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This isn't goodbye. Shutterstock.

The intended closure of Ford’s Bridgend engine plant in 2020, with the loss of 1,700 jobs, has sent shock waves through Wales. Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price, has described it as “one of the worst acts of ‘industrial vandalism’ seen in the UK for decades.” Ford representatives have said that the company needs to “make its engine manufacturing base suitable for the vehicles it produces in the future.”

With electric vehicles (EVs) commanding a growing share of the global car market, many including Professor David Bailey have stated that the “production of electric motors was much more important to securing Ford Bridgend’s future” in order to stay competitive in the global automotive industry.

Engine manufacturing is the most valuable part of making a conventional car. An enormous amount of knowledge, skill and research and development is required to make highly sophisticated internal combustion engines.

Ford is the largest producer of these engines in the UK – and about half of its output comes from the Bridgend factory. Experts have observed that the electrification of cars “is arguably more of a threat to the UK automotive industry than Brexit.” But there is still a chance for the UK to stage a revival.

Opportunity knocks

There is already some EV manufacturing taking place in the UK, by Nissan in Sunderland and Aston Martin in South Wales. There are also new facilities being established to manufacture EV batteries and the materials required to make them, from Port Talbot to Coventry.

But there have been setbacks: critically, the UK is no longer a headquarters for any major auto producer, let alone one leading in the EV space. It’s difficult to build up sustainable operations when decisions are made overseas.

This is evident in Jaguar Land Rover’s decision to cut UK production of its Discovery model, while subcontracting i-Pace electric production to Magna Steyr in Austria. Without being able to rely on any favour from an indigenous car maker, the UK must take its own steps to become the best place to make EVs.

With the UK government keen to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, there’s an opportunity for the nation’s automotive industry to develop and deploy EV technology and become a global leader – but this needs to start now, or the chance will be lost.

Supply and demand

There are two key factors for success – supply and demand. Of course, there must be enough demand for products manufactured in the UK, and the nation must be able to export to those markets. But the UK must also have good access to the supply chains that provide the parts and materials needed to manufacture EVs.

Many commentators already lament the effect that Brexit is having on the UK automotive sector. Less obvious, is how this may affect the supply of critical materials needed to develop and manufacture EVs. Global concerns about the supply of these materials is rising – and organisations, including the International Energy Agency, are investigating.

Fuel of the future. Shutterstock.

The UK does not have local supplies of many of these materials – but as a member of the European Union, it is a part of the bloc’s broader strategy. After Brexit, the UK will have to consider its strategy in isolation. Some have warned that the UK could be “held to ransom” over supplies of these critical materials.

China has a near monopoly on the supply of rare earth materials such as Neodymium, which is used to make the powerful magnets used in the most efficient EV motors. As tensions between China and the US escalate, there’s a chance China could use its power over rare earth supply for leverage, which could cause significant shocks to Western car manufacturers.

Some manufacturers have been spooked by this prospect and are exploring rare earth-free engines – though currently these designs are less efficient. But a less efficient motor will require a bigger battery to provide the same range (all other things being equal) and bigger batteries will place pressure on other critical materials supply chains – such as Cobalt and Lithium.

Recycling rare earths

To succeed then, the UK needs a unique selling point – some advantage that other countries do not have. It needs access to these key resources. Despite their name, rare earths are not actually scarce. But there is a need to develop processing routes and new cleaner techniques for producing these materials.

The UK could become a world leader in the supply of these materials – not through mining and extraction, but through recycling and processing. The UK already has research and development organisations leading projects investigating the reuse and recycling of battery materials. A similar capacity to recycle rare earth magnets would safeguard the UK’s supply chain and help stabilise the price of materials used to manufacture EVs.

A large collaborative EU project, with a significant UK presence, SUSMAGPRO, will tackle some of these challenges. But for UK automotive it’s essential that more of this capability is embedded in the fabric of UK industry to support the supply chains that will power the EV revolution.

Saving South Wales

There are already encouraging signs that the skills and capabilities exist in South Wales to support the transition towards producing electric drivetrains. Indeed, the UK’s only producer of electrical steels – Cogent Power Ltd – is based in Newport.

There is also a longstanding base for soft magnetic materials research at Cardiff University School of Engineering, and significant new investment is being made to develop this area further. This is complemented by research and facilities at Swansea University and the University of South Wales, with specialism in steel processing.

In spite of significant closures, hope is not lost for the UK’s automotive industry. But the time to act is now.

Gavin Harper receives funding from The Faraday Institution's ReLiB project (Recycling and Reuse of Lithium Ion Batteries) and is affiliated to the Birmingham Centre for Strategic Elements & Critical Materials.

Calvin Jones does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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A Chinese hybrid-electric SUV made by BYD. Jengtingchen/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

The electric vehicle revolution is coming, but it won’t be driven by the U.S. Instead, China will be at the forefront.

My research on EVs, dating back a decade, convinces me that this global transformation in mobility, from petroleum-fueled vehicles to electric ones, will come sooner than later. The shift is already happening in China, which is the world’s largest automobile market, with 23 million cars sold in 2018. As Western countries approach peak car ownership, there are still hundreds of millions of Chinese families that don’t own a car at all – much less two or more.

Many of them are buying electric cars. By 2015, electric vehicle sales in China had surpassed U.S. levels. In 2018, Chinese sales topped 1.1 million cars, more than 55% of all electric vehicles sold in the world, and more than three times as many as Chinese customers had bought two years earlier. U.S. electric vehicle sales that year were just 358,000.

A key element of an electric vehicle’s price is the cost of its batteries – and China already makes more than half of the world’s electric vehicle batteries. Battery prices continue to fall; industry analysts now suggest that within five years it will be cheaper to buy an electric car than a gas- or diesel-powered one.

Forecasts predict the Chinese producing as much as 70% of the world’s electric vehicle batteries by 2021, even as the demand for electric car batteries grows.

Huge government backing

China has a fledgling, but ambitious, automobile industry. It has never been able to match the efficiency and quality of established automakers at making gas-powered vehicles, but electric vehicles are easier to build, giving Chinese firms a new opportunity to compete.

The Chinese government, therefore, has chosen to highlight electric vehicles as one of 10 commercial sectors central to its “Made in China” effort to boost advanced industrial technology. Government efforts include using billions of dollars to subsidize manufacturing of electric vehicles and batteries, and encouraging businesses and consumers to buy them.

The government is also aware that electric vehicles could help solve some of China’s most pressing energy and environmental concerns: Massive air pollution chokes its major cities, national security officials are worried about how much oil the country imports and China is now the nation contributing most to global climate change emissions.

New companies

Scores of Chinese auto-making companies have formed to profit from these subsidies. A major player is BYD, which stands for “Build Your Dreams,” headquartered in Shenzhen. More than a decade ago, billionaire investor Warren Buffett bought about a quarter of the company for US$232 million – a share that is now worth more than $1.5 billion.

The company’s initial plans to export vehicles to the U.S. proved premature and fizzled. BYD instead started to focus mainly on the Chinese auto market, as well as building electric buses for the global market, which it now dominates.

If BYD’s electric car plans falter, though, there are plenty of other Chinese firms ready to pick up the slack.

BYD’s 2019 Yuan 360EV is an all-electric SUV available in China. BYD Further support

In addition to the government subsidies to ensure BYD and its competitors have lots of customers, new government regulations are kicking in. The Chinese government now requires all automakers who sell in China, whether domestic or foreign firms, to make a certain percentage of their sales electric, through a complex crediting formula. The mandate will get stricter over time, perhaps requiring each company to make at least 7% of their sales electric by 2025.

