Volkswagen has taken the extraordinary decision of halting electric vehicle production at one of its biggest plants - (Photo: AFP/David Hecker)

The electric car revolution is stalling, of that there can no longer be any doubt. It has left the big global carmakers floundering, uncertain of how to proceed in a race they reluctantly entered in the first place.

Electrification was initially met with fierce resistance. But once politicians held a gun to the heads of company bosses with a series of cliff-edge deadlines for phasing out the combustion engine, carmakers had little choice but to go all-in.

Century-old business models were declared dead and ambitious plans hurriedly drawn up to electrify entire portfolios from small city run-arounds to family saloons and SUVs, at astronomical cost. Even Ferrari has embraced the movement – much to the consternation of petrolheads everywhere.

But with electrification barely off the starting grid, one by one the big carmakers are already pulling back as demand badly falters.

Volkswagen is so concerned about flagging sales that it has taken the extraordinary decision of halting electric vehicle production at one of its biggest plants. Assembly lines for electric models will be paused for six weeks at the Emden factory in northwest Germany and 300 of its 1,500 staff laid off after sales fell 30pc short of forecasts.

This means production of the new VW ID.7 electric model, which had been due to commence in July will be pushed back until the end of the year. The ID.4 electric SUV and the upcoming ID.7 electric sedan will also be delayed.

“We are experiencing strong customer reluctance in the electric vehicle sector,” plant boss Manfred Wulff said.

That is remarkably plain language from the largest car manufacturer on the planet, and a company that recently announced plans to invest €120bn (£103bn) over the next five years in “electrification and digitalisation”.

It comes months after Ford poured cold water on the shift to electric with thousands of job losses in Europe. Electric vehicle production is unable to support anything like the same number of jobs that petrol and diesel models are able to sustain, it said. Boss Jim Farley estimates that 40pc fewer staff will be needed to develop battery versions.

A generation of pure electric vehicle makers has hardly fared any better. On Tuesday, Lordstown Motors, the US electric truck specialist that Donald Trump once heralded as the saviour of a depressed Ohio town, filed for bankruptcy protection.

Even Elon Musk has been forced to repeatedly cut the price of Teslas in a desperate effort to prop up demand and protect market share.

But it’s the setback at VW that stands out, raising serious questions about whether politicians are making the catastrophic mistake of forcing electric cars on a public that doesn’t want them. Indeed, the decision to impose strict deadlines for the phase out of petrol cars could turn out to be one of the most ruinous policy decisions of our lifetimes.

Think about it for a second: an entire industry not only forced to abandon a product that the vast majority of people still want and use, but also bullied into channelling all its resources into making something on a colossal level that there simply isn’t the market for – at least not within the horrendously short timeframe that is being imposed on car manufacturers.

It’s industrial self-sabotage and a commercial, economic and social catastrophe in the making. But what’s worse is that the damage risks being far greater in the UK than anywhere else in the Western world thanks to the Government’s myopic obsession with arbitrary net zero targets.

While the rest of the industrial world seems to have largely settled on a 2035 deadline for petrol and diesel phase out, ministers, for reasons destined to remain a mystery, have decided Britain needs to hit this milestone five years earlier than everyone else.

It makes no sense at all, and yet the ramifications threaten to be huge. By diverting capital into something that lots of people essentially don’t want, it risks inflicting massive losses on an already fragile UK car industry.

It is pure fantasy to imagine that Britain – with a dearth of battery factories (consultants Alix Partners estimates as much as a third of Britain’s battery requirements will need to be imported), a paucity of chargers and dramatically higher energy costs – will be in any position to go fully electric in the next seven years. And the Government simply isn’t capable of solving any of these challenges in time, if at all.

The UK risks becoming the unfortunate guinea pig in a costly and dangerous experiment that persuades the rest of the world to push their own deadlines out even further, turning this country into an example of how not to become a nation of electric car owners.

Perhaps, instead of everyone rushing out to buy an electric car as the end of the decade nears, millions of people will simply hand over the keys to their obsolete petrol bangers, and choose to walk everywhere instead.

It would have the double benefit of being a spectacular protest move, at the same time as being entirely in keeping with net zero – great for the environment but terrible for the economy.

 Source: The Telegraph by Ben Marlow


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