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Best of 2023

Opinion: are electric cars from China really a threat?

Warnings that Chinese-built EVs could be used as weapons has got us thinking

Published: 18 Dec 2023

When is a broken down electric car not a broken down electric car? When it’s a potent weapon of geopolitical warfare!

That’s according to Professor Jim Saker, president of the Institute of the Motor Industry, who recently issued the stark warning that Chinese-built EVs could be used by Beijing to destabilise the UK economy. Saker cautioned that hundreds of thousands of EVs could contain spyware allowing them to be immobilised remotely by officials in China, causing British roads to grind to a standstill. He described Chinese EVs as potential ‘Trojan horses’: quite the terrifying image, until you remember they’d be Trojan horses filled with confused pensioners rather than bloodthirsty Greek soldiers.

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Other industry figures have dismissed Saker’s warnings as ‘hysterical’, pointing out it’s not only Chinese EVs but pretty much every modern car that has the potential to be disabled remotely, which maybe isn’t the reassurance the British public was seeking.

Certainly, as Bond villain plans go, it’s at the mundane end of the scale. (“When I push this button, Bond, all hell shall be unleashed!” “Blofeld, you’re a monster. What does it do? Flip Earth’s gravity upside-down? “Even worse, Bond! It causes a bunch of mid-sized electric hatchbacks to slow gently to a halt!”)

But if conked out cars really are potential weapons of mass disruption, this raises some big, serious questions. Questions like: how, as a driver, are you meant to know whether you’re experiencing a minor drivetrain blip, or the beginning of World War 3? (“Darling, we’re losing power! This is it! Xi Jinping’s given the signal! Crack out the ration packs and the Lugers, we’re at war! Ah hang on, hold fire, just knocked it into neutral...”)

And if our nation’s hard shoulders are indeed the new theatre of international conflict, spare a thought for the RAC, AA and the rest. Up to now, they’ve been mere roadside recovery services. Now, potentially, they’re our first line of defence in global warfare. The SAS, with added high-vis triangles. When MI6 grimly reveals that the lads from Green Flag have been turned, that’s when we really need to start worrying.

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Maybe everything we knew about history is wrong. Is it possible that British Leyland’s woefully unreliable offerings of the Seventies weren’t the byproduct of shonky manufacturing and lazy management, but instead a cunning weapon in the battle against communism?

Also, if this truly is China’s grand plan to destabilise our nation’s economy... have they visited the southeast of England recently? If a hellbent foreign agent hit the button marked ‘monstrous motorway traffic jams’, would anyone even notice? China, we don’t need a remote EV shutdown to cause terminal congestion on our roads. We’re quite capable of creating total gridlock for ourselves, thank you very much.

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