The world is in a period of fluctuation amidst the chaos of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, which has appeared out of nowhere and seemingly changed life to be unrecognisable from even a few weeks ago. This will inevitably have a profound influence on how the travel industry will change over the coming months, years, and even decades. We have seen the entire transport network almost grind to a halt. We have seen quiet roads, ferries cancelled, and the eerie sight of planes parked up in rows making airports look like glorified parking lots. This can only mean positive things for the planet as we have seen emissions plummet over the last month or so, letting the earth have a much-needed gasp of air. What has happened is unusual, and will this crisis change our attitudes over the long term towards environmental issues in general, and car ownership specifically?
Drop in Air Pollution
The drop in travel has not been the only contributing factor as industry has also ground to a halt, but collectively we have seen a 200 megaton drop in China alone. How has this changed our outlook on car ownership, though? Will it make us any more likely to see the benefit of a break in the pollution levels and strike a path in a bold new direction? Some point to previous international crises such as the 2008 financial crash, which saw a significant temporary dip in polluting gasses only for them to rise again following the recovery sharply. This issue is very different from that one. Although financial institutions were brought to their knees, the whole mechanism of industrial capitalism has ground to a halt this time, and no living soul has ever seen anything remotely like this.
Are we Going to Drive Less?
So, given the complexity and unique nature of the situation, we should attempt to predict if it will make us drive less or not? Countless numbers of us are now working from home, where we did not before. This may be a double positive once we’ve been doing it for a while. Firstly, it may be a way of employers saving money by not having to pay for office space, and having workers permanently based in their homes becomes very appealing. Secondly, we may find it to be a hugely rewarding way of working for the employee as well, and it will save them money and time on commuting and allow them more time to spend with their friends and families. Many will be able to make hours work around child-care, offering another incentive. If this takes off in a big way, it may reduce the volume of traffic on the roads.
Electric, Hybrid, or Fossil Fuels?
OK, we’re hoping that less commuting may lessen the traffic on our roads, but what types of vehicles are going to dominate the remaining road space? Much of the answer to this question may depend on how the economy is performing. It would be preferable to have clean, electric vehicles making up most of the cars on the road. We know that the upfront purchase cost of an electric vehicle can be high, and even though the low fuel cost more than makes up for this over the lifetime of the car, if jobs are scarce, then this initial investment may be too much for many to justify. With the widespread availability of charging points, the EV charging app, and increased battery life, the desire may be there for becoming environmentally friendly motorists, we can only hope it is affordable.
Leasing or Buying?
Perhaps the trend in recent years of leasing rather than buying new vehicles may make the appeal of getting an electric vehicle more realistic. There are plenty of electric car deals available from leasing firms, and if you are not a high-mileage customer, then you can get even better deals. With money perhaps being tight, then leases may be easier to obtain than traditional car financing. If we have a worst-case scenario where the economy has really tanked, then it may be that the only hope for the industry is to have proper government grants and assistance to buy schemes available.
During this crisis, we have seen traditional fuel plummet in price due to lack of demand. One issue may be that car owners could be tempted back onto the road by low petrol costs. We can only hope that the advances and deals available on electric cars continue to get better as time moves on.