Where’s the fear about non-electric cars? Could owners be left standing when the music stops?

Comment & Analysis: Electric cars are the subject of scaremongering, but where’s the fear of owning fossil fuel cars? With most people holding onto new cars for over five years, could they be left standing when the music stops?

The world is still turning towards electric cars — the International Energy Agency (IEA) in April said that “Strong electric car sales in the first quarter of 2024 surpass the annual total from just four years ago”. Let that sink in: More electric cars in three months of this year than in a whole year just a few years ago.

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New data from Denmark shows that battery electric vehicles are, for the first time, outselling diesel, petrol, and plugin hybrid vehicles combined. This is significant as problematic plugin hybrid car sales often make the electric picture seem better than it is.

IMAGE: The uneven yellow line shows ICE and hybrid vehicle sales, while the blue line shows electric sales.

“The Green Party has said the swing towards buying energy efficient diesel cars confirms that “green policies do work,” reads a 2009 article in the Irish Examiner. So, it’s understandable that some people are sceptical.

The Green Party has since admitted that it was a huge mistake to incentivise diesel cars, which are more toxic to human health than petrol cars. The car industry lied about emission tests, underestimating the effects of pollution on human health and overestimating the reduction in carbon emissions from using diesel instead of petrol.

Some people out there claim that electric cars are the same kind of mistake. Independent research indicates otherwise.

In technology terms, the fight between electric cars vs petrol and diesel cars isn’t like VHS vs Betamax. It’s more like saying nostalgia for cathode-ray tubes is going to stop the rise of LED TVs and monitors.

And if hydrogen cars are like Betamax, it’s so far behind that claiming it will win out anytime soon is not even cute anymore.

IrishCycle.com has previously stressed that far too many of Ireland’s climate action targets are focused on electric cars, but electric cars should be promoted over internal combustion engine (ICE) cars, especially outside of cities.

What’s going on around at the moment about the electric cars in Ireland is collective hysteria.

Oh, but some claim that “Germany is abandoning electric cars; sales are down.” The dip in sales of battery electric cars in Germany is directly linked to the removal of subsidies. The IEA views that competition and reduced costs of EVs should correct that.

Both in Ireland and elsewhere, there are understandable reasons why sales are down, including people getting caught up in collective hysteria caused by a range of factors, including a shortage of chargers for longer trips (ie something that doesn’t affect people most of the time and is slowly but surely being fixed).

There are other reasons not talked about as much on air or in the comments section of articles.

This includes (regardless of whether it was a good or bad decision) the reduction of incentives here in Ireland. It takes time for a correction in sales after subsidies are removed, and anticipation of the reduction happening caused a bump in sales last year.

There’s also resistance to electric cars not just from oil companies, which want to slow progress away from their products, but also ranging from European and some other car manufacturers who cannot compete with Chinese electric car makers to Ireland’s sales and maintenance system, which is based mainly on ICE cars. Of course, some are willing to adopt more than others.

In the short term, some car makers just want to sell off less efficient cars ahead of more stringent EU environmental rules.

There are other reasons, too, but they are a bit more complicated (let’s park those issues and get to them later in the article).

With all of the above, it’s amazing that the percentage of sales which are electric is similar to that in 2022 before the boost in sales last year ahead of the removal of incentives.

With most people holding onto new cars for over five years, they could be left standing when the music stops. The switch to electric could be accelerated by anything from cheaper electric cars to a shock in oil prices from an expansion of the current conflict in the Middle East.

An oil shock, which might have been seen as a temporary blimp a decade ago, would now be the nail in the coffin for ICE cars.

When the music stops

Going by the IEA method of combining of battery electric and plug-in hybrid, Ireland’s combined electric car sales are now around 22% of the market (based on SIMI figures of electric being at 12.99% and plug-in hybrid at 8.86%). We’re a laggard here with Germany, France and the UK at around 25%, the Netherlands at 30%, Sweden at 60%, and Norway at 95% (based on the IEA assessment).

When the music stops, Irish consumers will be worse off than car owners in other countries. We can say politicians didn’t do enough, but the main issue was the collective hysteria.

We shouldn’t be promoting electric cars (as much) in cities

Electric cars are still cars. They will continue to be highly inefficient in urban and suburban settings. There will still be noise issues on higher-speed roads (after a certain point, drag, road contact, etc., cause more noise than the engine), and there will still be air pollution from tyres, road particles, and brakes.

The impact of non-tailpipe emissions — including the microplastics in tyres — is an issue to human health and the environment that has been underestimated and largely unregulated. The heavier weight of EVs will also cause more road wear and there will be more dust from that.

With mass electric vehicle use, as with mass ICE car use, we still have all the associated issues, from health issues to inactivity to the use of our public space.