Major foreign car companies have large investments in China and can hardly afford to abandon the market. Volkswagen, for example, now sells 40% of its output in China, which is a main reason the company is pushing hard to develop electric vehicles.

China’s domestic automakers have largely not yet engaged in the export market. Electric vehicle industry analyst Jose Pontes says there are three reasons for their reluctance: First, the Chinese market is big enough to absorb their current production. Second, many car companies in China are utterly unknown in the West, so customers would be wary of buying from a strange brand. And third, their cars do not yet comply with strict safety regulations in the U.S. and Europe.

However, all of those obstacles can be overcome with time and money. It’s possible Chinese electric car companies could enter the low- to middle-income market in the West, as Volkswagen did 60 years ago.

If – or when – that happens, inexpensive, efficient electric cars may spread through the West from China, surpassing Tesla and other American and European electric vehicle efforts. Only Western government attempts to protect domestic automakers with tariffs and other trade barriers could derail this development.

Jack Barkenbus does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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The race to get rid of transportation emissions is getting off to a slow start. AP Photo/Terrin Waack

A growing number of cities, states and countries aim to dramatically reduce or even eliminate carbon emissions to avert catastrophic levels of climate change.

Ideas about how to get this done as soon as possible, including those Democratic lawmakers like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have sketched out in the Green New Deal framework, vary. But most energy experts see two basic steps as essential.

First, stop relying on fossil fuels to generate most electricity. Second, the whole world should – sooner rather than later – use all that cleaner electricity to power transportation, agriculture and the heating and cooling of homes and businesses. The logical goal should be to get as many consumers to buy zero-emission vehicles as quickly as possible, right?

Maybe not. Our research on consumer behavior and the environmental impacts of automotive transportation leads us to expect that the transition to electric cars, trucks and ships will be dramatically harder that it sounds.

Tailpipe emissions

The roughly 250 million cars, SUVs and pickup trucks on U.S. roads today account for 60% of transportation emissions. The 11.5 million big trucks that move freight around generate another 23% and aircraft are responsible for 9% of those greenhouse gas emissions.

One reason why it will be hard if not impossible to convert all U.S. transportation to electric models within a decade or two is simple. Vehicles of all kinds are surprisingly durable.

We’ve determined that the average American car, truck and SUV remains in use for 16.6 years with many logging 200,000 miles or more.

When we researched how fast the nation’s entire fleet turns over, we found that even if every U.S. vehicle sold were electric starting today, it would take until 2040 for 90% of vehicles in use to be electric.

U.S. sales of electric drive vehicles have grown steadily since the all-electric Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid launched in 2010. In 2018, Americans bought 361,307 battery-powered plug-in electric cars, and 2,300 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which like EVs produce no tailpipe emissions. Yet even following a big spike in sales in 2018 when Tesla’s mass-market Model 3 was launched, EVs still only account for less than 2% of new vehicle sales.

The reality is most Americans buying new passenger vehicles today are shopping for gasoline-fueled SUVs and pickup trucks.

EV improvements

Cheaper batteries, government subsidies and corporate innovation have all made EVs much more affordable and functional.

Owning EVs, however, remains inconvenient. There are too few charging stations to make these vehicles viable for everyone and EV driving range declines significantly in cold weather.

Also, with less than 0.5 percent of the vehicles on the nation’s roads being electric, EVs don’t yet strike most Americans as mainstream. What’s more, vehicles that run gasoline are getting more fuel-efficient, and gas prices are at historically low levels, diminishing the financial appeal of EV ownership.

The average American vehicle remains in use for 16 years or more. AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli Government incentives

The federal government has been giving EV buyers a $7,500 tax credit since 2010 that encourages more drivers to plug in. But the policy was designed to be phased out: Once a manufacturer sells 200,000 EVs, this incentive is phased out for their customers over the following 12 months. GM and Tesla, the two companies that have done the most to sell EVs in the U.S., will lose access to this incentive first unless legislation pending in Congress becomes law.

Smaller tax credits are available for plug-in hybrids. However well-intentioned, this bias may be unhelpful because Americans who buy new vehicles have largely demonstrated they just aren’t ready to make the leap to going fully electric yet.

States are also providing incentives. California, Oregon and eight Northeastern states follow the Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate that requires automakers to sell increasing numbers of EVs. The rest of the country follows the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, which instead require automakers to reduce the average emissions from the new vehicles they sell.

Seriously trying to reduce the carbon footprint of American transportation would require much more predictable policies sending a strong signal to American drivers that their next car should be environmentally friendly. A carbon tax, in our view, would work better than complicated fuel-economy regulations. But even if one could be implemented in the U.S., it might not suffice.

Ultimately, the switch from fossil-fueled to electric vehicles is a classic chicken-and-egg problem. Most drivers won’t let go of their gas tanks until they are confident that finding a place to quickly charge their automotive batteries will be as easy as finding a gas station is today. But no one will spend the money building all that charging infrastructure until there’s a bigger market.

The government can help solve this problem by subsidizing the chickens or the eggs or both. But before that happens, there would need to be more consensus on what the future carbon-free technology will look like. Battery-powered EVs are currently ahead of the pack, but many advocates of vehicles powered by hydrogen still trust that their technology of choice will take off.

Pragmatic solutions

One strategy we think could help is actively encouraging drivers to buy plug-in hybrid vehicles. These vehicles can go up to 50 miles or more without burning any gasoline, further than the 31.5 miles average driving Americans travel daily.

Yet they still have a gasoline engine to overcome any range anxiety that drivers may experience brought about by the lack of recharging infrastructure they may encounter on long trips.

Getting drivers to buy more plug-in hybrids would also help to bring about a complete transition to purely electric mobility by continuing to bring down the cost of key components such as batteries, and building demand for charging stations from coast to coast.

Finally, we believe that strong new government incentives would be required to eliminate emissions from freight-hauling trucks. The trucking industry is taking steps in that direction, such as Tesla’s plans to roll out big electric rigs and Toyota’s partnership with the Kenworth Truck Co. to make 18-wheelers powered by hydrogen fuel cells. But progress is slow.

David Keith receives funding from the MIT Energy Initiative and the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative, whose financial partners and advisory board members include energy, automotive, technology and consulting companies, utilities and non-profit organizations.

Christopher R. Knittel does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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The race to get rid of transportation emissions is getting off to a slow start. AP Photo/Terrin Waack

A growing number of cities, states and countries aim to dramatically reduce or even eliminate carbon emissions to avert catastrophic levels of climate change.

Ideas about how to get this done as soon as possible, including those Democratic lawmakers like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have sketched out in the Green New Deal framework. But most energy experts see two basic steps as essential.

First, stop relying on fossil fuels to generate most electricity. Second, the whole world should – sooner rather than later – use all that cleaner electricity to power transportation, agriculture and the heating and cooling of homes and businesses. The logical goal should be to get as many consumers to buy zero-emission vehicles as quickly as possible, right?

Maybe not. Our research on consumer behavior and the environmental impacts of automotive transportation leads us to expect that the transition to electric cars, trucks and ships will be dramatically harder that it sounds.

Tailpipe emissions

The roughly 250 million cars, SUVs and pickup trucks on U.S. roads today account for 60% of transportation emissions. The 11.5 million big trucks that move freight around generate another 23% and aircraft are responsible for 9% of those greenhouse gas emissions.

One reason why it will be hard if not impossible to convert all U.S. transportation to electric models within a decade or two is simple. Vehicles of all kinds are surprisingly durable.

We’ve determined that the average American car, truck and SUV remains in use for 16.6 years with many logging 200,000 miles or more.

When we researched how fast the nation’s entire fleet turns over, we found that even if every U.S. vehicle sold were electric starting today, it would take until 2040 for 90% of vehicles in use to be electric.

