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Automotive industry hits out at government U-turn on 2030 ban

  • Sunak to water down net zero commitments to ensure they are ‘proportionate’
  • 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars set to be pushed back to 2035
  • Move sparks huge backlash from industry experts, campaigners and MPs
  • Ford becomes first major car brand to speak out against the government’s proposals
  • PA Media reports some Tories are considering letters of no confidence in the PM
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Time 9:27 am, September 20, 2023

The government is set to perform a spectacular U-turn and ditch its policy of banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

The PM sparked civil war within the Conservative Party last night (Sep 19) after it emerged he was preparing to water down a number of his green policies.

In a speech later this week, Rishi Sunak is expected to announce that the 2030 ban will be pushed back to 2035, bringing the UK in line with the EU.


The announcement marks a major change of direction from the top of the government, which was saying as recently as yesterday that it was committed to the 2030 date.

Speaking to the SMMT conference, transport secretary Mark Harper, appeared to suggest that there would be no change to the policy.

That followed comments from Sunak himself over the weekend, when he said any changes would be ‘damaging’ to the automotive industry.


The PM is now saying that the government remains committed to the target of net zero emissions by 2050, but will achieve it ‘in a better, more proportionate way’.

Following pressure from some of his own MPs, including predecessor Liz Truss, he said that politicians ‘of all stripes have not been honest about costs and trade offs’ and accused previous Tory governments of taking ‘the easy way out, saying we can have it all’.

In his late-evening statement, he said: ‘For too many years politicians in governments of all stripes have not been honest about costs and trade offs. Instead they have taken the easy way out, saying we can have it all.

‘This realism doesn’t mean losing our ambition or abandoning our commitments. Far from it. I am proud that Britain is leading the world on climate change. We are committed to Net Zero by 2050 and the agreements we have made internationally, but doing so in a better, more proportionate way.

‘Our politics must again put the long-term interests of our country before the short-term political needs of the moment.

‘No leak will stop me beginning the process of telling the country how and why we need to change.

‘As a first step, I’ll be giving a speech this week to set out an important long-term decision we need to make so our country becomes the place I know we all want it to be for our children.’

He was supported by MP Dame Andrea Jenkyns, who told ITV News: ‘We cannot ask people on top of that to change the heating system to change the cars.

‘I don’t want to see the working classes pay for the middle classes having electric cars.’

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‘U-turn will cause huge headache for manufacturers’

The change of approach has been slammed by those within the automotive industry with Auto Trader accusing the government of ‘taking the easy option with one eye on polling day’.

Ian Plummer, commercial director of Auto Trader, said: ‘Pushing back the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel sales by five years is a hugely retrograde step which puts politics ahead of net zero goals.

‘This U-turn will cause a huge headache for manufacturers, who are crying out for clarity and consistency, and it is hardly going to encourage the vast majority of drivers who are yet to buy an electric car to make the switch.

‘Rather than grasp the challenge and use the tax system to ease concerns over affordability, the Prime Minister has taken the easy option with one eye on polling day.’

Ford has also come out swinging, with the Blue Oval’s UK chair, Lisa Brankin, taking aim at the government.

She said: ‘Three years ago the government announced the UK’s transition to electric new car and van sales from 2030.  The auto industry is investing to meet that challenge.

‘Ford has announced a global $50bn commitment to electrification, launching nine electric vehicles by 2025.

‘The range is supported by £430m invested in Ford’s UK development and manufacturing facilities, with further funding planned for the 2030 timeframe.

‘This is the biggest industry transformation in over a century and the UK 2030 target is a vital catalyst to accelerate Ford into a cleaner future.

‘Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency.

‘A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three.  We need the policy focus trained on bolstering the EV market in the short term and supporting consumers while headwinds are strong: infrastructure remains immature, tariffs loom and cost-of-living is high.’

SMMT chief, Mike Hawes, added: ‘The automotive industry has and continues to invest billions in new electric vehicles as the decarbonisation of road transport is essential if net zero is to be delivered.

‘Government has played a key part in bringing some of that investment to the UK, and Britain can – and should – be a leader in zero emission mobility both as a manufacturer and market.

‘To make this a reality, however, consumers must want to make the switch, which requires from government a clear, consistent message, attractive incentives and charging infrastructure that gives confidence rather than anxiety. Confusion and uncertainty will only hold them back.’

Elsewhere, former Nissan and Aston Martin CEO, Andy Palmer, said that carmakers would feel ‘cheated’ by the news.

He said: ‘No10 now appearing to consider delaying the 2030 ICE ban in favour of a 2035 date – in line with the EU.

‘If true, it is an abandonment of UK leadership in net zero, but as I’ve said for a while, the move is inevitable in so far as we’ve allowed the bulk of automotive decision-making to move overseas.

‘Many companies in the industry (very recently!) invested here based on the 2030 deadline and will feel cheated by the potential change.

