The government has launched a consultation into the phase out of petrol and diesel vehicles, considering the best date and the impact it will have beyond the car industry.
Currently, the phase-out date is 2040, but it was announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this month that the date could be brought forward to 2035, or earlier if feasible. The consultation – which is also examining the inclusion of hybrid vehicles – was opened last week and closes on 29 May 2020.
The government is seeking views on five areas: the phase out date, the definition of what should be phased out, barriers to achieving the above proposals, the impact of these ambitions on different sectors of industry and society and what measures are required by government and others to achieve the earlier phase out date.
Below are the thoughts of some of the players in the electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure and vehicle manufacturer industries on the consultation.
The phase-out date
An earlier phase-out date has been in the works for a number of months, with the government’s intentions first announced in October 2019 by transport secretary Grant Shapps. It was then later included in the Conservative Party manifesto for the December 2019 General Election.
Fiona Howarth, CEO of Octopus Electric Vehicles, has welcomed the consultation as “very positive” but warned that 2035 is not soon enough to meet the UK’s carbon goals and “truly fight for the world we want to live in”.
“This requires a bold target of 2032 if not sooner, and will need backing from policymakers, carmakers and consumers alike,” Howarth continued.
James McKemey, head of insights at Pod Point, said: “We believe the industry will help achieve this target much sooner than 2035.”
Pointing to trends, such as the fall in battery costs, McKemey described the rise of EVs as “inevitable”, with drivers wanting to buy EVs over conventionally-fueled vehicles by approximately 2030.
Meanwhile, Helen Clarkson, CEO of The Climate Group, said that whilst the non-profit is glad to see a more ambitious date, “this could still be sooner” and for the UK to be a global leader, a 2030 commitment is required.
The definition of what should be phased out
Whether the ban should include hybrid vehicles or just pure petrol and diesel vehicles has also been widely discussed. Previously, the ban did not extend to hybrids, however several recommendations to include the technology have been made, including by the Science and Technology select committee.
“Based on the evidence of our business members, we believe that a full transition to full battery electric vehicles is realistic,” The Climate Group’s Clarkson said, adding that while plug-in hybrids are a “useful bridging option in some circumstances”, with the need to halve global emissions in the next ten years, “only the highest level of ambition is acceptable”.
Barriers to achieving the above proposals
Octopus Electric Vehicles’ Howarth said that demand for EVs is radically increasing, but the question now is “whether car manufacturers will keep pace and what encouragement they need to ramp up production to enable this switch in a supply-led market”.
“We're only expecting 100,000 EVs in the UK this year - just a scratch on the surface of the the 3,000,000 vehicles we will buy - and not all manufacturers have a clear roadmap to switch their supply to pure electric vehicles,” Howarth added.
However, a spokesperson for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said that manufacturers are “fully invested” in a zero emissions future.
“However, with current demand for this still expensive technology still just a fraction of sales, it’s clear that accelerating an already very challenging ambition will take more than industry investment.
“This is about market transformation, yet we still don’t have clarity on the future of the plug-in car grant - the most significant driver of EV uptake - which ends in just a few weeks’ time, while the UK’s charging network is still woefully inadequate," the SMMT continued.
Range, choice of vehicles, price, issues surrounding the perception of EVs and anxiety over access to charging infrastructure were identified by Pod Point’s McKemey as the contemporary barriers to mass adoption, with McKemey saying the first four will be solved by vehicle manufacturers by the mid-2020s.
“We will continue to build the charging infrastructure we’ll need to support the mass uptake of electric cars over the next decade, but that work is well underway.
“The key is to recognise the mix of different charging, the majority of which will happen at work and home, while the public network, including the en route charging network, must grow ahead of demand to ensure it does not stifle demand for EVs. This in turn is challenging as firms must have the confidence to invest astutely ahead of demand," McKemey said.
The impact of these ambitions on difference sectors of industry and society
Ian Johnston, CEO of Engenie, pointed to ensuring a fair transition, saying: “When broadband was initially rolled out we saw huge delays in deployment in rural areas, and we can’t let that happen again. Government funding for EV infrastructure should be targeted in more remote areas that private investment models are not able to support.”
The Climate Group’s Clarkson highlighted the UK’s specialism in vehicle assembly, meaning 90% of automotive jobs could be directly transferred to producing EVs, making the industry well placed to become a market leader in the transition.
“Ultimately, an ambitious 2030 phase-out commitment would send a powerful market signal that could draw additional EV investment into the UK and be net positive for the automotive industry,” Clarkson continued.
What measures are required by government and others to achieve the earlier phase out date?
Engenie’s Johnston said that bringing the ban forwards sends a clear message to both industry and the general public that “we must all take action now to transition to electric vehicles".
“This grabs the attention of the nation, but it is essential that it is then followed up with supportive government communication and education about the benefits of life with an EV.”
In a post on social media site Facebook, Ecotricity’s founder, Dale Vince, said: “The availability of charging could be the last obstacle to the mass take up of electric cars during this crucial decade.
“This is where government intervention is needed. To build a network capable of supporting the number of electric cars we ultimately have to have - all of them - will require a massive upgrade and extension of the grid.”
Pod Point’s McKemey said that the vast majority of the work required to switch to electric cars will be tackled by the private sector.
“However, the government can help by providing a supportive regulatory environment, with a clear and consistent policy agenda and by providing seed funding to tackle areas of market failure, particularly in the early stages,” McKemey added.
Meanwhile, the SMMT said that a competitive marketplace and a competitive business environment is needed to encourage manufacturers to sell and build in the UK.
“A date without a plan will merely destroy value today. So we therefore need to hear how government plans to fulfil its ambitions in a sustainable way, one that safeguards industry and jobs, allows people from all income groups and regions to adapt and benefit, and, crucially, does not undermine sales of today’s low emission technologies, including popular hybrids, all of which are essential to deliver air quality and climate change goals now.”