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“Toyota’s record profits are down to hybrid cars, not EVs”

Mike Rutherford thinks it’s been a crazy month so far, with electric car sales faltering and factories getting the go ahead across Europe

Opinion - Toyota C-HR

If May 2024 continues as feverishly as it started, there’s a danger it’ll become the maddest month for motor cars, motorists and motoring. Not that mad necessarily means bad, right?

Despite the tumultuous nature of May’s first week, it had its marvellous moments, too – including yet more positive noises about the Chinese and Koreans bringing all-new, affordable, accessible pure-EVs to the UK. Likely inclusions: the BYD Seagull that would need to be priced well under £15,000; the baby Land Rover-like Hyundai Casper that could weigh in sub £20,000; plus its sister micro-SUV, the Kia EV1, which should be a quarter of the price of the EV9 that tops out at a hefty £79,000. These are globally significant pure electric cars residing in the sub-four-metre urban-car sector that’s so popular among buyers in a Britain, where roads and parking spaces are tight, and disposable incomes for new cars are tighter still.

Early May also included nods of approval from across mainland Europe for Chinese firms to build factories in Hungary, Italy and Spain, with France’s President Macron also expressing a desire to have one.

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It’s a classic if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em approach from our continental cousins. But when it comes to the prospect of China (or Korea) creating jobs in the UK by building factories and state-of-the-art cars here – just as Japan did in the 1980s – there’s a deafening silence. The Conservative Government is asleep at the wheel and about to crash and burn. As for Labour – it’s been busily assisting with the re-election of London Mayor Khan, who’ll continue the daily Congestion Charge of £15 on top of the £12.50 a day ULEZ tax, with an additional pence or pounds-per-mile ‘system’ now looking increasingly likely across the 607 square miles of Greater London that Labour rules.

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Other memorable moments during week one of May included an admission from the UK’s automotive industry that brand-new electric cars are still selling at disappointingly low levels to fleet buyers, while sales to private punters are, frankly, lousy. So buy cheaper, used EVs instead, the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders and others seem to be suggesting. But not before independent, highly qualified professionals check how much life is left in their equally second-hand batteries that are so costly to replace if/when they die.

At the same time, some of the SMMT’s most influential companies dealt with the ongoing problem of underwhelming EV sales thus: Ford said it won’t force them to the market when the demand isn’t there. Land Rover continued to not offer a single pure-EV – but cheekily revealed its latest Defender with a new diesel. Toyota made it known that its record profits were largely down to its hybrids rather than EVs.

And Ineos supremo Sir Jim Ratcliffe assured the Government (via its Telegraph ‘house newspaper’) that forcing him and other car makers down the pure-EV route as early as 2035 is “barmy”. “Electric is fine for the short local journey,” he said. “But should you decide to head off for the hills, forget it. Hence demand has dried up.” Mad or bad? You decide.

Do you agree with Mike? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section...

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Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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