OPINION: Christchurch's association with Renault-Nissan to gear itself for the new age of electric vehicles is welcome. It will benefit the planet and the city.
The notion that petrol-driven vehicles are nearing the end of their domination of the road seems doubtful to many. They have become used to stories of geniuses with plans for water-propelled engines being done down by Big Oil, and with expectations from reputable scientists that alternative sources of unlimited energy were close to being harnessed. Scepticism about electric vehicles becoming a practical option is, therefore, understandable.
It is time for the end of those doubts. The world's major car manufacturers are investing hugely in electric-motor research and development and have based their plans for survival on using the technology.
It is this that has so shaken Toyota in the recall of the Prius, upon which its electric car hopes are focused. Confidence in its ability to be at the forefront of the new technology has been damaged.
All this development work is being responded to by receptive nations and communities the world over. California, for instance, is preparing itself with legislation and facilities for the new automotive age.
That state's economic power and its residents' prosperity is a large inducement for research and development. No car company can afford to lock itself out of the Californian market as its people demand the phasing out of oil-burning engines.
The same imperative is building in other American states, in Europe and Asia. Christchurch now has the opportunity to join them in being among the front rank in shifting to electric vehicles.
The city council deserves congratulations for taking on that challenge and entering in to such a creative deal with Renault-Nissan, as does Orion. This is an example of local government and business in the best type of partnership – the governing body recognising the benefits a corporation can offer citizens and doing what has to be done to seal the deal.
The relationship, if it comes to fruition, will improve the Christchurch environment significantly. The contribution of oil-driven vehicles to the smog is substantial; some reputable scientists argue it is the major contribution. A switch to a large number of electric cars on city streets will lessen the smog, and thereby improve citizens' health and pleasure in their city. It will also help dispel Christchurch's unfortunately widespread reputation as smog-laden.
These high hopes will be borne out only if effort is put into the relationship with Renault-Nissan by this and future city council's, but the prevailing progressive disposition of Christchurch local government should ensure the project prospers.
The exact obligations of both parties are as yet unclear, but they involve the city providing a charge-point network and, presumably, the car-maker providing sufficient of its Leaf models at advantageous prices for Christchurch people to switch to them in large numbers.
This is an enticing prospect, but it should not blind the city to the reality that it must also enhance its public transport and cycling and walking tracks. Electric cars are only part of an environmentally friendly and sustainable future.
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