Updated: Jul 10
This is an article from 2021 from one of our partners, The Classic Valuer.
Right - the big one - the future of classic cars. Keep calm, keep rational and be driven by data and facts. It’s The Classic Valuer after all - data and facts are what we do.
We’ll take this question by question and break down each and step through quite a complex problem area. Let’s go.
Question 1: Will we still have internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles on the road in 2030?
To answer that question, first you need to understand what the UK Government is proposing, and for the purposes of simplicity we’ll focus on the UK here given different legislation across the EU and US.
From here until 2030, anything goes - the vehicles you have on the road now will still be there till 2030. No change.
Between 2030 and 2035, the Government has said you will only be able to sell new cars that are pure electric or hybrids (in other words, part electric, part internal combustion).
From 2035 onwards only electric new cars will be allowed to be sold in the UK.
So what some may draw from that is “oh god, internal combustion cars are off after 2035”, that is almost certainly not the case and the reason.
There will, quite literally, be millions of ICE cars on the roads still. In 2020, based on DVLA figures, there were 38.6 million vehicles in the UK - 31.7 million of those were cars.
The next question is, how many new cars are registered each year? That’s not necessarily a direct replacement of an old car, it could be an additional one but in the interest of simplicity let’s work off the assumption it is a direct replacement. In 2020, 1.6 million cars were newly registered onto the road. Note: 2020 was a challenging year given Covid and dealers closed for a significant proportion - volumes were down c. 30% on prior years. Given that, let’s assume each year on average 2 million new cars are registered on the road.
Of those cars registered new, about 20% DVLA register as alternative fuels - that’s both pure electric vehicles and also hybrids.
More interestingly, when you compare 2019 to 2020, you can see electric cars starting to move up on an exponential curve.
You can see on the above petrol and diesel cars dropping away each year. The number of petrol cars sold was 35% lower than the previous year. The number of diesel cars sold was 50% lower than the previous year. That trend has started and it's not going away any time soon.
2020 saw 87% more alternative fuels vehicles sold vs 2019. When you extrapolate that trend out of alternative fuel vehicles rising 87% a year, you get to a point in 2024 where almost all cars sold on the road will be hybrid or fully electric.
There is another trend you can deduce from the above - it will take a fair while for all of the cars that are currently on people’s driveways to be replaced. Even if you took all those 2 million new vehicles that are replaced each year and assumed every one from now forwards was non-ICE it will take 19 years for the current stock of cars that are on people’s driveways to be replaced with alternative fuel vehicles.
To recap: will internal combustion engines still be on our roads in 2030?
Absolutely yes. We know there are 30 million cars in the UK, with 2 million cars being newly registered each year. Assuming every single one of those is an alternative fuel, it will take until c. 2040 before all those cars are replaced, even if people can afford it and want to.
Question 2: Will I still be able to get fuel for my classic?
If you were paying attention above, you might notice two things:
1 - The Government wording only refers to the sale of new vehicles - used vehicles aren’t affected by this ban as of yet.
2 - The Government wording only mentions cars - it doesn’t apply to farm machinery, HGVs, aviation, ships, motorcycles or anything in between. If you can get fuel for motorcycles, logic follows you can get fuel for a vehicle.
On top of that, if hybrids are sold up to 2035 then assuming a lifespan of at least 10 to 15 years that tells us that fuel will be available to at least 2045 / 2050.
The caveat is our Government enjoys a u-turn and may well change their position on the timeline outlined above and the conditions of it. Given the cost of living pressure combined with the number of jobs these vehicles support, unless the Government has a radical rethink on policy you will still be able to get fuel into 2050 and more than likely well beyond.
Question 3: How do I fuel my vehicle in the very long term?
Looking beyond 2050 and into the very distant future, how will I power my classic? It’s a question that other industries like aviation and shipping are wrestling too and there are some fascinating insights to share.
Airbus have run the numbers and they worked out how many batteries would be needed to fly an A320, one of their smaller aircraft on a normal flight and they found this astonishing fact. Even if Airbus had batteries 30 times denser than they currently are, an A3320 would only be able to fly ⅕ of the distance they can fly now carrying half its payload.
Well, if not batteries in the short or medium-term - what’s the alternative?
