The plans are set to be announced by UK Prime Minister Johnson at the launch of the COP26 United Nations climate summit, which Glasgow will be hosting in November this year, and signify a “step up” in policy designed to protect the planet. Alongside being a good talking point and showing of willingness to UN counterparts, the change in the plans to ban the sales of new petrol and diesel cars, which were originally proposed in 2018, is designed to help the UK meet its net zero by 2050 commitment.
It's not just the date of the ban that has changed; the government has updated the cars that will be covered by it to include hybrids and PHEVs. In the original scheme, cars that produced less than 75g/km of carbon dioxide – such as hybrids and PHEVs – would get a pass, but it has been confirmed that all emissions-producing cars now fall under the ban. In fact, as well as EVs, hydrogen cars and other vehicles have now specifically been written into the proposals.
This might not be the end of it, either. The plans are still subject to consultation so the details could yet be changed, with that ban date being brought forward if it is deemed feasible. For example, the Committee on Climate Change has championed the ban coming in for 2030 and the Prime Minister is expected to echo the sentiment that if it's possible, it will be done.
In a radio interview, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, said that bringing the ban forward to 2032 was possible, but he caveated this with the need for a consultation on changing the policy. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has labelled the news as “extremely concerning”, with Chief Executive of the trade body, Mike Hawes, stating that the government needs to put its money where its mouth is, rather than relying simply on car makers. “It's clear that accelerating an already very challenging ambition will take more than industry investment," he said.
Whilst the proposals are evidently good news for the UK's environmental aspirations, car companies aren't likely to be too happy about the news that hybrids and PHEVs have now been written into the plans. Electrification of fleets – whereby car companies are introducing various levels of electrical assistance to powertrains – has been a massive theme in recent years.
Almost all big car companies have announced their plans to have a large percentage of their fleet available as hybrid, PHEV or pure EV over the next decade, bridging the transition period between the sales of pure ICE and pure EVs. Furthermore, with stringent emissions standards being introduced into EU markets as of 2021, car brands have put their eggs in the PHEV basket to try and sneak under the fleet emissions cap.
The AA's President, Edmund King, has already leapt on this issue: “Manufacturers are spending billions on developing state of the art hybrids which are zero emissions for many journeys but these will also be excluded from sale. This seems a very backward step that could backfire by encouraging drivers to hold onto older more polluting vehicles for longer.”
The other potential issues facing the plan to bring forward the date lay on the side of the consumer. People need to be able to afford EVs, and there needs to be ample charging infrastructure. Already on the morning of the news breaking, when asked by BBC Radio 5 Live how much the government was investing in charging infrastructure, Michael Gove said it would invest “whatever it takes”. Hardly reassuring that a cabinet member doesn't have a figure to hand.
When it comes to affordability, the onus is very much on the vehicle manufacturers themselves. If mass-market adoption is to happen and if the UK public is going to carry on buying new cars, rather than running out their ageing ICE-powered vehicles for longer than desired, price parity is needed. Kia reckons it can reach profitability parity on EVs by 2025, and VW is looking at a similar timeframe, so there is every chance that the affordability side of the equation might not be a significant issue.
The AA's Edmund King reckons that there still needs to be rigorous plans in place: “We will need a package of grants coupled with a comprehensive charging infrastructure at homes and in towns, cities, motorways and rural locations. At the very least the Government should take up the AA demand to cut VAT on new EVs to boost sales and make vehicles more affordable to those on lower incomes.”
Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, is positive that the UK can meet the target, though: “This government’s £1.5bn strategy to make owning an electric vehicle as easy as possible is working – last year alone, a fully electric car was sold every 15 minutes. We want to go further than ever before. That’s why we are bringing forward our already ambitious target to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to tackle climate change and reduce emissions.”