Electric cars will never be a mass-market solution to climate change and should not get government subsidies, the chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover said on Tuesday .
The British and other governments have introduced generous subsidies to encourage motorists to switch to emission-free electric cars.
Ralf Speth said it was wrong to subsidise “poor electric vehicles” and nationwide charging stations. “At this time I am not a very big friend of electric vehicles,” he said in an interview at the Geneva motor show.
“The batteries are too expensive …the customer must be very rich, and can only use [them] in mega-cities [where there are charging points]. Should we do it only for the rich?”
He said it would be better to wait until the technology improves and there is a greater benefit to the environment.
Speth, who has been chief executive of Indian-owned Jaguar Land Rover since 2010, said the market should decide if electric cars are the future. “The customer is clever enough to decide what he wants or doesn’t want,” he said. “Even with lots of subsidy the demand is not very high.”
Jaguar Land Rover has developed an electric version of the Defender 4×4, but Speth said it would cost “five digits” more to buy than the conventional version. The car unveiled at the motor show on Tuesday will not be for sale.
He said the carmaker would launch the world’s first hybrid sports utility vehicle later this year.
Speth’s comments came as Nissan underlined its commitment to build up to 50,000 Leaf electric cars in Sunderland. Andy Palmer, Nissan executive vice-president and the most powerful Briton at the Japanese company, said northeast production of the Leaf would begin on 28 March. He conceded that demand for electric cars has been hampered by the high price of the vehicles and “range anxiety” – people fear they may not be able to charge their cars if they go too far out of town.
But he said moving manufacturing from Japan to Sunderland had allowed it to cut the price to £23,490 – about £5,000 more than a similar petrol model. The £23,490 retail price comes after a £5,000 government subsidy.
Palmer said range anxiety would reduce following the government’s commitment to invest £37m in paying 75% of the cost of new charging points at garage forecourts, supermarkets and homes.
“The UK is really leading the way in electric cars, and we would like to see other governments picking up on that,” he said.
He said takeup of electric cars had been most extensive in Norway, where there is no import tax on electric vehicles and the country already has an extensive network of charging points used to prevent engines seizing up in cold weather. He said the Leaf is currently the 13th best-selling car in Norway.
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