‘I hope we use the extra time to support infrastructure and EV roll out, enabling consumers and industry to get ready for a seismic shift in motoring – we are currently nowhere near.’

Experts have previously told Car Dealer that any change to the 2030 date would cause ’cause massive financial damage’ to car industry.

Ginny Buckley, founder and CEO of Electrifying.com, said: ‘Ending emissions from road transport is key to the UK reaching net zero by 2050, which the government still seems to be committing to. So this is not the time to use the petrol and diesel car ban as a political football by kicking the hard decisions down the road.

‘Earlier this week we heard the government arguing that tough annual targets around the sales of electric cars will give confidence to investors committed to expanding public charging infrastructure, whilst BMW has just committed £600m into electrifying the UK car industry.

‘What kind of message does rowing back on a key pledge like this say to those considering investment in the UK when we know certainty is key?

‘This is also confusing for consumers. Despite the fact that one new electric car is registered every 60 seconds, sales are stalling amongst private buyers, which currently make up 25 per cent of electric car sales – that’s down from over a third in 2022.

‘We need support and clarity to help drivers make the switch, not conflicting messaging from our policy makers.’

Chris Green, Regit founder and CEO, added: ‘Vehicle manufacturers have been badly let down by the government when it comes to electric vehicles.

‘Infrastructure has never been good enough to give consumers confidence to switch in expected volumes and the fact the UK is the only major European market to offer no government incentives speaks volumes – regardless of how committed Mr Sunak may say he is to net-zero.

‘Today’s news therefore doesn’t come as a huge surprise and although confidence of both manufacturers and motorists in any decision this government makes will be damaged, the postponement at least makes sense for most consumers from a financial perspective as the costs associated of switching to electric were proving to be a huge barrier for many who were already grappling with high mortgage rates and rising bills.’

Concerns have also been raised by the Association of Fleet Operators, which said ‘any major change would reflect poorly on how sincerely this administration takes both the needs of business and the environment’.

Paul Hollick, AFP chair, said: ‘We’ll wait to see what the prime minister announces but given that the motor industry and their fleet customers have spent literally billions working towards the 2030 target and take the issue of zero emissions very seriously, any major change would reflect poorly on how sincerely this administration takes both the needs of business and the environment.

‘This is a crucial subject where massive investments have been made and is not just something that should be politicked in the expectation of short-term gain.

‘Really, what we want to see is more help from the government in order to meet the 2030 deadline, especially when it comes to light commercial vehicles.’

Sally Foote, UK Managing Director at carwow, added: ‘Reports that the Prime Minister is set to delay the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by five years are concerning.

‘What manufacturers and motorists need, above all else, is clarity and support to make more sustainable choices.

 ‘Many manufacturers have channelled significant investment into transitioning to electric vehicles to meet the government’s 2030 target.

‘At the same time, consumers are making decisions with green policies in mind. Two in five (38 per cent) motorists tell us they are now considering an EV as their next car, and SMMT data shows that battery electric cars accounted for 20 per cent of new car registrations in August.

As a result, we’re seeing evidence of increased demand reflected in the levels of dealer interest in plug-in stock coming through our auctions. EVs are now receiving more dealer offers per listing than average ICE listings.

‘These are positive steps to transition to greener vehicles, and pushing the date back risks sending the message that this transition is now less important.

‘It also confuses the policy landscape at a time when motorists are navigating new and expanded clean air zones across the country. Our recent research found that 25 per cent of drivers are considering an EV specifically due to Ulez.’

‘A moment of shame’

There has also been stinging criticism from within the Tory Party with some MPs said to be considering writing letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister if he goes ahead with the changes, the PA news agency understands.

Tory former Cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke tweeted that ‘it is in our environmental, economic, moral and (yes) political interests as @Conservatives to make sure we lead on this issue rather than disown it’.

Chris Skidmore, a Conservative former energy minister who has become increasingly outspoken on net zero, added: ‘If this is true, the decision will cost the UK jobs, inward investment, and future economic growth that could have been ours by committing to the industries of the future.

‘It will potentially destabilise thousands of jobs and see investment go elsewhere. And ultimately the people who will pay the price for this will be householders whose bills will remain higher as a result of inefficient fossil fuels and being dependent on volatile international fossil fuel prices.

‘Rishi Sunak still has time to think again and not make the greatest mistake of his premiership, condemning the UK to missing out on what can be the opportunity of the decade to deliver growth, jobs and future prosperity.’

Tory peer Zac Goldsmith, who quit as environment minister in June with a scathing attack on Mr Sunak’s environmental ‘apathy’, accused the Prime Minister of ‘dismantling’ the UK’s credibility on climate issues.

He said: ‘His short stint as PM will be remembered as the moment the UK turned its back on the world and on future generations. A moment of shame.’

Jack Williams's avatar

Jack joined the Car Dealer team in 2021 as a staff writer. He previously worked as a national newspaper journalist for BNPS Press Agency. He has provided news and motoring stories for a number of national publications including The Sun, The Times and The Daily Mirror.

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