This is where the good news comes in - carbon neutral fuels. There’s generally two types - synthetic fuels or e-fuels - they have the same energy density and volume as you would normally have with petrol or diesel and they can drop right into your internal combustion engine with minimal changes. The even better news is they release far fewer fossil fuels.
Sit tight though, they are currently rather expensive. Having said that, Bosch, Porsche et al are investing massively into this space and we will see those prices fall and at which point you could see carbon neutral fuels firing HGVs, farm machinery, aviation, ships and potentially also classic cars.
However, the argument the Government is making on this whole topic is wrong - let’s explain why.
Question 4: What are the emissions of a new car over its lifetime?
Electric manufacturer Polestar delivered some great research to look at the emissions produced across the manufacturing process and during the usage of their car. We’ll compare that to a standard ICE Volvo XC40, and we’ll compare it to a classic car.
Emissions during the manufacturing process:
A Volvo XC40 produces 14 tonnes of CO2 during the manufacturing process. A Polestar 2 produces 24 tonnes - 75% more than an XC40.
What about in-life emissions?
The big variable here is where do you get your power from - is it a fossil fuel or is it a more environmentally friendly source.
For the Volvo it’s fossil fuels and on average the XC40 will produce 41 tonnes of CO2 during its lifetime.
For the Polestar it varies depending on the power mix that’s being used. For a European power mix, in-life emissions are c. 15 tonnes of CO2 - that’s 26 tonnes less than the Volvo.
In total a Polestar will produce 39 tonnes of CO2 across its life and a XC40 will produce 55 tonnes of CO2, worse by a margin of 30%. Is the answer therefore to replace all ICE cars with the likes of Polestar tomorrow? No, the environmental damage of an electric vehicle is front loaded in the production process and as such existing ICE vehicles should be used into the future and meanwhile look to minimise the environmental impact of producing an electric vehicle.
The other key here is how can you extend the lifetime of the battery to last longer? We’ve all been there where our brand new phone lasts a day and a bit on a charge, then it only lasts a day and then it barely gets to half a day, a similar concept applies with batteries for electric cars. How do you stop the regular cycle of batteries being replaced and therefore the most emissions intensive element of an electric car’s life?
This is where classic cars come in as an increasingly appealing option.
Question 5: What is the environmental damage of a classic car?
As above, we’ll break this down by looking at in-manufacturing and in-life emissions.
Let’s start with the easy one, in-manufacturing emissions. Well, the car has already been produced, the emissions are already in the atmosphere, the damage is done, it’s a sunk cost so the net new cost of in-manufacturing emissions is zero.
Right, in-life emissions. We know that classic cars do on average 1,200 miles a year, assuming 20 MPG, the total emissions generated by a classic would be 651kg of CO2 per annum. Kilograms, not tonnes.
Let’s put that in context, if you speak on your mobile phone for say one hour a day your phone alone will produce 1,250kg of CO2 per annum. Yes, a phone is nearly twice as bad for the environment as driving a classic car on average conditions.
Putting it into context further, we know an electric car produces 24 tonnes of CO2 during the manufacturing process - that means that I could use a classic for 36 years and generate the same amount of emissions as an electric car would before it has even done a mile.
And that is why I believe the Government is making a poorly informed decision on this topic. Fundamentally, it has not been led by the data and facts.
Note the above doesn’t even consider the energy intensive process of disposing / recycling of a battery once it has come to the end of its life. Nor have we mentioned the value of the UK classic car industry at £18.3bn per annum, delivering £2.9bn in tax revenue and supporting 113,000 jobs and 665 apprenticeships.
If you take nothing else away from this piece, take these 3 things:
Our roads will not be silent in 2030. Petrol will be available well beyond 2035 and likely beyond 2050.
Carbon neutral fuels are the big hope in the future for classic car owners.
Finally, it would take 36 years of driving a classic car to produce the emissions of an electric car before it has even done a mile and they produce around half the emissions of a mobile phone per year.
Imagine a world where we focused on repair instead of replace.
Chip in with your perspective in the comments, it would be great to hear.
Mobile Phone Emissions:
Polestar and Volvo Emissions:
The Classic Car Contribution To The UK Economy: