadly, keeping your old petrol car may be better than buying an EV. There are sound environmental reasons not to jump just yey

Electric motoring is, in theory, a subject about which I should know something. My first university degree was in electrical and electronic engineering, with a subsequent master’s in control systems. Combine this, perhaps surprising, academic pathway with a lifelong passion for the motorcar, and you can see why I was drawn into an early adoption of electric vehicles. I bought my first electric hybrid 18 years ago and my first pure electric car nine years ago and (notwithstanding our poor electric charging infrastructure) have enjoyed my time with both very much. Electric vehicles may be a bit soulless, but they’re wonderful mechanisms: fast, quiet and, until recently, very cheap to run. But increasingly, I feel a little duped. When you start to drill into the facts, electric motoring doesn’t seem to be quite the environmental panacea it is claimed to be.

As you may know, the government has proposed a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030. The problem with the initiative is that it seems to be based on conclusions drawn from only one part of a car’s operating life: what comes out of the exhaust pipe. Electric cars, of course, have zero exhaust emissions, which is a welcome development, particularly in respect of the air quality in city centres. But if you zoom out a bit and look at a bigger picture that includes the car’s manufacture, the situation is very different. In advance of the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow in 2021, Volvo released figures claiming that greenhouse gas emissions during production of an electric car are 70% higher than when manufacturing a petrol one. How so? The problem lies with the lithium-ion batteries fitted currently to nearly all electric vehicles: they’re absurdly heavy, many rare earth metals and huge amounts of energy are required to make them, and they only last about 10 years. It seems a perverse choice of hardware with which to lead the automobile’s fight against the climate crisis.

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Sadly Rowan suggests hydrogen might be the way to go. I suspect hydrogen, which in industry requires special handling qualifications because it is so dangerous, will die more quickly and explosively than EVs, if there is ever a serious attempt as mass adoption.

If only there was a compact and relatively stable way of putting energy into a vehicle conveniently and quickly. Even better if this energy product could be produced easily from a natural resource. Then we would have a green energy vehicle winner!

The following is Rowan Atkinson playing Dr Who for Comic Relief, a poverty alleviation charity. Sadly Comic Relief is totally woke on climate change, but they do some good works, so I usually give a few pennies.