A chance encounter with a likeminded lady at last weekend’s Ballymaloe MayFair got me thinking – am I actually mad? By way of background: conversation with said lady (let’s call her Avant-Lady from now on – explanation later) morphed from the environment, through circular fashion through academia and onto cars, as all conversations tend to do! As an environmentalist who likes the A4 Avant (that’s the estate version of the Audi A4 for those less informed), Avant-Lady’s long term motoring plan is to purchase one and to “drive-it-into-the-ground” (her exact words). My excitement and enthusiasm for her plan – and I genuinely loved her plan – took a serious dent with her reaction to the minor tweak I suggested to her plan: buy an A4 Avant that has already covered 400,000km, and then “drive-it-into-the-ground”. You see, I have just purchased a 5-year old VW Passat Estate (a half brother so-to-speak of the Audi A4 Avant, albeit a bit less swanky) with 400,000km under its belt. Avant-Lady’s reaction: “you’re not actually serious” was followed by “are you actually mad?”. All credibility I may have built with her in the previous 15-minutes around my knowledge of the circular economy, the environment (and even cars) went out the proverbial window. I think she may even have given me a false name before offering her excuses and leaving me standing there.
My better half asked me on more than one occasion on the 3-hour drive back to Dingle if everything was OK – she said I was being unusually quiet and suggested that I seemed upset about something. Yes to the being quiet part – no to the being upset bit. Avant-Lady had hit a nerve – that’s for sure – and I needed time to revaluate and reconfirm the logic I used when I chose a 400,000km car over a brand new shiny one. My logic spans environmental reasons, engineering reasons and financial reasons.
In terms of environmental reasons – the most environmentally friendly car you can possibly own and drive is a car that already exists (as against a shiny new one). The manufacture of a new car generates as much as 35 tons of CO2 , equivalent to 225 flights from Kerry Airport to London (that’s one flight a week for almost 5-years!). And that’s the figure for an internal combustion engine car (petrol or diesel) – like our Audi A4 and our VW Passat –it is 25% to 35% higher when it comes to an electric car.
Assuming I drive 20,000km per annum (which I do), I will contribute 4.7 tons of of CO2 to the environment each year, much the same as the shiny new one I didn’t buy.
But surely if I had converted to a shiny new electric car I would be saving the planet instantly? Well, not really! As already mentioned, the environmental cost of producing that electric car is 25% to 35% higher at up to 40 tons of CO2. But – I hear you say – electric cars do not contribute any CO2 as they are being driven. Not true. The generation of electricity to drive your electric car 20,000km each year currently adds just over 3.3 tons of CO2 to the environment.
So, basic maths – by not buying a new electric car (versus sticking with my 2017 VW) it will take me a full 25-years to offset the damage I do by buying new.
In terms of engineering – the current “new” VW Passat is identical to the 2017 one I just bought, so the only difference between mine and a €50K new one is the mileage already covered. Everything works perfectly – and there is a school of thought in engineering that were something to go wrong, it would have gone wrong by now! Modern cars are so much more reliable than they used to be – they don’t rust and if properly maintained, can see huge milage!
And then we have financial reasons: I saved over €35,000 by not buying a new one – a reason that is very, very hard to argue against. Add to that reduced servicing costs in the first three years – a new car will require expensive main dealer service to maintain its warranty – the borrowing cost (€9,000 over 5-years) and reduced insurance cost (God-knows how much) , I can be saving over €10k every year for the next 5-years.
The downsides? I not driving a new shiny car with a 231 registration. My neighbours have started to talk. My kids are embarrassed. And I failed to impress Avant Lady.
The upsides? I have saved 35-tons of CO2 and I have about 50,000 reasons to feel smug with myself!
So, am I actually mad? I dont think so!