U.S. sales of electric drive vehicles have grown steadily since the all-electric Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid launched in 2010. In 2018, Americans bought 361,307 battery-powered plug-in electric cars, and 2,300 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which like EVs produce no tailpipe emissions. Yet even following a big spike in sales in 2018 when Tesla’s mass-market Model 3 was launched, EVs still only account for less than 2% of new vehicle sales.

The reality is most Americans buying new passenger vehicles today are shopping for gasoline-fueled SUVs and pickup trucks.

EV improvements

Cheaper batteries, government subsidies and corporate innovation have all made EVs much more affordable and functional.

Owning EVs, however, remains inconvenient. There are too few charging stations to make these vehicles viable for everyone and EV driving range declines significantly in cold weather.

Also, with less than 0.5 percent of the vehicles on the nation’s roads being electric, EVs don’t yet strike most Americans as mainstream. What’s more, vehicles that run gasoline are getting more fuel-efficient, and gas prices are at historically low levels, diminishing the financial appeal of EV ownership.

The average American vehicle remains in use for 16 years or more. AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli Government incentives

The federal government has been giving EV buyers a $7,500 tax credit since 2010 that encourages more drivers to plug in. But the policy was designed to be phased out: Once a manufacturer sells 200,000 EVs, this incentive is phased out for their customers over the following 12 months. GM and Tesla, the two companies that have done the most to sell EVs in the U.S., will lose access to this incentive first unless legislation pending in Congress becomes law.

Smaller tax credits are available for plug-in hybrids. However well-intentioned, this bias may be unhelpful because Americans who buy new vehicles have largely demonstrated they just aren’t ready to make the leap to going fully electric yet.

States are also providing incentives. California, Oregon and eight Northeastern states follow the Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate that requires automakers to sell increasing numbers of EVs. The rest of the country follows the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, which instead require automakers to reduce the average emissions from the new vehicles they sell.

Seriously trying to reduce the carbon footprint of American transportation would require much more predictable policies sending a strong signal to American drivers that their next car should be environmentally friendly. A carbon tax, in our view, would work better than complicated fuel-economy regulations. But even if one could be implemented in the U.S., it might not suffice.

Ultimately, the switch from fossil-fueled to electric vehicles is a classic chicken-and-egg problem. Most drivers won’t let go of their gas tanks until they are confident that finding a place to quickly charge their automotive batteries will be as easy as finding a gas station is today. But no one will spend the money building all that charging infrastructure until there’s a bigger market.

The government can help solve this problem by subsidizing the chickens or the eggs or both. But before that happens, there would need to be more consensus on what the future carbon-free technology will look like. Battery-powered EVs are currently ahead of the pack, but many advocates of vehicles powered by hydrogen still trust that their technology of choice will take off.

Pragmatic solutions

One strategy we think could help is actively encouraging drivers to buy plug-in hybrid vehicles. These vehicles can go up to 50 miles or more without burning any gasoline, further than the 31.5 miles average driving Americans travel daily.

Yet they still have a gasoline engine to overcome any range anxiety that drivers may experience brought about by the lack of recharging infrastructure they may encounter on long trips.

Getting drivers to buy more plug-in hybrids would also help to bring about a complete transition to purely electric mobility by continuing to bring down the cost of key components such as batteries, and building demand for charging stations from coast to coast.

Finally, we believe that strong new government incentives would be required to eliminate emissions from freight-hauling trucks. The trucking industry is taking steps in that direction, such as Tesla’s plans to roll out big electric rigs and Toyota’s partnership with the Kenworth Truck Co. to make 18-wheelers powered by hydrogen fuel cells. But progress is slow.

David Keith receives funding from the MIT Energy Initiative and the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative, whose financial partners and advisory board members include energy, automotive, technology and consulting companies, utilities and non-profit organizations.

Christopher R. Knittel does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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A 'hard Brexit' appears increasingly likely. AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

Nearly three years have passed since British voters chose to leave the European Union, a decision that created uncertainty and risks that have become a focal point of economic forecasters like me.

Yet the U.K. still doesn’t know what sort of Brexit it wants. Does the U.K. want a so-called soft Brexit that allows it to keep most of the benefits of EU membership without certain requirements like the open movement of people? Or a hard Brexit that essentially isolates the U.K. market from the EU’s? Or something in between?

As a result of this indecision, it has become increasingly possible that the U.K. will not be able to negotiate a favorable withdrawal agreement before the revised deadline of April 12 – though that might be extended by several months, a year or longer. If negotiators can’t agree, that could force a type of hard Brexit in which the U.K. crashes out of the EU. While politicians, economists and others expect such an outcome to be costly for the U.K. and Europe, it’s much less clear what the impact would be for U.S. companies.

I’ve been forecasting the outlook for U.S. businesses for more than a decade as part of the Indiana Business Research Center and also co-author of its annual global economic outlook.

I believe American companies most exposed to Brexit are those with operations in the U.K. and in three specific industries: financial, auto and pharmaceutical. To understand why, it’s important to first learn the U.K.‘s special place in the EU for American companies.

America’s top market in the EU

The EU is an integrated market that has essentially eliminated all internal trade barriers between its 28 member states. Capital, goods, services and labor move freely across members’ borders. Regulations have been harmonized. And members share a common set of market rules.

This means that every port of entry into the EU – whether in the U.K., Germany or Bulgaria – is virtually the same. Businesses based in non-member countries face the same hurdles no matter where they send their products.

In practice, however, this hasn’t been quite true. American businesses have preferred to use the U.K. as their main gateway to Europe. After the EU was established in 1993, U.S. companies have opened more subsidiaries and gained strategic partners in the U.K. to do just that.

As a result, the U.K. is the number one destination for U.S. goods and services within the EU and the second-biggest recipient of American investment. The U.K. is also the biggest investor in the U.S.

The reasons why may be rooted in the fact that the U.S. and the U.K. share a common history and a common language and have cultural ties. For U.S. businesses, removing the language barrier makes the U.K. a relatively low-cost entry point into the EU market.

Few sectors have gained more from this close relationship than financial institutions, carmakers and drug manufacturers. That also means they have the most to lose if Brexit gets messy.

1. Banks and the end of ‘passporting’

One of the reasons London became the EU’s largest financial center – and the primary conduit to Europe for U.S. banks – is because of something known as “passporting.”

Passporting allows a company granted regulatory permission to undertake certain activities in one member state to do the same business in every other EU country. In practice, this has meant a U.S. financial company could simply open up an office in London to have access to the entire market. U.K.-based employees were then free to work in any other country in the EU.

But a hard Brexit would change that. U.S. banks with U.K. subsidiaries may need to obtain a new license from regulators in every EU country they operate in, which would disrupt operations.

While this is a problem American companies in many industries are facing – including car and drug manufacturers – it would affect financial firms most because they operate in a sector that’s entirely service-based, which means labor is their biggest risk. If employees can’t travel and do their jobs freely throughout the EU market, the costs could be significant.

2. Auto industry and thick borders

U.S. carmakers have their own problems.

Auto companies such as Ford Motor Co. have invested billions of dollars in U.K. manufacturing plants, which give them tariff-free access to other European assembly plants. Ford has located its engine production in the U.K., which needs to be freely connected to plants across Europe that assemble vehicles.

The growing possibility of a hard Brexit is stoking worries among American carmakers that production could be severely disrupted as parts distributed among EU members suffer greater U.K. border delays and currency risks.

In regards to border delays, Ford operates its factories on a “just-in-time” basis, which means that most parts only arrive as needed in the production process to keep inventory costs at a minimum. For this process to work, however, the whole delivery system has to be frictionless, which may not be the case after Brexit.

