Graham Morse

It is over 164 years since Karl Benz designed and built his first four stroke combustion engine, which became the first automobile in series production. The internal combustion engine has had a good run, but its days are numbered.

All over the world, countries have set targets to ban fossil fuel vehicles. Norway has a target of the year 2025. In India, China, Netherlands and Ireland, it is 2030. France, Germany, Sri Lanka and Taiwan by 2035. The UK target of 2040 has been heavily criticised for lacking ambition.

All major motor manufacturers have got the message and are investing heavily in the new technology. Plants that build internal combustion engines are being closed and new factories opened to produce electric vehicles (EVs). All Volvo cars launched this year will be electric or hybrids – the first major auto manufacturer to discontinue its production of gas-only vehicles.

The environmental benefits of switching to EVs are well known. CO2 emissions from gas and diesel cars are a major contributor to global warming and climate change. Air pollution from vehicle emissions is a serious concern, especially in cities like London, where some experts believe that vehicle fumes in the air can be compared to “smoking in front of a child”. Motorists benefit from lower maintenance costs and no more expensive fill-ups at the pump.

The biggest barrier to the wide market penetration needed to hit the UK target is range. The new BMW mini being built at Oxford boasts a range of 184 miles. Charging stations are becoming more readily available, but drivers are still nervous about being caught out. The other barrier is price, with EVs at a substantial premium to a gas equivalent.

Cayman should be an ideal market for EVs, but their adoption here has been just a trickle ─ only 44 fully electric cars and 31 hybrids on the road after eight years. Why?

Range should not be an issue here, with many EVs having a range of 100 miles or more. How many of us do that in a day? For single occupancy homes, an overnight charge is no problem, although those living in condos will need to put pressure on their strata to install charging points.

And if you do run low, there are already 19 charging stations across Grand Cayman. And it’s free!

Soon we could have ‘off the grid’ charging stations powered by solar panels providing truly clean electricity.

But the key to transforming the market lies with the Cayman dealer network. Motorists like the brands and models they know, and a support system they can trust. They like to see it, sit in it, drive it. But none of the main dealers in Cayman can offer you an electric car today. It’s not that they do not care, they are following the trends in the industry closely. They know the future is electric and they know it’s coming. They just don’t know when, or what type of EVs manufacturers will make available in the Caribbean.

Some think they may have an EV in the showroom in a year or so. They all agree that the landscape will look very different in five years time. Some believe that hybrids will appeal to those concerned about power supply in a hurricane.

All dealers will have to make an investment in new equipment and staff training before they are allowed to import EVs, and until they are sure of the level of demand, and which vehicles the manufacturer will supply, they will be unwilling to make that investment.

The price differential between EVs and gas cars is another factor on the minds of dealers and buyers. This week’s government announcement to reduce customs duty on electric and hybrid vehicles (Cayman Compass, 30 July) is to be welcomed, but it does not go far enough.

In the National Energy Policy (NEP) approved by Cabinet in February 2017 (item 3.3.7.4) stated policy is, “Reduce the duty on EVs and hybrids to 0% and 10% respectively for 5 years.” The current duty on EVs is 10% and on hybrids 15%, so the new rates are only a 5% improvement. And why does duty-free only apply to EVs up to $29,999? Surely all cars are contributing to CO2 emissions regardless of price.

The government has played its part, pledging to converting 10% of its fleet to EVs over the next five years and already have six government charging stations. But much more needs to be done. We need regulations or incentives to switch public buses to electric (as they have in London), as well as the taxis, the school buses and the quarry trucks (there are already 11 electric trucks between 4,000‑8,500 pounds maximum weight).

The time to act to avoid the worst of the catastrophic effects of climate change is running out, but buying an electric vehicle can help play a part. EVs ‘soon come,’ but for those that cannot wait, the Electric Car Company can supply quality low mileage previously owned EVs for under $30,000 with no duty, and Cayman Automotive can sell you a new Tesla Model 3, or the world’s biggest selling EV, the new Nissan Leaf, in the $45,000-$60,000 range with just 5% duty, all with full service back-up.

Graham Morse, author and ocean sailor, built his own eco-friendly house in Cayman in 2011, is an advocate for the environment and renewable energy, and is a member of the Cayman Renewable Energy Association.