The Flemish can stop belittling the electric car now

This week, Volvo made an extraordinary announcement. The company declared that, from 2019 onwards, it will no longer sell cars that are purely powered by fossil fuels. As a consequence, the Volvo range will include only fully electric or hybrid vehicles. The announcement is exciting, because the company is the first of the classic Western carmakers to fully commit to the electric car.

Henri van Soest

This message was not unanimously well received by the ‘vox populi’. In fact, many reactions were very negative, and complained about the ‘green dictatorship’. There were also fatalistic reactions that stated that electric cars are pointless, because the electricity they use is still generated from polluting sources, or because the battery life is way too short. Another often-recurring argument was the very Flemish ‘this is all very nice, but how much is this going to cost us?’

Since when do we dislike innovation so much? Recently, the iPhone celebrated its tenth birthday. In just ten years, the iPhone has profoundly changed our daily lives, and nowadays it takes some effort to find someone who does not own a smartphone. In the end, though, the iPhone is still just a means of communication, and it is hard to prove that it has really improved our quality of life. The electric car is a breakthrough that is several times more important, but in this case the average Flemish person displays a profound aversion.

Annually, some 11.000 Belgians die prematurely because of air pollution. In all of Europe, this makes about 432.000 annual deaths due to air pollution. This air pollution is mainly due to particulate matter, which is in the first place caused by internal combustion engines. For comparison: in 2016 540 people died on Belgian roads, and terrorism killed 32 people.

For those who prefer economic figures: the number of lost working days as a consequence of illnesses related to air pollution is estimated at around 2.5 million annually. These sick days cost employers around 401 million euros annually and the health care system more than 32 million euros annually. All in all, the costs of air pollution in Belgium are estimated to surpass 8 billion euros annually. For comparison: building electric charging stations all over Belgium would have a one-time cost of 200 million euros.

My conclusion is that the continued use of the internal combustion engine is completely nonsensical, from a human as well as an economic perspective. Despite all this, the recent revelations about large-scale fraud with soot filters show that the average Fleming still does not grasp the full scale of the problem.

No one ever claimed that the large-scale introduction of the electric car would be free of charge or that there would not be initial hiccups in its development. However, if we compare these potential and hypothetical issues with the real and demonstrable dramatic effects of the internal combustion engine, the choice is an easy one.


By Henri van Soest
Published July 11, 2017 1:40 PM - Last modified Aug. 24, 2018 5:34 PM