Inside the industry: Should electric cars be taxed by efficiency?

Jaguar I Pace S front quarter tracking 2018

Rated at 360Wh per mile, the ageing Jaguar I-Pace is slightly less efficient than the Rolls-Royce Spectre

Electric SUVs typically consume more energy per mile than equivalent saloons

As the Government ponders how to tax electric cars, I’m surprised by how little debate is being directed at rewarding efficiency – a glaring omission, considering the industry’s focus (driven in part by customer demand) on prioritising both bigger and higher-riding cars, which in both cases are typically more profitable but more consumptive.

Why is this important? Achieving zero tailpipe emissions is merely a step in the right direction until our vehicles are powered entirely by green energy. Pretty obviously, burning coal to create the electricity to move a car creates large amounts of CO2, whereas using electricity from a wind turbine doesn’t. At the risk of forcing a utilitarian agenda, you might also argue that we should be seeking to conserve the energy that we create regardless of its source, too.

It’s why for now EVs make more sense in renewable-loving Norway than coal-dependent Poland or China; and why the UK, a mid-table performer for CO2 output from its energy generation in European terms, must remain relentlessly focused on investing in renewable energy if its push towards the 2030 EV mandate isn’t to be contradictory.

Just how unequal same-sized electric cars can be is highlighted by EV Database, using real-world data. While the Tesla Model 3 (a very efficient saloon) uses 245Wh of electricity per mile on average, the Toyota bZ4X (a decently efficient SUV) consumes 312Wh per mile.

While battery technology most likely plays a part, that difference of more than a quarter is largely down to aerodynamics and weight, and to my mind is reason enough for legislators to incentivise slipperier,more svelte shapes.

That argument only snowballs if you look at the efficiency of some of the bigger EVs on sale, too. The BMW iX uses 351Wh per mile, the Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV 361Wh per mile and the Volvo EX90 375Wh per mile.

Fully laden and utilising every inch of their girth, they might be able to make a case for being nearly 50% less efficient than the Model 3, but we all know how rarely cars of any size are used to full capacity.

Highlighting again the benefits of shape, it’s also notable that the Rolls-Royce Spectre coupé comes in at 351Wh per mile. It’s hardly a model of restraint, yet it’s better than even the (admittedly quite old) Jaguar I-Pace, which consumes 360Wh per mile.

Luxury (and therefore the price) is less the enemy of efficiency than our obsession with SUVs, it seems, although it’s likely that the combination of the two represents the worst-case scenario.

The premise of taxing less efficient cars has underpinned road tax for ICE cars for many years, and it should do so again into the electric era.

Left to their own capitalist devices, humans will usually strive to have more than they need. It’s the legislators’ jobs to encourage better decisions and penalise those who don’t heed them.

Source: Autocar

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