As an EV news site, one thing we don’t usually highlight at The Driven is the number of combustion engine cars still being announced on a near-daily basis by the world’s car-makers.
For every new electric vehicle model, there must be at least 10 new or refreshed combustion engine vehicle models aimed at luring customers back into paying for petrol for the next 10 years. And for every new EV sold in Australia, there are another 50 new petrol and diesel burning cars still being sold.
There are a bunch of reasons for this in Australia – the lack of any meaningful federal policy and particularly the lack of vehicle emissions standards, which is threatening to turn the country into a dumping ground for vehicle that would not be allowed in other countries.
Research shows that pollution from internal combustion engines are not just a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, they are also responsible for millions of deaths a year from respiratory-related health issues.
So much so that it has been estimated $3,200 per person can be saved per Australian just by switching to electric cars. And the time is well past for arguing EVs cause more damage than ICE – see here and here and here.
Given all this, why isn’t there a broader discussion about the need to treat polluting engines the same way we treat smoking? Advertising tobacco products has been banned for almost 20 years, but it’s still legal to advertise highly polluting ICE cars.
This week we noticed Mazda using questionable marketing for internal combustion vehicle sales, billing – as Toyota also likes to do – its new Mazda 2 hybrid as “self-charging”.
Sure, the compact hybrid will use less petrol than its full ICE equivalent but the message remains – it is OK to keep burning fossil fuels even as all our best knowledge points to the dire need to stop it.
It’s marketing tactics like these that encourage us to believe that business-as-usual is ok. If it didn’t work, carmakers would stop spending money on it: that continuing to buy new petrol and diesel-fuelled cars while the house burns down around us is A-OK.
Car-makers still trot out lyrical chapters designed to keep us in a fantasy world where we keep on burning huge amounts of petrol and diesel yet can still keep our families safe, and get to connect with our inner nature spirits.
A Toyota advertisement in May said, “It’s in our nature to protect one another.” This is the world’s top maker of cars (and ye of the self-charging hybrid, in case you missed it the first time) – and it has only just reluctantly decided to unveil 16 new EVs (30 by 2030) even though it has been in the transport electrification space for 30 years.
(And I can tell you, I wasn’t surprised at the number of cynical responses there were to our article on this; “The penny finally dropped,” was one of the nicer responses.)
Another example is the Jeep Compass. Advertising director Adam Slater described a recent Jeep Compass ad created by his company: “The real luxury of owning a 4×4 isn’t just driving on muddy roads. It’s having unrestricted access to the things that really matter in life – time, space and nature.”
The irony is crushing, and at the same time so ludicrous – what is so upsetting about these adverts is that they play on our love of nature – the very thing that is at stake if we don’t act on climate change – to sell these vehicles.
Granted there are plenty of use cases in Australia, as well as overseas, where there aren’t electric models, or hydrogen for that matter, yet in volume production.
Options like the Ford F-150 Lightning, the Rivian R1T and R1S, and yes, the Tesla Cybertruck will be here in a matter of years. But as with other models, how soon depends on how certain carmakers are they can sell them – which comes down to a combination of federal policy, and national attitude, both of which feed off each other.
For the most part, Australians simply want to drive the kids to school and go to work, and maybe get out for the weekend occasionally without having to change our day to day mode of transport.
The sooner emissions-free options capable of this arrive here the better, because let’s face it – how many of us out there are going to change our ways more than we absolutely need to. Human nature is to find the path of least resistance, as someone once said to me.
So, back to the topic at hand – if car-makers couldn’t advertise ICE vehicles, but they could advertise EVs, what would happen? How many dollars would instead be shunted to efforts to encourage EV uptake?
Coming back to the cigarettes metaphor, people will still drive ICE cars even after they are no longer advertised. They’ll go to dealerships to find the latest model, pay far too much, brag how they are true to their roots, or whatever they have to say to convince themselves everything is fine.
The very best we can do is follow the lead of overseas markets by placing a limit of average emissions of vehicles imported by carmakers – akin to only allowing cigarettes with a certain amount of nicotine being sold (actually that’s not a bad idea either).
It won’t stop people buying a packet a day, or driving more than is absolutely necessary, but it minimises the harm in doing so.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018, and has a keen interest in the role that zero-emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. Bridie also owns a Tesla Model 3 and has it available for hire on evee.com.au.