EVs are symbols, not just cars

Cars have long been a reflection of their owner’s personalities. The sleek lines of the Rolls Royce denote class and old money. The bright red Porsche is a favorite with young bankers, while estate cars and SUVs are family cars.

There are a wide range of personality-reflecting designs for EV cars. But there is one underlying characteristic that electric vehicles share – ownership (or non-ownership) has become a political statement.

Every previous mode of transport – from the horse and cart to the airplane – has been based on the practical foundation of moving from point A to point B.

The electric vehicle is the first means of transport to have been created almost entirely to answer the great political issue of our time – climate change. It is an issue which is as divisive as it is important.

Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists accept that the world’s climate is changing. But climate change deniers insist that they are wrong, and that the climate fear factor is destroying the tried and tested petrol-driven transport industry that produced $2.56 trillion in global revenue in 2023. In the US alone it supported 4,364,800 workers.

The leading American climate denier is, of course, ex-president Donald Trump. He has claimed that EVs threaten thousands of American car workers (a claim which is denied by industry executives who are investing $100 billion in EVs). He also said it menaces 10.3 million jobs in the American oil industry. Recently Trump tweeted that EV owners “can go to Hell”.

In the USA, cars are big business. EVs have been dragged into the political firing line, with former president Donald Trump saying that EV owners “can go to Hell”.

Possibly more than any other country, the demographic spread of America’s EV owners matches the nation’s divided politics. According to a Pew Research poll in July last year, 70 percent of Republicans oppose President Biden’s plans to phase out petrol and diesel-powered cars by 2035 compared to only 30 percent of Democrats.

Of course, not all Republican politicians are fighting against the tide of history and electric vehicles. Mike Murphy helped to run the campaigns of John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenegger. In January 2024 he launched the EV Politics Project to advise electric vehicle manufacturers how to overcome Republican Party opposition. The problem is his position in the Republican Party. Murphy is vehemently opposed to Trump and, perhaps worst of all, is married to a Democrat.

Being an arch-conservative does not necessarily stop political leaders from supporting electric vehicles. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is the most far-right leader within the EU. In December, China’s leading EV car manufacturer –  BYD – announced that it would be building its first European manufacturing plant in Szeged, Hungary. The Chinese company CATL had already started work on an $8 billion battery manufacturing factory in the east Hungarian town of Debrecen.

Viktor Orban has faced opposition to his Chinese deals from the US and his European partners. Political differences with China have led them to “de-risk” their economic links with Beijing. Not Orban. He said Hungary refused “to accept any kind of ideological pressure” that opposed Hungarian national interests.

The result is that since 2020 China has been the largest foreign investor in Hungary and Viktor Orban was the only EU leader to attend Beijing’s Belt/Road Initiative Forum in October.

The US and Europe are as worried about the financial impact of low-priced, high-quality Chinese electric vehicles flooding their markets as they are about the political consequences.

One would have thought that oil-producing behemoths Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would be fighting against the introduction of EV cars. Quite the opposite. They are eagerly embracing them. In December 2023 there were 25,929 EV cars on UAE roads, up from 15,100 at the same time in 2022.

Both UAE and Saudi Arabia are actively embracing the electric vehicle future.  A huge Lucid factory is now operational in Saudi Arabia.

The UAE government is promoting EV cars through initiatives such as the Dubai Green Mobility Strategy which aims to have 42,000-plus EV cars on UAE roads by the end of this decade. Opinion polls show that 82 percent of the population are amenable to buying an EV car. The introduction of EV cars is at the heart of the government’s aim of being carbon neutral by 2050. 

One of the incentives that the government is offering to encourage EV purchases is free parking for electric vehicles in Dubai city. In a city where parking charges can be as much as 20 AED ($5.45) per hour, that is no small incentive. 

The UAE is also investing in the Chinese EV business. In December it was announced that the Abu Dhabi investment firm CYVN Holdings was investing $2.2 billion in the Chinese EV manufacturer NIO. This followed an investment of $1 billion in July. The investment firm now has a 20 percent stake in the Shanghai-based company. 

Neighbouring Saudi Arabia is also embracing the green future represented by EVs. It will actually be manufacturing them. It has its own marque, CEER, and has arrangements with American EV manufacturers Lucid and Tesla to produce their cars in Saudi Arabia.

But the Chinese look set to become the world’s market leader when it comes to the manufacturing of EVs. Much of the success of the Chinese EV industry can be credited to the Chinese Communist Party which was quick to recognise the potential. Between 2016 and 2020 it subsidized the electric car and battery manufacturing industries to the tune of $57 billion. This enabled the manufacturers to introduce their products at a low price. The most popular BYD model sells for just $11,000 in China.

The rapid growth of electric vehicles in the huge Chinese market has provided the industry with a springboard from which to successfully launch into the global market. In February 2024, BYD was poised to overtake Tesla as the world’s top selling EV brand.

The Chinese are often criticised for their polluting coal-fired power stations. But in many ways they are leading the green technology charge, especially as regards electric vehicles. They have spotted the economic benefits of exploiting the climate change debate and have gone “woke”.

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