Looking ahead in business: Apocalypse Now or Bacon Sarnies?

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last few weeks, surviving off tins of food and loo roll you horded during lockdown, you’ll have noted that there’s been a serious happening on our forecourts. Aside from the obvious, the fuel supply crisis has actually highlighted a number of issues. Now, at this stage, I’ve got to tell you one of my self-imposed rules for writing this article. Don’t go into political matters. Why? Because people want to read about BMWs, not hear me pontificate on politics. So, I hope you’ll excuse me – but I’m going to bend the rules. Stay with me.

We all know the government has set a date by which you’ll no longer be able to buy a petrol car – or even a hybrid. What they haven’t done is give us a genuine road map to how we evolve to that point. On current evidence, it doesn’t seem to stack up. I follow a good few motoring journalists on Twitter, and I notice one thing nearly every day, almost like a template. Journo is lent electric car. Does road test which involves recharging. Journo arrives at charge point, charge point doesn’t work. Grumpy journo posts picture of dead EV, while holding a bacon sarnie, at motorway services.

The truth is, the infrastructure for EVs is simply not fit for purpose. Not even a tiny bit. Never mind a road map – we haven’t started building the roads. Recharging takes so long that even if you do find a free charge point, and it works, your journey takes way longer than the equivalent petrol car, partly because you spend much of it eating bacon sarnies while waiting for the charge to finish. This in turn gives you high cholesterol and fills you with saturated fats, from which you die. So, the reality is that not only are EVs hugely dull, they’re also really bad for our health. And I’m sure we didn’t evolve to this point, to think it’s good to go back to journeys that would’ve been faster with a horse, like in 1850.

But the serious issue here is that we’re relying on our governments to sort this out. These are the people that only a short while ago, were encouraging us to buy diesel cars by subsidising the fuel and giving us tax breaks. That black smoke billowing out of the back? Oh, that’s fine, it can’t be bad for you. Smoke never is, is it?

These are the guys that kicked out all the European workers and then wondered why there’s nobody left to work in our hotels, pubs and restaurants – transport our goods, harvest our food or fix our showers. Of course that’s not their fault. Apparently its down to me, as a business owner, because I don’t pay people enough. I have become reliant on ‘cheap foreign labour’ apparently. These are the same crew that wound down apprenticeships, made it impossible to give work experience to young people due to absurd amounts of red tape, thus depriving us of any chance of encouraging the next generation to take an interest in our industry.

And yes, the same people who, at the start of Covid told us that wearing a mask was a bad idea, because it might make us complacent – we’d start ignoring social distancing etc because we felt so safe – just prior to ordering us to close our businesses so that our online competitors had a clear field to suck up a huge market share. Actually, all of it, since we were shut at the time. The same people who promised us a bonus for every staff member we kept on after furlough, only to withdraw it and order us to close again. Then we had to wear masks because it turns out they do stop the spread, even if we are all feckless irresponsible children who can’t tie our own shoelaces. Er, but now you don’t have to wear them, because something something….are they not just making it up as they go?

Then comes the fuel crisis. Its not just the shortage of fuel that’s the issue, it’s the prices that the charming petrol retailers have chosen to levy – after all, what use is a crisis if you can’t make money from it? Knowing they have a desperate, captive audience, all they have to do is name a number and keep a straight face. What did the government do to help? Tell the press they’re going to bring in the army. If there’s one way to wind up the British and trigger a cycle of panic buying, it’s to mention bringing in the army.

At this point I have to say, I don’t think it’s a Conservative thing. I don’t think labour would honestly be any better. And don’t even mention the Greens. There is that other bunch but I can’t remember their name. Anyhow, someone needs to think of how we fit charging points for every street parking space. And every multi story car park place. And every home, office and school car park. Then we need to work out how to generate all the extra power we need to make the electricity – without buying gas from the Russians, who control more than half the supply on the planet. And let’s not think we’ll get any help from our neighbours. We’ve just told them we hate them and everything they stand for. Hey, Frenchie, don’t even think about taking our fish. Now, anyone want to drive a lorry?

What we’ll see as motorists, I’m afraid, is death by a thousand paper cuts. I don’t see how we will actually carry on as private car owners. Between the lack of charge points, the impossibility of producing the required amount of power, the speed bumps, cameras, fines, spiralling petrol cost, supply problems, taxes, inaccessible city centres – owning a real car will be only for the most determined or bloody minded. But at least our trains are a brilliant alternative. There’s never any problem with our trains.

So, you may ask, where does that leave Munich Legends? Well, like Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, we’ll be the last outpost on the river. Without the severed heads and fire, obviously. We’ll continue to cater for those antiquated, outdated old machines that people collect, with their deadly polluting output, and people will come from all around to tut and shake their heads, wondering how people ever thought it was a good idea to blow up petrol just to get around, or sometimes just to drive round in circles to see who was the fastest, and thus blow up the largest quantity. We’ll lend cars to period dramas set in the 1990s, and let schools bring their pupils round to laugh and point.

But hold on. Perhaps I have a better plan. Maybe we should get into the bacon sarnie business. Because in the medium term at least, I have a feeling that’s where the money’s going to be.

Dan Norris, Straight Six Magazine by BMW Car Club GB (November 2021 issue)

Straight Six Magazine November 2021