Andrew Frankel: ‘Government is poisoning the public’s mind against electric cars’

“Lawrence Stroll told me his customers were in no hurry to trade V8s for electric”

Slowly, but apparently quite surely, car manufacturers are re-appraising their approach to electric cars, nowhere more than at the top end of the market. At a journalist lunch a few weeks back, Lawrence Stroll told me his customers were in no hurry whatsoever to trade their brawny Aston Martin V8s for electric motors and has pushed back the date for Aston’s first EV from next year to 2027 and, I got the impression, he meant that at the earliest. Over at Bentley meanwhile, its commitment to becoming an all-electric brand by 2030 has slipped too, and is now a rather more nebulous “early 2030s”. And Lotus has still to sell out its all-electric Evija hypercar, five years after it was first announced.

In the cheaper seats, it is known that Ford, having killed the Fiesta and Focus to make factory space for building electric cars, is now rethinking its approach to EVs, Mercedes is delaying the implementation of its electrification strategy, sales for the two largest all-EV manufacturers, BYD and Tesla, are falling and even Fiat has pushed back the replacement of the Panda with an EV from 2027 to 2030.

What’s going on? Several things, all at once. There are the well-known and ongoing infrastructure issues and the realisation that they’re not going to be resolved anytime soon. For private buyers there’s legitimate fear of residual values, while all the early adopters have by now adopted. And once generous grants have now been slashed, or eliminated.

But really? I see the biggest threat to the future success of EVs comes from those pushing hardest to ensure it happens. By which I mean government. They are learning what I suspect most of us have known for a while now: you can’t force people into purchasing decisions they don’t want to make. And by creating a legislative framework that gives manufacturers little choice but to change in the most fundamental way the cars they are making, compelling them to design EVs for which the demand is unproven and the infrastructure inadequate, they are slowly poisoning the public’s mind against them while doing untold financial damage to the manufacturers coerced into creating them.

As Carlos Tavares, the talismanic boss of the Stellantis Group which owns everything from Fiat and Alfa Romeo past Peugeot and Citroën to Jeep and Maserati, recently said, “The consequence of this [the Zero Emission Vehicle mandate] is that everybody will start pushing the BEV [battery electric vehicle], pushing the metal into the market, which then totally destroys profitability, which then destroys the companies.” Before, of course, the government has even begun to figure out how on earth it’s going to recover tax revenue lost on fuel sales.

“At the time Jaguar Racing made most sieves look fairly watertight”

I was amused by the stories that Adrian Newey is to leave Red Bull for pastures new, only because it elicited a pronounced sense of deja-vu. You may recall that after a fairly uninspiring start to its time as an F1 constructor, Jaguar recruited Bobby Rahal at the end of its debut season in 2000. Eight months later he was out, in a coup reportedly engineered by Eddie Irvine and Niki Lauda, his three-year contract not worth the paper it was written on. His crime? Allegedly to try and sell Irvine to Eddie Jordan, though Rahal always insisted it was a joke. It was also just enough rope.

But Rahal’s tenure at Jaguar Racing will always be remembered for his failed attempt to prise Newey away from the clutches of McLaren and Ron Dennis. And what was extraordinary is that it’s not as if Adrian simply turned him down: he was going, contracts agreed, press release written and, would you believe, published. In it Adrian was quoted as saying: “in the end the prospect of working again with my close friend Bobby… combined with the prospect of the exciting challenge that Jaguar Racing offers, proved irresistible.”

Or not, as the case turned out to be. At the time Jaguar Racing was an organisation that made most sieves look fairly watertight and, pre-warned, Ron was able to persuade Newey to stay on. Ironically enough Ron did lose Adrian five years later to the newly formed Red Bull Racing, born out of the ashes of the Jaguar F1 team… As for Rahal, from this distance, it looks for all the world like he was only hired to recruit Newey, and once that hadn’t happened, his days were always likely to be numbered. Will Adrian really go this time? I expect so, but nothing is guaranteed until it happens.

Were you at the Bicester Sunday Scramble in April? If so your ears would not have failed to notice the Lotus 66. If you’re now scratching your head, the car was an proposal for a Can-Am machine, intended to run in 1970 to give the Bruce and Denny show something to think about. But it never got off the ground. Now it’s been reinvented as a 10-off, million quid-plus track-day car, with a period-correct aluminium monocoque plus an 830bhp pushrod V8.

It looked and sounded incredible so I sidled up to its driver Simon Lane, executive director of Lotus Advanced Performance, and asked if I could have a go. But it turns out it’s a show car with a rudimentary spaceframe chassis – the real deal will come later in ’24. What chance, I wonder, of getting it on a track with former McLaren designer Steve Nichols’ N1A? That would pretty much make my year.

A former editor of Motor Sport, Andrew splits his time between testing the latest road cars and racing (mostly) historic machinery
Follow Andrew on Twitter @Andrew_Frankel