In regards to currency risk, it is a double-sided risk. If the pound depreciates, the parts needed to make an engine at a U.K. plant will become more costly to import from a EU country. And if the pound appreciates, the engine assembled in the U.K. will be more expensive to export back to the EU.

Ford estimates that a hard Brexit could cost the company US$500 million to $1 billion. To minimize the cost, Ford has begun preparing for these potential disruptions by stockpiling parts and engaging in currency hedging.

A third risk is what happens if the EU and U.K. follow different safety, emission and other performance standards.

The EU’s equivalent of the FDA is relocating to Amsterdam from London. AP Photo/Peter Dejong 3. Drugmakers face new hurdles

While the problem of dealing with potentially two different sets of standards will certainly affect companies in other industries such as carmakers, it’s a significant worry for pharmaceutical manufacturers, who face strict laws for selling their drugs in the EU.

The European Medicines Evaluation Agency, which is the EU’s equivalent to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, allows pharmaceutical companies to submit a single application to obtain authorization to sell a drug throughout the common market. Since its inception, the agency has been located in London, which led many U.S. drugmakers to base their EU operations in the U.K. The agency is now relocating to Amsterdam, putting foreign drugmakers in a bind.

EU law requires that drugs be tested on EU soil. Since the U.K. will no longer be in the EU after Brexit, U.S. drugmakers may have to relocate their testing facilities. If they don’t, they will face higher costs and obstacles getting their products to EU customers. Pfizer, for example, is estimating that it will incur Brexit costs of $100 million, including changes to clinical trials and stockpiling of drugs for emergency supplies.

Since no EU member state has previously decided to leave the bloc, there is no precedent for this situation, making the ability to forecast the implications near impossible. The good news is that Brexit’s disruption will only be felt temporarily in the transition period. Eventually U.S. companies will get to a new normal of doing business with the EU.

The bad news? The longer that Brexit gets dragged along, the more these transition costs will accumulate.

Elham Mafi-Kreft does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Pajor Pawel / Shutterstock.com

Britain’s car industry has faced a barrage of bad news in 2019. Honda is the latest casualty, announcing it will close its Swindon car plant, which employs 3,500 people, in 2021. It follows notice from Nissan that it is withdrawing investment from its Sunderland plant and the announcement of job cuts by Jaguar Land Rover and Ford.

There are lots of reasons for this retrenchment. Globally, there has been a stall in car sales combined with a glut in production. Then there’s the turn against diesel – once seen as a climate-friendly alternative to petrol. The VW emissions scandal has seen sales of diesel cars plummet.

So there are clearly bigger, longer-term trends at play than Brexit. But, for the UK car industry specifically, there are no positives in Britain leaving the EU. What’s more, the government’s handling of Brexit is making it easy for global car manufacturers to decide to leave the UK.

How did we get here?

Japanese cars first came to Britain in the 1970s when demand started to surge. With the domestic car industry unable to increase production and meet this demand, Datsuns (now owned by Nissan) became popular – not least because of their superior build quality.

Japanese car makers went on to establish a position in the market in the UK and across Europe and opened purpose-built plants in the UK, which became some of the most efficient in the world. When Margaret Thatcher was prime minister in the 1980s she promoted Britain as a gateway to Europe. Honda set up shop in Swindon and Nissan in Sunderland to avoid the 10% tariff on car imports from outside the single market.

Honda’s announcement that it is closing its highly efficient Swindon plant is a fascinating, albeit sad, example of how companies and politicians attempt to rationalise their decision making. Honda has come out and said that Brexit was not the cause of the decision to close the plant in 2022. This has been jumped on by Brexiters attempting to either justify their position on leaving the EU or distance themselves from the ongoing negotiations taking place over the terms of Britain’s exit. But it’s incredibly hard not to see this decision, at this time, as a consequence of Brexit.

With Theresa May refusing to rule out a no-deal Brexit, it is incredibly difficult not to see it as a major factor pushing Honda to this conclusion. Honda is intent on developing its electric car range and is currently faced with the decision of where to do it. Why not do so at its existing factory? Swindon is based on the M4 corridor, which includes the towns of Reading and Bracknell, an area often described as Briton’s Silicon Valley – so the technology infrastructure would undoubtedly be available.

But a UK outside of the EU is not an attractive option for future investment, especially as Japan now has its own trade deal with the EU, which includes the phasing out of tariffs on cars over the next eight years. This is a benefit that will not include the UK if there’s a hard Brexit, which is still a possibility. So this uncertainty over the Brexit negotiations makes Honda’s decision totally logical.

Read more: UK's post-Brexit trade with Japan in jeopardy while uncertainty persists

It is also why Japan’s politicians have pressed for a soft Brexit ever since the referendum result. This has been increasingly vocal as the Brexit date approaches. Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, has told Theresa May that the “whole world” wants to avoid a no-deal Brexit in January.

As well as Honda and Nissan, Toyota is the third big Japanese car maker with UK operations. It has not made any Brexit-related announcements yet and this could be linked to the fact that it has concentrated on hybrid technology since launching the Prius in 2000. This means it has been more immune from shifts in environmental thinking and has just launched production of the new Corolla at its Burnaston plant in Derbyshire. Toyota has said that decisions are not being made beyond the next five to six years.

So despite attempts to downplay Brexit as the reason for the break up of motor manufacturing in the UK, there is ample evidence that Brexit – and the uncertainty that dogs the UK’s future relations with Europe – is the last straw. Car makers across the world face myriad challenges to stay profitable; they don’t need Brexit to add to their troubles.

Prof Jim Saker is a Vice President of the Institute of the Motor Industry.

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Les gilets jaunes Joan Mora

In May 2016, a Propublica report showed that an algorithm named COMPAS (“correctional offender management profiling for alternative sanctions”) used by a US court was biased against black prisoners – the program overestimated the probability that blacks would reoffend. Artificial intelligence, chatbots and other algorithms have also been shown to produce racism, sexism, discrimination and violence toward customers, employees and society at large.

On November 21, 2018, Carlos Ghosn, the mighty leader of the Renault-Nissan alliance, was arrested on his private jet soon after landing at Tokyo’s Haneda airport. Nissan said that its chairman has been placed under arrest after he allegedly violated Japanese financial law. Nissan explained that “over many years” Ghosn and board director, Greg Kelly, had been under-reporting compensation amounts to the Tokyo Stock Exchange securities report. Nissan added that “numerous other significant acts of misconduct have been uncovered, such as personal use of company assets.”

In November 2018, France discovered how a simple yellow vest could be turned into a powerful symbol. After a decision to increase fuel tax, the first “gilets jaunes” protests emerged. They started on social media before becoming visible on the streets. Everywhere in France, the “gilets jaunes” expressed their anger. Events have since taken a dramatic turn in larger cities, such as Paris.

What do these three events have in common? They all epitomise a pressing concern for our society, namely the extension of responsibility. Beyond the judiciary sphere, we contend that the spatial and temporal extension of responsibility should be a key issue for managers, politicians and activists alike.

Responsibility as the obligation to repair damages

In a key text, the French philosopher Paul Ricœur “Le concept de responsabilité: essai d'analyse sémantique” (“The concept of responsibility: an attempt at semantic analysis”) delves into the question of responsibility. In the French civil law, responsibility is understood as the obligation to repair a damage caused by someone who will be judged guilty of the damage caused. In the French penal law, responsibility is the obligation to face the corresponding punishment. Being responsible thus amounts to submitting oneself to both these obligations. Ricœur investigates the philosophical underpinnings of responsibility through the work of Kant, Jonas or Lévinas who have explored issues of engagement, duties and alterity. Ricœur also stresses the importance of the imputation process in the setting of a responsibility. This requires imputability, corresponding to what Kant sees both as the attribution of the responsibility and its moral judgement. This is premised on a key assumption (for “imputing”) related to the author of an action, namely their knowledge of the law… “Nul n'est censé ignorer la loi”. In turn, this implies distinguishing between free (based on free will) and natural (beyond free will) causes; “Then only, freedom and imputability coincide” (Ricœur, 1994, p. 34).

