I MIGHT have to take an extended retreat on a mountain-top monastery and try and meditate my way out of having what – to a dyed-in-the-wool petrolhead – are clearly unholy thoughts. For a split second the other night, I thought buying an electric car might actually be a good idea.
They have, from the various ones I’ve tried, come a long way in barely a decade. If I was being sensible I might be tempted by a BMW i3, but if I wasn’t it’d be an emphatic yes to Renault’s Twizy. What’s more, either would make perfect sense on my current commute; a 20-mile drive to and from an office which, helpfully, already has charging points on site.
That’s the way the nation’s moving; for all those longer drives I do to North Wales and the remoter bits of Yorkshire I’m still very much an advocate of internal combustion, but for an increasingly large swathe of the population it’s getting ever easier to go all-electric, especially with unleaded nudging £1.30 a litre.
But that’s not the worry I had for a classic owner who wrote to me the other day, pondering what implications Britain’s lunge towards zero emissions motoring had for his Jaguar Mk2. For me, it’s autonomous vehicles, not electric ones, that pose the biggest challenge.
Again, these are getting better every year, but until you remove humans and their awkward habit of making irrational, last-minute decisions out of the equation, you’re still going to get crashes. Logically, the only way to do that is to have autonomous-only roads – a sort of Docklands Light Railway for cars, if you like – where cars that don’t have that driver-free capability can no longer roam.
There are no plans from the Department for Transport to do this, but it’s already looking at technology that’s pointing in that direction, the most obvious being smart motorways that beam traffic information straight onto digital displays on car dashboards. The EU’s already mandated that new cars from 2022 onwards will have speed-limiting tech pre-installed. Even in an all-electric world it isn’t hard to imagine a scenario where people with classic cars would still be able to get petrol from somewhere, but I dread the day when they’re confronted with roads they’re no longer allowed to use.
What’s more – and I know this is a hugely indulgent, selfish thing to admit in our bid to become a cleaner, greener, safer Britain – I like driving. Not thrashing a car to within an inch of its life, but taking a great car, learning all of its little facets and characteristics, and exploring our wonderful country with it. Seeing quaint buildings in villages you didn’t know about. Stopping off at canal-side pubs on summer evenings just for the hell of it. And yes, pondering whether the Jaguar Mk2 is better in 3.4-litre form is actually somehow more satisfying and better balanced than the 3.8-litre one, even though prices still suggest everyone’s after the latter.
These are the sort of things you just can’t do if you pre-program your destination into an autonomously-guided electric pod – no matter how good an idea they might briefly seem. Think carefully, chaps in Whitehall…