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The Government ban on petrol and diesel in 2040 will be fine for new cars. It’s the old ones I’m worried about

Cars like the BMW i3 have made zero emissions motoring more fashionable

APOLOGIES to Mark Twain’s estate for having to shamelessly pilfer one of his better-known quotes. Reports of the car’s death – which you’ve probably read over the past week or so – have been greatly exaggerated.

Chances are you’ll already be aware of the Government’s intention to ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars as of 2040, which a million internet bores instantly took to mean the death knell for motoring fun as we know it. The party that Karl Benz and his pals threw back in 1886 is finally over, because we all overdid it and got drunk on AC Cobras and Range Rover Sports.

But calling it quits isn’t really doing us as a species, particularly those of who love cars, much credit. Ever since we figured out that we had opposable thumbs and could light fires we’ve been pretty good at working out answers to things, and even by the Government’s own prescription we have roughly 23 years to solve this one.

I’m not going to get into how we make the clean energy that propels a zero emissions car but the end result’s a lot better than it used to be. Seven years ago I drove an electric MINI that had a battery so huge it took up the back seats, a range of barely 100 miles and engine braking so severe you could pull up at roundabouts without touching the middle pedal. It only took another two years for the motor industry to invent an electric car that was fun to drive – take a bow, Renault Twizy – and fast forward to 2017 and the charging points at motorway service stations are crammed with Nissan Leafs and Teslas. If we’ve made it this far in seven years, you probably won’t need a diesel Golf as a new car in two decades’ time.

The bit I worry about is what happens with all the old ones. The more intelligent people at Westminster have already said that banning them isn’t the answer, partly because outlawing the MGB is a bit like banning Buckingham Palace and more importantly because the nation’s classic car hobby is worth £5.5 billion to the British economy (and it’s still growing). Horses have been old hat to commuters since the Austin Seven showed up, but they’re still allowed to use our roads.

But the thing with horses is that you only need straw, carrots and a decent vet to keep them going. If everyone else is driving electric cars in 2040 will there still be petrol stations to fill up the MGF or the Peugeot 205 GTI? Or places that can do a new battery for an Audi TT?

The car, I honestly reckon, will live on. It just might be a bit trickier than it used to be.

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An electric car game-changer is nearly here

It is likely carmakers like Tesla will use the new technology first

ANYONE who grew up watching Space 1999 needn’t feel disappointed. We might not be living on the Moon and eating everything in pill form, but the world today’s a lot more advanced than it used to be.

You can tap your finger against a handheld electronic screen and a van carrying your shopping rocks up a couple of hours later – and chances are that’s only because the supermarket isn’t allowed to deliver it by drone yet. We have trains that go under the sea and stealth fighter planes that fly above it. It beats driving home in your Morris Oxford and watching Terry and June over a bowl of Angel Delight, that’s for sure.

Just about every conceivable piece of technology has come along in leaps and bounds – with the exception of two things. You might not have noticed that the fastest transatlantic flights of today are a lot slower than Concorde could manage, but you’ll almost certainly have noticed that phones can barely manage a day before running out of breath. If you’re reading this on your smartphone via Champnews.com it might not even make it to the end of this article.

But an Israeli company that reckons it might have cracked the problem of rubbish smartphone batteries might have inadvertently created a genuine motoring game-changer. The smart money is that as of next year you’ll be able to use its tech to charge your phone up in a few minutes – and because electric cars run on the same sort of batteries it figures that it should work equally well on those too. Perhaps not unsurprisingly half the car industry’s keeping a very close eye on how StoreDot’s boffins are getting on.

Don’t expect it to revolutionise the roads overnight. It’s worth remembering that while nearly 100,000 plug-in cars were sold across the UK in 2016 that’s still nowhere near the number of Golfs or Focuses you all buy. It’ll also make sense that the most expensive offerings will be fitted with quick-charging tech first, so it’ll be a while before it filters down to the Nissans and Mitsubishis that dominate the ‘leccy car market.

But once it does break through to the mainstream the issue of battery anxiety – and the main reason you wouldn’t buy an electric car – will disappear. The cars themselves are absolutely fine, but no longer will you have to worry about an eight-hour wait if you start running low in deepest Snowdonia. You’ll be able to pull into a filling station and be on your way a couple of minutes later.

That idea might catch on. Eating food pills on the Moon it ain’t, but it’s a brave new world all the same.

Tesla should keep at it with autonomous cars

Tesla is one of the champions of autonomously guided cars

THE LIST of inappropriate things to do during a Harry Potter movie isn’t very long.

My contribution to the ranking happened during a screening of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in one of those old-fashioned cinemas that stops for refreshment intervals mid-flick. The brick-like Nokia in my coat pocket buzzed and – in a moment straight out of Trigger Happy TV – I answered it and rather loudly described to a mate how rubbish I thought the film was. Offending about 60 nearby children in the process.

But it turns out becoming a cinematic pariah is a fairly safe thing to do during a Harry Potter film. Driving a Tesla while watching one, as you might have seen in the news last week, apparently isn’t.

The story – the Tesla incident, not JK Rowling’s fictitious wizard – goes that a chap driving a Model S was so confident of the electric luxury saloon’s autonomous driving mode that he allegedly fired up the in-car TV screen for a quick diversion to Hogwarts. Back in the real world a lorry pulled out in front of his car, and – according to Tesla’s statement on its own website – neither he nor the car’s autopilot picked out the truck’s white trailer against a brightly lit sky in time.

It is – like any fatal car accident – a tragedy that should be learned from in order to reduce the chances of it happening again. The difference is that this one puts the question of how much trust you’re prepared to put into self-driving cars in a whole new perspective.

Only a few weeks ago I argued autonomous cars were a belting idea, and even after this horrific accident I’d still argue the idea has potential. But to suggest that taking drivers out of the picture will spell the end of car accidents is dangerously naïve.

Think about how many times you’re being flown somewhere on autopilot. The chances of being involved in a crash are miniscule compared to being injured or killed in car – even more so when you discount the air crashes that are caused by human error – but there’s still a very remote chance something will happen. Regardless of whether it’s you or the electronics dictating the drive it’s impossible to eliminate the risk completely.

Both the Tesla accident and a crash between one of Google’s self-driving cars and a bus back in March show there’s a lot more work to be done before you can hire your Ford Focus as its own chauffeur. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.

If you do like your Harry Potter films, I’d suggest sticking to your sofa for now.

Originally published in the 13 July edition of The Champion