Ricœur notes that contemporary philosophical debates have slightly transformed the notion of responsibility. They have raised questions related to the “ascription” of a responsibility and most of all, questioned the continuities between natural and free causes. Distinguishing between the “he/she”, “they” or “it” in the making of responsibility is more and more difficult. As suggested by Ricœur, “we need to go through the confrontation of causalities and attempt a phenomenology of their interweaving” (1994, p. 39).

Extending these philosophical issues, the stress on the possibility (in the French civil law) of “fault” introduces a new scenario. One can be responsible, but not guilty (this is the famous “responsible but not guilty” pronounced by Georgina Dufoix in the 1990s). As such, the subjective link between an action and its author requires a systematic discussion. One could know or not, be aware or not… Alterity and the problem of solidarity with others (in particular vulnerable people) also enter the equation.

Understanding the scope of responsibility

Importantly, responsibility is about time and space. On that point, Ricœur notes a major shift in the judiciary interpretation of responsibility:

“An unlimited extension of the scope of responsibility, the future vulnerability of a man and its environment becoming the main focal point of a responsible concern. By scope, we mean the extension, both spatial and temporal, given to the notion of effects of our actions.” (1994, p. 44).

Surely, in a world made of digital infrastructures, small and big organisations, collective and artificial intelligence, the perspective opened by Ricœur is fascinating. It goes well beyond corporate social responsibility (CSR) and most questions related to “traditional” business ethics. The scope of acts is more than ever extended in the past and the future; imputing responsibility is both highly retrospective and prospective. The ways in which our society has changed since the 90’s (when Ricœur wrote his piece on responsibility) make this point even more urgent. While Kant assumed a contemporaneity of actions and consequences, Ricœur sought to re-introduce duration and narration.

Let us return to our first introductory example. Algorithms or chatbots do not distinguish between “good” and “bad” people, good and bad comments, and so on. They are managed by people and other software. In what context does an inappropriate behaviour occur? Who and “what” should be blamed for it? What is our responsibility as citizens? Should we judge just the sentences produced today? Should we remove the tool and punish the people who fed the system with bad and inappropriate behaviours, with a full knowledge of what they did and a knowledge of the law? Should we also impute responsibility to the engineers who opened the door to artificial learning? From a more prospective perspective, shouldn’t we also blame the companies investing massively in AI and performing more and more the idea of autonomous intelligence? Where should we stop this assemblage of people and things in our responsibility-focused narration? The more we retrospectively and prospectively dig into our present and the more it seems interwoven with automats and technologies.

Responsibility within complexity

The problem is even more complex in the case of Carlos Ghosn and other corporate scandals. Shared roles in organisations strengthen the possible dilution of responsibility. We do not want to exonerate Carlos Ghosn but we also need to consider that a company is made of processes, infrastructures, boards of directors, modes of governance that introduce collective forms of responsibility. The everyday life of organisations is often more complex, and made of very subtle events that can be at the heart of a disaster.

This is also epitomised by the recent social movement of the ‘Yellow vests’ in France. This movement, which largely emerged in and by means of social media, is a complex assemblage of people, heterogeneous slogans, deep frustration and despair. There are obviously many micro-organizations inside Facebook and people sharing roles offline, on the street, at crossroads, and in the streets. But as suggested by Valiorgue and Roulet, the movement remains largely disorganised, more or less purposefully. We see again here a very interesting, troubling issue: nobody is responsible for the worst. A member of the ‘yellow vests’ protest, often invited on TV shows, recently said: “I am not responsible”, just before explaining that next Saturday awful things may happen. But how can a social movement become political without being responsible? And the argument is ‘reversible’: the French president and the government claim a kind of irresponsibility. No roles in front, no legitimate spokespersons, so no legitimate dialog. Of course, we are particularly sceptical about this counterargument, which is particularly irresponsible from actors expected to embody, more than others, responsibility.

Indeed, the yellow vests movement is particularly intriguing and probably very different to our two other examples. Less technological than the chatbots, less organised than the Ghosn story, yet much more visible and interwoven with moral sources of responsiblity than both of them.

Ricœur’s invitation to explore responsibility is fascinating, because it paves the way to the exploration of key questions for management and collective activity. It opens the door to ontological discussions around the materiality, time and space of the experience of responsibility. We move from the question of being responsible to that of becoming responsible. Responsibility is continuously produced by assemblages A of assemblages B, thus blurring the boundaries between A and B. How to responsibilise people also becomes a fundamental question.

A June 2020 workshop by the PSL, Université Paris-Dauphine, “Organizations, artifacts and practices” (OAP) will explore the issues raised in this article. Titled “Responsibility and accountability in the digital area: Do collective and artificial intelligences change the deal?”, the event will bring together organisation scholars, sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists and philosophers and activists.

François-Xavier de Vaujany is president of the network and think tank RGCS (https://collaborativespacesstudy.wordpress.com/)

Jeremy Aroles does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Charging six cars at once is fine. Charging 60 million might be a bit tougher. Nadya Kubik/Shutterstock.com

Today, less than 2 percent of the vehicles Americans buy are electric. But within the next three decades, some automotive industry experts expect electric vehicles could make up the majority of U.S. and global car sales.

All told, American drivers log about 3 trillion miles per year, consuming more than 170 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel in the process. Converting all those road miles to electricity would place new demands on the nation’s system for producing and delivering electricity.

As part of a major energy infrastructure study, we are seeking to understand how an increase in electric vehicles (EVs) might change how energy is supplied and consumed. So far, we have figured out the impact of electric vehicles will depend on where you live and when they are charged.

Estimating how much electricity EVs will demand

Using a similar technique featured in our recent paper on hydrogen vehicles, we developed a state-by-state assessment of the amount of electricity that would be needed to charge an electrified fleet of personal cars, trucks and SUVs.

We started by estimating the amount of gasoline every county consumes today. We then converted vehicle miles traveled into electricity requirements based on the efficiency of today’s EVs.

Admittedly, these methods have limitations. The number of miles traveled could change significantly if autonomous vehicles become commonplace and more people rely on Uber, Lyft and other vehicle sharing services, for example. However, we believe our approach provides a good starting point for estimating future electricity demand if EVs become the norm.

Regional impacts

The U.S. electric grid has continually evolved to accommodate new demands throughout the last century. But if the nation’s vehicles were to rapidly become electric, the grid would need to change faster. Depending on local driving habits and the grid infrastructure that’s already in place, our analysis shows that EVs will have different impacts in different regions.

Since Texas and California consume more electricity than any other states, they provide a good snapshot of what a future filled with electric vehicles might look like. In both cases, an increase in EVs would drive consumption higher, with the potential to strain local infrastructure.

If virtually all passenger cars in Texas were electrified today, the state would need approximately 110 more terawatt-hours of electricity per year – the average annual electricity consumption of 11 million homes. The added electricity demand would result in a 30 percent increase over current consumption in Texas.

By comparison, because of a more temperate climate, California might require nearly 50 percent more electricity than it currently consumes if passenger vehicles in the state were fully electrified. That means California would need to generate an additional 120 terawatt-hours of electricity per year.

