Maybe Big Brother is useful after all

Governments must target consumers right where they make their decisions - their wallets.

Back at the dawn of the auto industry, just around the start of the 20th century, daring, ingenious men cobbled together new "horseless carriages" as a new and exciting way to travel, with an offshoot of connecting towns and villages and scaring women and livestock. Well, not all women. Eventually, the "automobile" began to catch on, and these same daring men began producing their inventions in earnest for eager buyers. And, slowly, all around the US and Europe, petrol stations to fill up these new smoky, noisy beasts began cropping up, filling a need in a new market for petrol.

All of this happened without government incentives. The market grew naturally, and entrepreneurs filled it with service and products. So why the call for heavy incentives for electric cars nowadays? Nazeer Bhore, senior technology adviser for Exxon Mobil, seems to agree. He says that the market should dictate the advance of alternative fuel infrastructure without government intervention.

Why shouldn't it? Simply and obviously because we need change now, or at least very soon. It's been estimated that, by 2020, there will be 80 million cars or more on the world's roads, taking into account growing economies in China, India, and other areas. That's about double what we have now. If we continue with the status quo - with relatively cheap oil burned in conventional, internal combustion engines, the levels of pollution will be unimaginable. We - and I'm talking the entire world here - have to make a seismic shift in our regular transportation.

And, as I've oft said before, because people are lazy, they need to be pushed in the right direction. And it's going to take their governments to push them. Don't expect the car companies to take the lead, either, and don't blame them fully for not doing so - it's a business, and if people are willing to pay the big prices of SUVs, why not sell them? No, you've got to make the public want to buy an EV, and it's the government that must lead the way; or, at least, help those who know lead the way.

One method for government is with direct funding to the different industries involved in developing clean transport. But I'm not just talking about car companies, either - tech companies, utilities, new entrepreneurs with novel ideas and solutions. This will help stimulate the growth the industry and technology needs. Governments must also target consumers right where they make their decisions - their wallets. This is probably the fastest way to make change, using incentives for EVs and deterrents against normal vehicles: take the tax off of an electric car, make EV parking free and more convenient, block fuel-burning cars from certain city zones, charge a high petrol tax, etc. Many cities and countries are already doing these, and it's making a small difference.

The dawn of the 21st Century electric car carries with it much of the excitement, anticipation and questions that the first incarnation of the automobile did. Hopefully, we've learned from the last century that a little bit of planning for the future goes a long way. motoring@thenational.ae

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