Expert tempers worries over security threats in the EV market

Keith Hawes of Nationwide Vehicle Contracts discusses security concerns in Chinese electric vehicles in the UK.

Given the current rapidly approaching deadline to phase out petrol and diesel cars, many fear that  UK buyers will have no choice but to turn to low-priced Chinese electric cars given their dominance in this sector of the market.

What’s more, this move has rekindled security worries around cars being fitted with spy features, with a number of officials – from the Royal United Services Institute and the Commons foreign affairs select committee – stating that anything to do with China will be a security threat.

Keith Hawes, Director of Nationwide Vehicle Contracts has shared his response: “The dominance in producing low-cost electric vehicles by the Chinese may or may not come as a surprise for some since they have been investing in EV vehicle technology for some considerable time. MG is perhaps the best-known Chinese brand currently in the UK selling a very capable range of electric versions. Not as well known is that Volvo and their EV brand, Polestar together with LVEC (London Electric Vehicle Company – building Taxis and Commercial vehicles in Coventry) are all owned by Chinese Geely Automotive. Over the coming months, we will see numerous new Chinese brands arriving in the UK.

“In 2022, China accounted for around 60% of global electric car sales. However, there are now security concerns surrounding using these cars in Britain following escalating geopolitical tensions between China and the West. Fears focus specifically around sensor-packed cars that conceivably could share location and other data with the Chinese government. Policymakers are therefore likely going to continue to debate ways of ensuring a high standard for the cybersecurity of such a new industry and in particular vehicles manufactured in China.

“Britain is extremely capable of making excellent electric cars, but our lack of access to raw materials and slow investment in building factory capacity to fuel a strong supply chain could take years to achieve capacity. We also need a clear unencumbered strategy for UK production. The UK Government should already be driving this at pace with local and prospective OEMs. The issue will be whether local production can compete on price with the potential wave of low-priced Chinese products on their way. Unless things happen quickly to develop these cars in the UK it may be too late.

“As futuristic as it may sound given the electronic capability of existing vehicles it is theoretically possible for manufacturers to control certain features and collect data via telematics. Just as your mobile phone access is rigidly governed by strict data protection laws it would require drivers to agree to data collection – many existing conventional and electric vehicles enable remote software updates therefore security concerns should be high on the agenda for users and UK Government. Provided that “lock-down” protocols are in place then there should not be any barriers to buying a new Chinese electric vehicle – in fact, there may be little alternative options at the economy end of the market which is where most buyers will sit for an EV. Electric cars do come with many other benefits which some may see as more important and impactful – from lower running and maintenance costs plus zero congestion/Low emission charges and other taxation advantages. However, the downside is the fast charging infrastructure which currently is well behind the curve in current EV sales.”

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