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Monday 20th March

Chris Harris on... electric vehicles

Our future looks increasingly electric, but that doesn’t mean we have to naysay everything else, says Chris

“If you are not selling combustion engines, someone else will.” A rare moment of common sense in the form of a recent utterance from the boss of BMW, Oliver Zipse. Most people in his position feel compelled to talk only of an all-electric future and they fear the consequences of suggesting anything else. Because politicians and many young people who live in large cities have decided being able to cover distances using an engine is the worst thing a human can do. As they cluck over coffee freshly shipped from Ethiopia.

It’s the certainty of the electro-zealots I find so distasteful, and the fact they think they have a moral superiority. Unhelpfully for them, public opinion on future mobility in the UK has been shaped by politicians, Twitter bullies and, to an extent that I find genuinely scary, the education system. This is 50-year scenario planning by Wikipedia. The first two are easily understood and visible. Cancel culture now means that on most social media you cannot defend the internal combustion engine or suggest a single cyclist in the history of cycling has ever done anything wrong.

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For those of us who don’t necessarily agree with those positions and think that being an adult means you have to acknowledge the grey between the black and the white, there is always the option of just not being active on those platforms. I’ve been off Twitter for months – predictably, I’m much happier. But if you have children and obey the law by sending them to school, you can’t avoid the education system.

My kids have been taught many things by their mostly inspirational teachers. And most of them surround notions of tolerance and not reaching absolute conclusions about anything from empire to gender to the fact that people in the UK shouldn’t be eating avocados in November. But the one constant message my kids received was that cars are evil. It’s been unequivocal.

As a car driving parent, this force feeding of nonsense is a little frustrating. As a bloke who presents a TV show that doesn’t always take the most serious approach to burning fossil fuels, it’s a bit of a disaster. Someone in my position 20 years ago would have been fending off requests to bring a Lambo to the playground so Year 6 could rev it and giggle. In 2022 I need a disguise to hide from the disapproving looks. Even if I rock up in an EV, I still feel the level of judgement would be reduced if I were a convicted armed robber. It’s very strange. Because most of the kids who nod while teacher tells them they should live in a cave and renounce anything their country of birth has done for the past 5,000 years, then run out of the school and spread out in the back of mummy’s Range Rover.

Anyhow, I think we, the car community, needs to get on the front foot with the education system. Do a bit of PR. Let them know that electric might well constitute a good portion of future mobility, but that other solutions will be needed. That driving a car isn’t automatically evil and that cars can be allowed to be fun. And that okra isn’t a seasonal vegetable in the UK, in January.

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