British actor, comedian and writer Rowan Atkinson has claimed that despite being an early adopter of electric cars, he “increasingly feels a little duped” by them, proposing other alternatives such as hydrogen and synthetic fuels and raising concerns for emissions during EV production.
The 68-year-old, whose claim to fame were comedies such as Blackadder and Mr Bean and the film series Johnny English, said in an opinion column in The Guardian that he feels “our honeymoon with electric cars is coming to an end, and that’s no bad thing”.
He said: “I bought my first electric hybrid 18 years ago and my first pure electric car nine years ago and (notwithstanding our poor electric charging infrastructure) have enjoyed my time with both very much.”
“Electric vehicles may be a bit soulless, but they’re wonderful mechanisms: fast, quiet and, until recently, very cheap to run. But increasingly, I feel a little duped. When you start to drill into the facts, electric motoring doesn’t seem to be quite the environmental panacea it is claimed to be.”
Atkinson went on to highlight that at Cop26 in Glasgow in 2021, Volvo released figures claiming that “greenhouse gas emissions during production of an electric car are nearly 70 per cent higher than when manufacturing a petrol one”, attributing the problem to the lithium-ion batteries which are “absurdly heavy, many rare earth metals and huge amounts of energy are required to make them, and estimated to last upwards of 10 years”.
He ended the op-ed claiming “electric propulsion will be of real, global environmental benefit one day, but that day has yet to dawn”, and suggesting drivers with an old diesel car who do a lot of city motoring to change, but for the rest, holding back from buying an EV.
So what are the alternatives to petrol vehicles then? Atkinson, who has raced with a Renault 5 GT Turbo and confessed to being obsessed with cars and even ardently devoted to classic machines, had a few solutions — solid-state batteries, synthetic fuels, hydrogen-powered vehicles, or simply, keeping your car for longer.
The column has rather expectedly hit the motoring news headlines and drawn reactions from both sides of the aisle, with some seeing sense in Atkinson’s message, others not so much.
The Independent ran an editorial column in response to Atkinson’s column, agreeing with the comedian, who also holds an engineering degree, writing: “Like so many other debates about science, economics and engineering which can be distorted by vested interests and personal prejudice, what we really need is a policy that is driven much more by the facts than on a kind of techno-ideology.”
The column also claimed: “It’s not outrageous to think that smaller, lighter hybrid petrol cars, now so advanced in their engineering, might also form part of the solution too.”
However, others have found flaws in Atkinson’s arguments. Auke Hoekstra, senior advisor smart mobility at the Eindhoven University of Technology said: “I’m not entirely convinced Atkinson is being honest here, because he is very precise in cherry-picking all the anti-EV tropes, including citing an extremely conservative outlier study that Michael Liebreich and I picked apart when we did #Astongate.”
I love Rowan Atkinson the comedian and I believe he learned electrical engineering once, but I feel this erroneous article on EVs dupes the readers of the @Guardian and that's starting to become a pattern.
Electric vehicles really emit 3x less CO2.
— AukeHoekstra (@AukeHoekstra) June 4, 2023
“On the other hand, he is complaining about the rare earth’s in the lithium battery. Well, you can put those in an electric engine but they don’t go into the battery, indicating he is not that well-informed. (You can also easily make electric motors without rare earth’s by the way.)”
“Maybe it’s just that he wants to defend his love of combustion cars. Because although he has an electric one, he has boatloads of really expensive combustion cars too, and it seems that is where his heart lies,” said the researcher, referring to Atkinson’s $15 million ICE car collection including a $670,000 1986 Aston Martin V8 Zagato and a 1997 Mclaren F1 valued at $12 million.
Hoekstra further went on to blame the Guardian for running the op-ed, which according to him was ‘another hit-piece on EVs’.