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Gas-Powered Cars Sputter Toward Obsolescence

More and more countries are ditching the internal combustion engine. Good.

In need of a fill-up.

Photographer: Jonathan Nicholson

Britain and France announced last month the death of the internal combustion engine, both scheduling it for 2040. Their ban on gas- and diesel-powered cars may only accelerate a process already well on its way, but it will help reduce the future effects of climate change and pollution now.

The trend toward electric vehicles is coming from both government and industry. Norway and the Netherlands have also announced bans on gas-powered vehicles, scheduled for 2025. Meanwhile, Sweden’s Volvo Car Group has said all its motors will be electric by 2019. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that 54 percent of new car sales in 2040 globally will be electric, with falling battery prices making the technology price competitive by 2030.

This move away from old-fashioned engines (if it’s not too soon to use that term) will require a greater commitment to responsible energy: Generating clean electric power will be a challenge, and a whole new electric-charging infrastructure will have to be put in place in the space of a decade or two. Batteries will have to be cheap and powerful enough so that consumers want to buy them. Governments must also do their best to address the inevitable disruption that will be caused by the move away from fossil fuel-powered cars.

Another risk may be that news of a ban may foster a sense of complacency. The U.K.’s planned 255 million-pound ($334 million) fund to help clean up polluted inner cities is encouraging, but the details are still unclear. Levels of nitrogen dioxide in many areas of Britain, and London in particular, are so high that people cannot wait for 2040 -- or even a few years earlier -- for the era of electric cars to begin. Smog, including from gas- and diesel-powered vehicles, still causes almost half a million premature deaths a year in Europe.

A carbon tax remains the simplest way to address the environmental damage caused by fossil fuels, and the U.K.’s is credited with impressive reductions in emissions levels. That said, a ban of the sort that Britain and France have introduced is a positive sign that government are beginning to take this threat seriously. The response of industry shows that the market is starting to as well.

    --Editors: Therese Raphael, Michael Newman.

    To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .

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