Asthma deaths to force automotive revolution

Posted on 30 Jan 2013

“City pollution will drive automotive innovation, not climate change,” said Lord Drayson, managing partner of Drayson Racing Technologies.

Speaking at the Royal Academy of Engineering, Lord Drayson says that car pollution is the “invisible killer in our cities,” with legislation set to come.

The evolution of the human lungs hasn’t kept up with the evolution of the motor car, with a report in the Environment, Science and Technology journal estimating that combustion exhausts cause nearly 5,000 premature deaths in the UK every year.

Lord Drayson said that the automotive sector isn’t good at clearing particulate produced by catalytic converters.

“It is not a question of if, but when cities ban high-polluting cars,” he commented, believing that it is only a matter of time before only electric cars are allowed to drive in urban areas.

Mobile phone app London Air, created by King’s College in London, shows how pollution in the city follows the roads, evidence that Lord Drayson believes “will spur on innovation and use of electric cars,” if not through consumer choice than through legislation.

The average new car emits 23.7% less CO2 per kilometre than in 2000, while electric cars produce no tailpipe emissions.

Yet he struggles to see where the next big breakthrough will come from to make a real impact on findings in a government report that found air pollution was responsible for about 29,000 UK deaths in 2008.

With no legislation set to come in, the political backlash of a ban and the likelihood that such a measure would take years to come into place to allow consumers to prepare, it’s more likely manufacturers will face further legislation to slash emissions on petrol and diesel cars.

Government support is too small-scale for car-makers with high investment costs, with Jerry Hardcastle, technical director at Nissan, stating that “the Patent Box wouldn’t make much difference to my business.” Professor David Hughes from the Business Innovation Group commented that he “couldn’t see how the Patent Box would boost innovation in automotive R&D.”

An acquisition by an automotive company is extremely rare and Lord Drayson worries that the industry is far too insular, urging investment outside of their own R&D labs in young start-ups with new ideas and riskier technology.