A tale of two grids

A look at the two states’ grids demonstrates how reliance on EVs for mobility could vary from place to place.

On hot summer afternoons, Texas uses about half of the electricity it generates to power air conditioning to keep buildings cool. The large seasonal variations in electricity demand due to air conditioning means the state has power plants that sit idle throughout many hours of the year. The spare capacity during off-peak hours could make it easier for Texas to meet future electricity demands of EVs.

California’s more temperate climate means the state needs less electricity on summer days, and less demand variability on the grid overall. As a result, California has less generation capacity available than Texas to meet future charging demands from electric vehicles.

In 2018, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the organization that manages most of Texas’s electric grid, hit a new peak demand of roughly 73 gigawatts on July 19. Looking at the off-peak hours for July 19, 2018, we found the ERCOT grid had spare capacity to provide more than 350 gigawatt-hours of additional electricity if idled power plants continued to operate throughout the day, not just during peak demand.

Based on our estimates, the charging requirements for a fully electrified fleet of personal cars in Texas would be about 290 gigawatt-hours per day, less than the available surplus of generation capacity. In other words, the Texas grid could theoretically charge a fully electrified vehicle fleet today if vehicles were charged during off-peak hours.

When we did the same analysis for California, however, we found that if EVs become the norm, it could push the total demand for electricity beyond the existing capacity of the Golden State’s grid.

Timing is everything

Perhaps even more important than how much electricity EVs would consume is the question of when it would be consumed.

We based the above estimates on optimal, off-peak charging patterns. If instead most EVs were to be charged in the afternoon, the electricity grid would need more generation capacity to avoid outages.

To meet that demand, California and Texas would need to build new power plants or buy more electricity from neighboring states than they already do. The states might also need additional transmission and distribution infrastructure to accommodate new automotive charging infrastructure.

All told, the transition to EVs from internal combustion engine vehicles could potentially cost tens of billions of dollars in Texas and even more in California to install new electricity infrastructure if many vehicles were to be charged during peak hours.

Incentives could reduce what it will cost to equip the grid for lots of electric vehicles. For example, utilities could charge different rates for electricity during different times of day and on different days of the week. Known as time-of-use pricing, this practice can encourage vehicle charging when electricity is more abundant during off-peak hours and therefore cheaper to supply.

California and other areas, including Austin, Texas, have already begun to use different strategies for implementing time-of-use rates. Other regions might want to watch closely, and adopt the lessons learned in those places as the number of electric vehicles on the road rises.

The road ahead

While EVs might increase the amount of electricity the U.S. consumes, the investment required to accommodate them may be smaller than it appears. Many regions already have sufficient generation capacity if vehicles are charged during off-peak hours. The energy storage on board EVs could provide the flexibility needed to shift charging times and help grid operators better manage the supply and demand of electricity.

What’s more, based on our calculations, the money Americans would save in fuel costs alone could offset these investments.

For example, had most of California’s vehicles been electric by 2017, we estimate that its drivers would have saved around US$25 billion that year in fuel costs – based on the average prices for electricity and gasoline.

In addition to fuel savings, some market analysts expect electric cars to be cheaper than conventional vehicles by 2026, another potential economic benefit.

While it’s challenging to predict the future prices for gasoline, electricity and vehicles, we believe it is likely that the widespread use of EVs would reduce the overall costs of transportation in California and elsewhere. These savings are even greater if the environmental benefits, especially lower carbon emissions, are taken into account.

Electric Cars & Global Warming Emissions - YouTube
The Union of Concerned Scientists has researched the carbon footprints of EVs versus gasoline-powered cars.

Todd Davidson is a research professional at the University of Texas at Austin. As part of this role, he has received funding from oil and gas majors, automotive manufacturers, and the Department of Energy to investigate energy consumption in the transportation sector. Todd is also an equity partner in IdeaSmiths LLC, which conducts energy systems analyses and technology due diligence. The terms of his arrangement with IdeaSmiths has been reviewed and approved by the University of Texas in Austin in accordance with its policy on objectivity in research.

Dave Tuttle has received National Science Foundation Department of Energy funding to investigate integration of renewable energy and electric vehicles with the grid. He is a Commissioner on the Electric Utility Commission overseeing Austin Energy, his local municipal electric utility. He holds a few equity positions in large investor owned public electric utilities outside his authority as an Electric Utility Commissioner.

Joshua Rhodes is an equity partner in IdeaSmiths LLC, which conducts energy systems analyses and technology due diligence. The terms of this arrangement have been reviewed and approved by the University of Texas at Austin in accordance with its policy on objectivity in research.

Kazunori Nagasawa does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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A fan of fuel blends that contain as much as 85 percent ethanol. AP Photo/Jim Mone

President Donald Trump has promised his supporters in Iowa that the federal government will take a step that may increase corn ethanol sales.

This plant-derived fuel, which comprises about 10 percent of the 143 billion gallons of gasoline Americans buy each year, is a kind of alcohol made from corn. The industry first emerged in 1980s with government support, after interest in making the country less reliant on imported oil surged in the 1970s. It later acquired a second purpose: lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

I have spent the last 24 years studying alternative fuels and fuel blends. Based on my research, and as a consumer, I can say that increasing the amount of ethanol blended with gasoline creates problems with older engines and potentially increases air pollution due to increased fuel evaporation while doing little to curb climate change.

E10 and E15

Americans have been mixing ethanol and gasoline since Henry Ford touted the potential of biofuels. His Model T could run on gasoline or ethanol or a combination.

But ethanol use only took off in the 1970s following the energy crisis. Its use expanded greatly during George W. Bush’s administration, with the advent of the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2005. This federal program mandated that increasing amounts of renewable fuels be mixed with gasoline and diesel. The program has set a target for the domestic consumption of 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol since 2015.

Ford's 1st Flex Fuel Car: the Model "T" w/ David Blume - YouTube
Ford made its first flex-fuel car a century ago.

Most engines can safely run on a blend of 90 percent gasoline and 10 percent corn ethanol, the standard formulation known as E10 that is available at most American gas stations. E15 is a blend containing 15 percent ethanol. This blend is not available in every state.

And where E15 is sold, it isn’t currently available year-round.

That’s because the additional 5 percent of ethanol, combined with summer heat, would increase the tendency of blended fuels to evaporate The evaporated emissions from fuels can contribute to the formation of ozone, a major component of smog. In hotter weather, ethanol can exacerbate pollution problems in cities. Trump’s proposal would eliminate the existing summer ban on E15 sales.

Winners and losers

Removing the ban would probably boost ethanol sales, aiding farmers who grow the corn used to make the roughly 16 billion gallons of it the U.S. produced in 2017, including exports, and the ethanol industry overall.

Because a higher percentage of ethanol means a lower percentage of petroleum, using more ethanol hurts petroleum refiners. It would also pose a logistical challenge. Ethanol cannot go into oil or gas pipelines because it absorbs excess water and impurities within pipelines. That means rail cars and tanker trucks transport all ethanol.

Although ethanol proponents say its use cuts carbon emissions, the evidence is mixed.

The government has determined that corn ethanol is much less effective than other biofuels at reducing carbon emissions, producing only 1.5 to 2.1 units of energy for every unit used to produce it. This is much less efficient than biodiesel made from soybean oil, which produces 5.5 units of renewable energy for every unit consumed in production.

The ethanol Brazilians make from sugarcane residues does a much better job of shrinking that country’s carbon footprint. Converting sugarcane wastes into ethanol produces more than 9.4 units of energy for every unit that producing this fuel consumes.

Flawed arguments

One of the original goals behind mandating ethanol blends was to reduce oil imports. While corn ethanol does directly displace gasoline consumption, other efforts to reduce oil imports have had far more impact.

