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Electric cars are coming - whether you like it or not

2012 Nissan LEAF


I have often argued that government regulations will eventually force electric cars upon us whether we want them or not. It is happening now in Europe where politicians see advantage in endorsing electric cars to establish their credentials in the climate change debate.

London's colourful mayor, Boris Johnson, recently announced plans to ban motorists who don't have a green or hybrid car from driving in central London in the daytime by 2020.

Electric cars are now political instruments. I'm sure Renault/Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn was expecting this when he invested billions to become the world leader in electric vehicle production. There are only a handful in Canada, but around the world, there are roughly 50,000 all-electric Nissan Leafs on the road. I'm sure Boris Johnson sold a few more of them in London with his announcement.

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The political usefulness of electric cars has been further elevated in the Scottish independence campaign, of all things. The Yes side believes electric cars might be the issue that helps Scotland achieve independence.

Next year, there will be a referendum that asks Scottish voters, "Should Scotland be an Independent Country?" The pro-independence SNP (Scottish National Party), which holds the majority in the Scottish Assembly, last week chose the electric car as a means to woo voters.

Going green is more popular than going independent for Scots. Polls conducted last year by Friends of the Earth Scotland found that 88 per cent of Scots support plans to reduce fossil fuel use and to increase alternate electricity production. The latest newspaper polls, on the other hand, show that less than a third of Scots support independence.

So SNP politicians have promised to install an electric car charging point at least every 50 miles on major roads. They're promising free charging points for homeowners and charging points at shopping centres, places of work, car parks and ferry terminals.

The reasoning is that boosting the adoption of electric cars gets Scotland closer to energy independence. Scotland has a smaller population (5.2 million people) than England (53 million) and more wide open space. Wind power, tidal power and biomass is hoped to keep the lights on and the cars running. And if you expect to become energy independent, then why not go all the way?

Over the past two years, the SNP-led Scottish government has bought a small fleet of electric vehicles, built charging stations and bought a number of hydrogen fuel-cell buses for Aberdeen. Scotland has ambitious targets for reducing CO2 emissions and for increasing the use of renewable energy sources. Focusing on energy independence and going green is clearly part of the referendum strategy.

Electric cars as political footballs – it's happening now. Election results will matter more than showroom displays in determining how quickly electric cars are upon us.

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