One Finite Planet

One Finite Planet

Mr Bean cans EVs: what he gets right.

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Yes, he may come across as a mega-rich collector of exotic internal combustion engine vehicles looking to find any way to delay their demise, but while the fascinating recent article by “Mr. Bean” does get so much so very wrong, it also does get somethings right.

From the fascinating article by Rowan Atkinson on EVs:

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.

Guardian 202, June 6th: I love electric vehicles – and was an early adopter. But increasingly I feel duped
Rowan Atkinson


  • Owing hybrid 18 years ago, and EV 9 years ago, and famously crashing your McLaren F1 twice that you then sold for $12.2 million dollars neither makes you an expert on EVs today, nor give you an insight into what typical drivers need from a vehicle today.
  • Yes, almost any 9-year-old EV nine years ago was probably pointless suffering for the environment.
  • I can agree that they should not ban internal combustion engines vehicles in the UK in 2030, but rather should allow those who really want to use e-Fuel with new vehicles from that point as proposed in the UK.
  • I also strongly agree with:
    • “Sadly, keeping your old petrol car may be better than buying an EV. There are sound environmental reasons not to jump just yet.”

Yet much of the article gets so much so wrong, that is covered first, before getting to what Rowan Atkinson perhaps surprisingly gets right.

What Rowan Atkinson gets wrong.

How long do cars last? Not 3 just years, and it already matches his wish.

The most obvious error from being out of touch with reality was this paragraph:

Currently, on average we keep our new cars for only three years before selling them on, driven mainly by the ubiquitous three-year leasing model. This seems an outrageously profligate use of the world’s natural resources when you consider what great condition a three-year-old car is in. When I was a child, any car that was five years old was a bucket of rust and halfway through the gate of the scrapyard. Not any longer. You can now make a car for £15,000 that, with tender loving care, will last for 30 years. It’s sobering to think that if the first owners of new cars just kept them for five years, on average, instead of the current three, then car production and the CO2 emissions associated with it, would be vastly reduced.

Guardian 202, June 6th: I love electric vehicles – and was an early adopter. But increasingly I feel duped
Rowan Atkinson

This appears to show a complete lack of knowledge of the existence of used cars. Is he unaware of the reality that is a result of multiple owners during a vehicles life, most vehicles in the UK and elsewhere do have an average lifespan of 20 years, which means, accidents and write-offs aside, lasting 30 years is surprisingly common?

EVs are much greener than thought because they last well over 10 years.

This has been covered already by many articles, but likely the error stems from the previous mistake about how long vehicles last. If EVs and other cars did only last 3 or even 5 years, then EVs would spend their entire life powered by today’s grid and have only 3 to 5 years to offset any additional emissions during manufacturing. But EVs do, even with now outdated the environmentally expensive battery of the Volvo in the study mentioned offset additional emission during manufacture within 7 years on today’s grid, and as the grid hopefully gets cleaner over the full vehicle life of more like 20 years or even more.

Today’s EV batteries last more like 30 years than 10 years.

The problem lies with the lithium-ion batteries fitted currently to nearly all electric vehicles: they’re absurdly heavy, huge amounts of energy are required to make them, and they are estimated to last only upwards of 10 years.

Guardian 202, June 6th: I love electric vehicles – and was an early adopter. But increasingly I feel duped
Rowan Atkinson

Batteries have changed a lot since Rowan Atkinson purchased a BMW i3 in 2015, with a 19kW net capacity cobalt lithium battery. Batteries last only a given number of cycles, so if driven enough distance a battery that small may only last 10 years, but a typically at least 3x higher capacity battery of 2023 would last 3x longer, even if still stuck with that now largely outdated chemistry.

With a more modern type of battery like a cobalt-free LFP battery that is 60kW, more like 6x longer or 60 years could be expected.

It can be better for the environment to keep an existing vehicle.

While the “If people held onto their cars longer than 3 years” may have been a “Mr Bean” moment in some ways, the point about vehicles needing their full-lifetime to avoid unnecessary manufacturing emissions is very valid.

Vehicles can and should be able to last as long as 30 years. But how do we avoid a rush to replace older vehicles that could create a boom for new vehicle makers if everyone “jumps” and buys an EV, in many cases before the previous vehicle needed to be at end of life?

I suggest the answer could be e-fuels. No, they do not provide a reason to slow or reverse the transition to EVs, and as the world moves to EVs the cost per km travelled by any combustion engine vehicle end their used whenever possible, but they can enable some older low annual distance travelled vehicles to remain on the road without adding to emissions.

Bans forcing people into EVs could be a mistake.

Despite the errors, the article resonates with people who don’t like being told what to do. Plus, some people are afraid of being forced to give up the cars they know. There is a desperation for anything other than being forced into EVs.

The real problem is not the internal combustion engine, but the pollution of emissions that are not being recycled. If the fuel companies had to pay to recycle those emissions, then users of the internal combustion engine would be meeting the real cost. Somehow, we need to transition to this model, and E-Fuels provide a pathway.

Perhaps the problem isn’t the internal combustion engine, it’s the current fuels.

E-Fuels can provide an alternative to needing everyone to move EVs and can make existing technology carbon neutral.

But many are concerned that E-Fuels could be used as a way to for some to find loopholes to continue generating emissions. The problem is that vehicles designed to run on E-Fuels would be able to be driven on fossil fuels instead, and while E-Fuels include the costs of carbon sequestration, but users of fossil fuels escape that cost, there will be financial incentive to “cheat”.

The problem is we have a society where we have been taking a “free pass” on paying for the cost of the carbon emissions from motor vehicles.

If the “cheating” problem could be prevented, the pricing of E-Fuels would mean the vast majority of people will still move to EVs, but at least there would still be a choice. As EVs continue to improve, the need for choice may matter less and less, but just perhaps it could be less divisive.

Table of Contents


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