The share of oil the U.S. imports has fallen in recent years, but that decline is largely due to a domestic production boom brought on by hydraulic fracturing, often called fracking, horizontal drilling and other technological advances. Increased domestic output has displaced 54.5 billion gallons of imported oil annually – more than three times the roughly 15 billion gallons of oil per year ethanol is displacing.

Biodiesel and renewable diesel, made from vegetable oils and animal fats, are displacing another nearly 3 billion gallons of diesel derived from petroleum per year.

A TV commercial I’ve seen during football games touted two other flawed arguments in favor of increasing corn ethanol production: that E15 will mean “cleaner air” at a “lower cost.”

The problem is that blending ethanol with other fuels lowers their energy content, slightly decreasing fuel economy. It may cost a bit less to fill up your tank but based on my calculations the decrease in miles per gallon that E15 would yield will mean it makes no difference on your wallet.

Likewise, the claim that E15 leads to cleaner air is not justifiable.

For one thing, all vehicles made since 1975 have catalytic converters that remove unburned hydrocarbons and other airborne pollutants. For another, the Energy Department has not detected any across-the-board reduction in tailpipe emissions associated with ethanol use. Instead, it has observed that using more ethanol may slightly increase the tailpipe emissions of aldehydes, which are respiratory irritants.

Old cars and chainsaws

All cars since model year 2001 can operate safely on E15, but not older cars. Vehicles manufactured before 2001 could suffer fuel system or engine damage if they’re run on E15. The government requires the labeling of all E15 fuel pumps to prevent accidental use for this reason.

A bipartisan bill is pending in Congress that would take this notification further by making the labels bigger and mandating that they warn consumers to check their owners’ manuals.

Another problem is that concentrations of ethanol in excess of 10 percent can hurt non-automotive engines, the Energy Department has found. These include, for example, the motors in lawn and garden equipment, motorcycles and speedboats.

Smaller engines lack computer controls able to adjust to operation on ethanol blends. If, say, the chain on your chainsaw engages without you intending it to, you could be in real danger. This malfunctioning can potentially cause accidents in which people lose fingers or even limbs.

Even once manufacturers redesign their weed-whacker and chainsaw engines to become compatible with higher ethanol blends, consumers who own older equipment would remain at risk of having them break down due to changes in fuel composition if E15 becomes the norm at filling stations.

People who own lawn and garden equipment and speedboats would have to go out of their way to avoid this problem by buying “pure gasoline.”

In short, year-round sales of E15 probably aren’t going to do much to reduce oil imports or trim the nation’s carbon footprint. It would take more ambitious and strategic energy policies to achieve those worthwhile goals.

André Boehman serves on the Technical Advisory Board for Oberon Fuels (San Diego, CA). Prof. Boehman has received research funding from the US Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, US EPA, US Army TARDEC and other federal agencies, various state organizations and many industrial partners.

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_Le Pont-Neuf et la Pompe de la Samaritaine, vue du quai de la Mégisserie_, painting by Nicolas Raguenet (circa 1750-1760). Musée Carnavalet

The debate over the place of cars in cities may seem like a recent one, but in fact was raging well before the first automobile even saw the light of day.

To better understand, let us take a look at the streets of Paris when the French Revolution was in full swing and when all the “cars” were still horse-drawn. Even then, speeding carriages in densely packed urban areas could be deadly, and they raised the same essential questions as cars do to today – in particular the relative importance of orderly behaviour, traffic management, freedom of access and the right of way.

An anti-car pamphlet

In 1790, an anonymous Parisian printed a pamphlet with a surprising modern title, “A Citizen’s Petition, or A Motion against Coaches and Cabs”. Passionately written, this 16-page text is simultaneously a moral treatise, a police memoir and a legislative motion, since it also contains propositions intended to be forwarded at the French National Assembly.

Little is known of its author except that he was probably a well-to-do citizen – perhaps a doctor – as he declares that he owns “a coach, a cab and four horses”. These, however, he is ready to “sacrifice on the altar of the country”, scandalised as he is by the brutality of drivers as they cross the city and disgusted by the “idleness and sloth of the rich”. Swayed by the ideas of the Enlightenment and praising the contributions of the Revolution, he asks: What is the worth of a free press, religious tolerance and the abolition of state prisons if “one cannot go on foot without being exposed to perpetual danger?” Indeed, at a time when universal human rights were being proclaimed, Parisians continued to be killed by cars, to the complete indifference of legislators. The pamphlet’s author therefore proposed to “fulfil” the work of the Revolution by prohibiting the use of coaches in Paris.

In 1790, a year after the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen”, the political situation in Paris was in many ways unprecedented. On the roads, however, the domination exercised by coach drivers over pedestrians remained unchanged.

Congestion in Paris

The wildly rushing vehicle is a literary topos that can be traced back to the congested streets of Paris of the 17th and 18th centuries. Featured in works by Paul Scarron and the Abbé Prévost, it can also be found in Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux’s famous satire on a collision between a cart and a coach. In his poem, a nightmarish “embarrassment” is depicted:

A coach’s wheel strikes a cart at a corner,
And, by accident, sends both into stale water.
Too soon, a mad cab, trying desperately to rush past,
In the same embarrassment embarrasses not the last,
For promptly, twenty more coaches soon come into the long line
Leading the first two, to quickly become over fourscore and nine.

If such “embarrassments” or “strife” (as traffic jams used to be called) inspired the writers of fiction, it was also because they were a daily reality of the streets of the Ancien Regime.

Nicolas Guérard, The Pont-Neuf seen from rue Dauphine, engraving, 18th century. This engraving shows the many means of transportation used by Parisians during the Age of Enlightenment. In the foreground can be seen two carriages, a sedan chair, riders on horseback, a horse-drawn cart. It is significant that the artist chose to represent this congested scene on one of Paris’ most modern, sidewalk-equipped streets. Library of the Decorative Arts/BNF

There are hardly any urban chronicles, police memoirs or travel stories that do not mention showers of mud, clouds of dust, the din of iron-rimmed wheels disturbing the peace of the sick, roads blocked by a coach or a cart manoeuvring a tight corner.

The killer car

What appears radically new in the writings of the late 18th century, however, is the theme of the killer car. This can be found in the work of Louis Sebastien Mercier and Nicolas Restif de la Bretonne, and also in another anonymous pamphlet, this from 1789, titled “The Assassins, or A Denunciation of the Tyrannically Abusive Nature of Cars”. In this pamphlet, the author virulently attacks the English-style phaetons, whiskies, devils and other cabs as these lighter vehicles were particularly adapted to city traffic and were therefore “as fast as eagles”.

Engraving of a ‘devil’, illustrating the entry: Sellier-carrossier (

His argument goes that highwaymen, ready to kill a traveller for his money, are the assassins of the road. But in Paris, the assassin is “the one who, without passion and without need, suddenly flings open the doors of his household, rushes like a madman toward a thousand of his fellow men and presses them, with all his might, with a fast cab and two steeds.” It is therefore the social battle between pedestrians and car users that his texts exemplifies.

Pedestrians and coach-riders in Paris

In a palpable way, this second text confronts two opposing developments that ran throughout all of the 18th century.

One was the prodigious increase in the quantity of horse-drawn traffic within Paris, linked to the population’s ever-increasing need for food and merchandise. With its 700,000 inhabitants, it already had very hungry belly… As Daniel Roche indicates, however, the increase in traffic can also be explained by the rise in passenger circulation. During the 17th century, the carriages in circulation were nearly exclusively the coaches used by royalty and nobility. Later, the emerging middle classes of merchants, officers, bankers but also master-artisans and priests, who all previously travelled on foot, by mule, and at best on horseback, began to use the lighter and faster cabs.