The public space element of this is largely not very well thought about because our national discourse is polarised. If we look at cities like Paris or Utrecht, we can see that it’s not just about space for cycle lanes or buses or trams but also space to support more people living in cities, from playgrounds in dense areas to space for greenery. The latter is important for not just biodiversity but also water management, which is becoming more important due to heavy rain from climate change.

For all of the above reasons combined, the target should be to make it attractive to reduce car use and ownership in cities and even towns. It’s important to say that a reduction in ownership doesn’t mean no ownership — for many, it will mean reducing from two or three cars in the household to one.


Private on-street charging where residents have no off-street parking is problematic. It gives a sense of ownership to public space outside of private homes. A mix of public on-street charging and charging at hubs is needed. Both should be offered to residents without parking at electricity rates equal to charging at home.

The IEA estimated that the average price of a medium-sized battery electric car in Germany in 2022 “was 10-20% more expensive than its ICE equivalent, but 10-20% cheaper in cumulative costs of ownership after 5 years.” This gap is closing with cheaper electric cars, which are starting to be sold, but with an upfront cost difference between electric and the equivalent non-electric car, many consumers will pick the latter.

One unanswered level of unfairness that isn’t talked about enough is homeowners with off-street parking who can afford to buy solar panels and storage batteries vs anybody else who wants an electric car. Measures such as zero-interest loans for solar panels and/or storage batteries might be one solution, but authorities seem very reluctant to offer zero-interest loans and even reluctant to offer such loans for electric bicycles.

If we’re serious about a just transition with climate action, these types of measures will need to be looked at again.


  1. Running expenses for an e-car are really only substantially cheaper than diesel especially in the first 5 years of ownership if you can charge at home. If you’re limited to public charging points you will be paying through the nose for expensive electricity.
    I’m not sure what the statistics for average daily mileage or kilometreage is, but certainly 80-90% of all of my trips are less than 50 km. And I don’t live in an urban area. Apart from the inefficiency of hauling around an entire additional ICE engine for the longer drives, a PHEV with a realistic 60 km battery range would cover the vast majority of my trips.
    And realistically only about 2% of all of my trips would be pushing a realistic 400 km range battery for a fully electric vehicle.
    Definitely the average(?) mileage drivers are overly hung up on range. A good infrastructure of dependable fast charging points would allay range anxiety in what is really a geographically very small country like Ireland.
    Unfortunately I won’t be driving an e-car for several years yet although simply for the same reason I wouldn’t be driving a new ice car either. Too expensive for me. Maybe in another 6 to 10 years when a decent second hand is affordable?
    Currently I’m already going “hybrid” by mixing in as much as possible local commuting, shopping and everything else by bicycle and shortly getting a first e-bike to increase that mix substantially.
    Unfortunately the thieving scumbags are the biggest drawback more than anything else with using a new e-bike and the necessity of parking it up in public spaces for lengthy periods or even all day if it is going to be used as a real alternative to a car.
    And unfortunately there is only just one single insurer in Ireland offering cover on bikes of any kind at approximately 10% annually of the cost of the bike no matter how much it cost. Considering about 10% of all bikes are stolen annually, perhaps they aren’t just ripping us off compared to UK and EU insurers?
    Unfortunately my employer declined to take part in the bike to work scheme when I approached him but what can you do! It’s not like there’s a law that he has to.
    If anyone has actually read this far, my apologies for going off on a little bit of a venting ramble.

    • No mention of the increased threat to cyclists of electric cars. The battery in electric cars means that the same size electric cars are significantly heavier than the equivalent ICE car. That means collisions with cyclists are physically more dangerous. Combine that with the lack of engine noise and increased acceleration and the probability of an accident with an EV is also higher.

      No mention about the cost of chargers. A fast charger is estimated at €250,000. Each charger can feed less vehicles than a petrol/diesel pump – 1/5 to 1/10 seems a fair estimate.

      No estimate about the cost of grid changes to support increased load from widespread charging.

      No mention of the catastrophic depreciation in secondhand EV prices.

      Electric cars are cheaper to run only because electricity is not taxed in the same way as petrol/diesel. As a heavier vehicle, they require more energy than the equivalent ICE vehicle.

      Finally, you don’t mention the fire risk associated with EV fires. They are for practical purposes impossible to put out. At some point soon, an EV in an underground car park will cause a very serious situation in an apartment block after which we will probably ban them from underground car parks.

  2. Drive a hybrid myself but very surprised at a few people I know who’ve gone out and bought new ICE cars in the last year or two. I don’t think the message is getting through and I don’t think people who don’t drive hybrid or pure electric realise just how much the savings are compared to petrol or diesel. There’s definitely going to be a lot of people left behind.


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