Car News: Government as Banker

Your weekly look at all that sucks in the auto world, plus some good bits

382For years the neo-liberal elite have told us less government means lower taxes, forgetting to add it also means fewer democratic rights, less citizen protection, less participation in decision making, and tyranny by corporation. Historically, the Tory party promoted the doctrine only the strong survive. Older readers will recall Thatcher putting that into practise by allowing the Scottish steel industry to collapse for lack of unionist support, one of her tactics to keep Scotland tractable.

So it came as something of a surprise to read that the UK government is giving Jaguar-Land Rover a loan of £500 million to increase its electric car output. (There is another £125 million available from commercial lenders.) Only a week earlier the UK boss of the company, Ralph Speth, announced his company’s troubles had nothing to do with Brexit, a comment at odds with every car maker boss on the planet. The answer, he said, lay in electric cars, in ‘batteries’ to be price. “One thing is clear: if batteries go out of the UK, then also the automotive production will go out of the UK.”

The opinion bemused me no end. The type of battery needed for vehicles is not made in Britain. Why pretend the car industry woes have nothing to do with Brexit? Batteries are imported. Now we know why he said it. He had already signed a deal with Theresa May for £500 million. Be as nice as nice must be.

Where the batteries will be sourced remains to be seen. A new JLR facility in Hams Hall, between Coventry and Birmingham, will import battery cells from Asia to assemble into packs, while BMW will import packs from Germany for its Mini, now in production.

The UK blew its chances for taking a world lead in lithium batters; they were invented at Oxford University in the 1970s but only Sony picked up the idea and developed it. If the UK is going to make EVs in volume, shipping lots and lots of batteries from Asia will incur a very long, high-cost supply chain, putting millions of pounds’ worth of stock on the water. And before a smartarse pedant correct me, some battery factories already exist in the UK, but on a small scale. Packs for the Nissan Leaf are produced by AESC in Sunderland. Hyperbat, a joint venture between the Williams group of Formula One fame and component maker Unipart, has retooled an old car exhaust factory to produce low volumes of batteries for sports cars like the Aston Martin Rapide E and the Lotus Evija.

Taking a closer look at this UK government loan tells us a lot more about new government policy, or more accurately, attitude to climate change, a loan given after Chancellor Hammond reduced the deposit and incentive to buy an electric vehicle!

The only interpretation I can make for the Tory’s uncharacteristic generosity is staring us in the face; we are witnessing a nascent Green New Deal in effect. Moreover, it is a government deciding on a way forward, and although Jaguar-Land Rover is India owned, they have chosen to back a quintessentially British company.

This is a government acting as a banker to the private sector, the one thing it has been saying it will never be these last twenty years and more. They said government is not a public purse. This loan says the opposite – and that has to be a good thing. We pay taxes for the government to provide services and invest again in the nation’s industry, boosting new jobs, protecting existing jobs. This is exactly what the SNP propose with their investment bank, pick winners without gambling. The money is a loan, not a grant. (I’ve yet to discover exact interest charges.)

Jaguar’s electric I-Pace is a winner, beaten only by Kia’s Niro for value for money, twice Niro’s cost. Jaguar-Land Rover promise to create a whole new raft of electric vehicles, and while I have reservations about such vehicles being ahead of a four-nation charging system, and that all lithium ion batteries must be reusable either in cars or in other ways, May leaves office with one, but only one, gold star. I am sure she’ll dine out on that for the rest of her days.

£500 million is a piffling amount compared to China which has already spent billions subsidising its electric vehicle industry and the German government has earmarked €1 billion (£960m) to support a consortium looking to produce electric car battery cells.

Now, how about an advanced transport company established in Scotland?


Electric dreams

My wee Smart was driven off to the dealers for its annual MOT – all okay, thank goodness, spare cash is tight. He left the gleaming blue Mercedes B Class in the drive. Only when he collected it again, after leaving the Smart nicely washed and vacuumed, did I spot – or rather hear – his car was electric. I quick check came up with these statistics for interested readers: priced at £27,000 (after the £5,000 Government EV grant), the Electric Drive is equivalent to a B 220 CDI Sport. It gives 172 hp, and 125 miles on a full charge. The car looks oddly conventional for an electric vehicle, perhaps an attempt to ape Tesla. But for those after a roomy electric car with good luggage room that will spend most of its time in and around a city, the B-Class Electric Drive make sense.

Electric ice cream

And while on the subject of electric vehicles, Nissan has produced an electric ice cream van, yours for £20,000. The heat wave we get these days means queues for cooling ice-cream will be longer than ever. When a poverty stricken child I took my wee snotty brother to the ice cream van that stood on Silverknowes foreshore and teach him to look miserable, while I stood beside him with hang-dog eyes, one arm over his shoulder, the lining of my trouser pockets handing out as a visual hint. Patient long enough, either a kindly mother would take pity on us and buy us a cone each, or the van driver would give us one with a “Here ye-ar, ya wee toerags. Now get outa here! Yer ruinin’ ma trade.” Unlike the two toerags, my successors trying the same scam won’t need to breath in diesel fumes. or taste it on their ice cream ‘slider’.

Just a thought

The UK government announced very quietly (while the media were announcing very loudly Scotland’s drug deaths) a review into how the UK’s roads are policed, with motorway bosses and the Home Office joining the police to launch a two-year Road Safety Action Plan in a bid to improve road safety. Recent figures reveal the number of fatalities caused by drink drivers recently reached an eight-year high, while the number of pedestrians killed on the UK’s roads reached a nine-year high in 2017, and overall accident rates haven’t fallen significantly since 2012. There has also been a severe drop in the type of offences roads police would normally solve in recent years, with the number of drivers cited for careless or dangerous driving falling from 276,000 in 2011, to 179,000 in 2016. Could a fall in the number of dedicated traffic cops in England have anything to do with those figures?




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