The coach was first and foremost a royal vehicle. Here, a ‘modern’ coach from the 1680s, with an ornately carved and gilded body, pulled by six horses. It was used by Louis XIV and Marie-Thérèse for their entry into the city of Douai in 1667. Painting by Adam François Van der Meulen, circa 1690. Château de Versailles

Owning a car, in 1789, in Paris, remained the privilege of the nobles and the richer burghers. It meant keeping a coachman or lackey, owning a stable for the horses and a shed to store hay, straw, water and oats. The development of hired coaches and cabs, the ancestors of today’s taxis, that could be rented by the day or by the hour, gradually broadened the usage of passenger cars.

According to plausible estimates, in Paris the number of cars surged during the 18th and 19th centuries, rising from only 300 at the beginning of the 18th century to more than 20,000 by the French Revolution – an increase of 7,000 percent. Long before the mass production of the automobile, the car had therefore already become a commonplace feature of Paris’ streets.

An opposing development within enlightened circles was to travel by foot, like the humbler Parisians. The idea was not so much to go from one place to another, but to promenade. Therefore, the elites gradually stepped out of their coaches, carriages and cabs to walk along the tree-lined boulevards and through the parks and gardens. For the philosophers of the Enlightenment, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau, walking was a virtue that stood in contrast to the sloth of those who travelled by coach. During the Revolution, the pedestrian even became a major political figure and was embodied in the sans-culotte.

Cars: a primary source of insecurity for Parisians

Let us now imagine a scene often depicted by the Parisians of the day. You are quietly walking along the haut du pavé (the higher part of the street) of a narrow and crowded road. On one side is a vendor’s stall, on the other, leftover rubble due to roadworks, a little further on is an open-air forge encroaching on the road, above is the shop-sign of a cabaret forcing passing coachmen to dangerously swerve their vehicles. Suddenly, powered by two spirited horses, a cabriolet, weighing nearly 700 kg and devoid of any effective braking system, engages into the street at full speed. The driver, pressed by the owner of the vehicle, cracks his whip while shouting “Aside! Aside!”. What then? How to escape the wheels of the car when there is neither curb nor sidewalk?

In his Scenes of Paris, Jean-Sebastien Mercier narrates how, on three occasions, he was the victim of such homicidal cars. The anonymous citizen in the “Motion against Coaches and Cabs” provides chilling statistics: every year, more than 300 people were either killed instantly or suffered fatal injuries because of cars. The author does not, however, count all the pedestrians who were crippled or lost a hand, arm or leg. Nor does he speak of the thousands of pedestrians permanently scarred by the whips from angry coachmen.

Greater speed, more crashes

Yet were the crashes more numerous at the end of the century than at its start when the Parisians, now all Citizens, felt freer to take to their pens and denounce the excesses of the drivers of horse-drawn cars? What is certain is that the speed of the vehicles increased dramatically during the Age of Enlightenment. This was first for technical reasons: the newly introduced cabs were lighter and more manoeuvrable than the heavy coaches and could reach speeds of up to 30 km/h on major roads. Second, the multiplication of driveways, the alignment of the facades and the creation of large boulevards and thoroughfares enabled new heights of speed hitherto impossible to reach in town, even when the driver ignored the limitations fixed by the police.

Thus, not only did cars mark the bodies of Parisians, they also durably transformed the face of the city itself. This process continued and accelerated, with pedestrians even being excluded entirely from excluded entirely from certain roads. In recent years the city has pushed back, and even banned cars where pedestrians were once banned, on the right bank of the Seine.

The price of a life

In the 18th century, the victims of car accidents in the capital were mostly the children playing in the street, the elderly or impaired, porters bearing heavy loads and, generally speaking, any inattentive or distracted pedestrian.

When an crash took place, witnesses and police commissioners had to determine responsibility. If the victim was crushed the carriage’s rear wheels, it was simply hard luck. If they were been caught by the small front wheels, however, compensation could be claimed – usually a small sum of money was given on the spot to settle the affair. What then was the price of a pauper’s crushed leg? Most of the time, neither the coachman nor the owner bothered to stop but simply continued on. It was this profound inhumanity that angered the authors of the pamphlets.

Today, fewer people are killed by cars in Paris annually than at the end of the 18th century – about 30 deaths in 2017. There are still many more injuries, including an increasing number of cyclists. In Paris, this is mostly seen as a problem of public health and security as air pollution – a significant portion of which are emitted by vehicles – cause up to 7 million deaths per year, according to World Health Organisation. But even if cars emitted no pollutants, they’d remain deadly for pedestrians.

Banning cars from the capital

It is in the form of a potential decree, comprising 10 articles, that the first anonymous citizen formulates his proposal against coaches and cabs. For him, cars should be tolerated within city limits only if undertaken by a single rider on horseback, by a coach entering or exiting the city, or for those with medical emergencies. It is also proposed that coaches and cabs should be replaced by a sufficient number of sedans stationed at key junctions, with their fares clearly displayed.

The sedan chair recommended by the anonymous citizen was also a privilege of the nobility during the Ancien Regime. Here is an example of a finely decorated model (circa 1730), decorated with designs of sailors and sailboats. Château de Versailles

The author of the pamphlet is fully aware of the implications of his pamphlet, “You will object that I will ruin a large number of Citizens.” Limiting the individual usage of horse-drawn cars would necessarily affect a whole section of the urban economy: the “wheelwrights, painters, leather-workers, saddlers, coachbuilders and farriers” but also “those renting out carriages, the coachmen […] and servants ”. He argues that by multiplying the number of sedan chairs, many new jobs would be created. More porters and craftsmen capable of manufacturing sedans would be needed. Savings would also be made by those having to pay for the food, care and stabling of horses. The stables themselves, occupying much of the habitable ground floor space of the capital, could be replaced by housing for “all our inhabitants living in mediocrity”. As to the courtyards, the pamphleteer suggests that their cobbles be removed and be replaced by lawn, vegetable gardens and orchards. Already, the car-free city pointed to another utopia, that of a leafier, greener city.

The invention of the sidewalk

The anonymous citizen – who was also an anglophile – further proposed to generalise the construction of sidewalks, as these existed in London. He called for each new street to include a “sidewalk not be less than four feet wide”, about 130cm. Because the proposal was perceived as difficult to implement economically and politically, and potentially socially explosive, it was never discussed in the National Assembly.

This idea fared better in history, however, and suggests that the choice to develop cities by separating the flows of cars and pedestrians, and by reserving for the latter a portion of the street, was favoured very early by urban governance policies.

Under the Romans, for example, sidewalks existed, but gradually disappeared during the Middle Ages, as their layout was considered too restrictive for medieval cities. London and the larger English cities were the first in Europe to replace the medieval road stones and ramparts with sidewalks during the end the 17th century. In Mexico City, about 10 km of sidewalk were built in the 1790s.

View of a newly built street of Mexico City. Colour map drawn in 1794 and kept at the General Archives of the Nation (Mexico). The sidewalks are designated on the image as _banquetas_.

At the time that the “Motion against Coaches and Cabs” came into print, sidewalks were almost totally absent from Paris, and existed only along the Pont Neuf, the Pont Royal and the Odeon. During the 19th century, they became more numerous, especially in the city centre. The suburbs were serious under-equipped until the early 20th century,

Since their generalisation, sidewalks have saved the lives of millions of city dwellers throughout the world. However, the full history of the relationship between pedestrians and cars in the city remains to be written.

The text was translated from the original French by Stephan Kraitsowits.

Arnaud Exbalin does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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