Shockwaves spread last month when the Prime Minister announced that petrol and diesel vehicles would no longer be sold within the UK from 2030, a deadline which has been brought forward much earlier than the automotive industry anticipated. The first announcement of the implementation of this ban was in 2018 where a target of 2040 was provisionally put in place. However, shaving off almost 50% of the preparation time has accelerated industry fears. Despite being a decade away from this deadline, the transition to becoming a hybrid-fuel, hydrogen-fuel and fully-electric vehicle nation is seemingly an abrupt one. To put this deadline change into perspective, electric vehicle sales last year only totalled 5.5% of total vehicle sales, whereas petrol and diesel vehicles stood at 78%. Fears have also arisen from the fact that hybrid-vehicles will also become phased out by 2035 as part of the UKs zero-emissions target.
The government has pledged £2.8 billion towards supporting the country in this endeavour by contributing to the installation of charging points and investing in long-life batteries. Approximately £1.3 billion of that funding will be invested in charging points in homes and major urban planning settings such as motorways and off-road parking. Meanwhile, £582m has been set aside for providing grants to enable consumers to purchase zero-to-low emission vehicles. The remainder of the funding will be for mass developing and selling electric vehicle batteries, particularly within the Midlands and North East regions, to revitalise and strengthen their local economies. Ministers have claimed that pollution causes 40,000 premature deaths every year, a figure which this proposal hopes to dramatically decrease. Other long term goals of the plan include improving Britain’s air quality and breathing new life into the automotive industry. In addition, Sandra Wappelhorst from the International Council on Clean Transportation commented that the COVID pandemic highlighted the temporary decrease in emissions from passenger cars and vans further incited the need to commit to change within the industry sooner rather than later.
Reactions towards this announcement varied. On a positive note, Bentley stands confident as the first UK based car manufacturer to announce they will sell solely electric vehicles from the UK by 2030. Similarly, Jaguar Land Lover, the largest UK car manufacturer, commented that they are openly embracing their investment in fully electric vehicles and pride their I-Pace model as the first-European-premium all-electric SUV. Within the purely electric vehicle industry, Kevin Brundish, the CEO of AMTE Power, commended the announcement detailing the additional financial support towards vehicle electrification. Other financial support packages currently include the Faraday Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and Automotive Transformation Fund. He continued saying the UK will require an onshore supply chain for electric vehicles’ crucial component: the lithium ion battery. If put in place this should stimulate further growth in the wider economy and provide more UK jobs.
Nevertheless, numerous critics have opposed this sudden declaration. Mike Hawes, the Chief Executive of The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, is pleased investment is being put towards decarbonising road transport and manufacturers but anticipates the new deadline will set a difficult challenge to meet. The concern is that 10 years for a complete revision of planning and technology will cause serious industrial upheaval and a transition in the late 2020s will lead to a collapse in new car sales with a lack of consumer interest and incentive. There is also a concern that the ban of plug-in hybrids, later on, should not exist until fully electric vehicles have at least been deemed suitable for long-range drivers and fleets. Furthermore, the element of ‘recharging’ has caused a number of concerns. One of these concerns is whether or not cars will be able to recharge as easily as they currently refuel. Another major concern is whether the UK grid will be able to accommodate the surge in electricity demand due to the huge influx in electric vehicles. Lastly, experts are curious about the care and sourcing of lithium-ion batteries to continuously supply these electric vehicles, because the batteries eventually end up in landfills once they have maximised their capacity. Those opposing the deadline are also concerned about protecting their small series or classic car industries. They deem that these industries are still major contributors to employment and export and suggest the owners’ low mileage creates a negligible amount of pollution.
While the UK produced 1% of global CO2 emissions in 2018 and ranked the 17th biggest polluter, Germany sits in the Top 10 and produces 2% of worldwide emissions, thus sparking interest to see how other nations are scaling up their green revolution plans. Amongst Europe’s largest economies, France and Germany have committed to bans at 2030 and 2040, respectively. Meanwhile smaller nations appear more committed to the cause. Norway has set their target to 2025, and it seems they are making great progress already as 50% of its vehicle sales are electric due to their generous incentives scheme. Denmark has also committed to a 2030 target and has begun incentivising purchasers using wavering registration tax on purchases, lowering periodical ownership taxes, discounting parking and providing the option to use bus lanes. Slovenia also intends to follow a phased-in approach where new passenger cars of more than 100g CO2/km will be prohibited by 2025 and then this will fall to 50g CO2/km by 2030.
To many, becoming a fully electric-vehicle nation within 15 years is an unrealistic expectation. Yet it is praiseworthy to believe the country will be filled with purely electric vehicles such as the Tesla Model 3 or hydrogen-powered vehicles like the Toyoto Mirai. If the government and automotive industry really tackle consumer concerns with considerable investment and focus then this part of the UK’s green revolution will stand as a great success story in years to come.