PRICES of electric vehicles need to tumble and far more needs to be done to bring the charging infrastructure up to scratch.
They were the overriding reactions across the industry to today’s government announcement that the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles was being brought forward to 2035 and would now include hybrids.
The plans were outlined as the prime minister, together with broadcaster and natural historian Sir David Attenborough, launched the next COP26 UN Climate Summit, taking place in Glasgow in November.
As part of the UK’s moves to meet its legal goal to reach net zero by 2050, the government will consult on bringing forward a planned ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2040 to 2035 – and 2030 if feasible. The ban will also include hybrid vehicles for the first time.
However, motoring journalist and FairFuelUK campaigner Quentin Willson said: ‘Cleaning our air is an absolute priority but it won’t happen through aimless virtue-signalling by politicians.
‘The UK is woefully underprepared for vehicle electrification, is broadly ignoring marine, aviation, industrial and domestic combustion, and needs to really incentivise consumers and industry to change their behaviour. The UK needs a consistent and well-crafted national air quality strategy that’s supported by world-class scientific research.’
Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers’ Association (PRA), said: ‘The government’s plan to bring forward the ban of petrol, diesel, and hybrid vehicles is ambitious but does not have a basis on which to achieve it.’
The association called for ‘significant investment’ in a charging infrastructure on forecourts, and said the policy change was largely uncosted and over-reliant on driveway charging points that many drivers cannot access.
‘Until the issue of credible charging infrastructure is addressed, this will impede the mass take-up of electric vehicles,’ warned Madderson.
Steve Nash, chief executive of the Institute of the Motor Industry, welcomed the earlier deadline but said ‘urgent investment’ was needed in EV skills training to support the goal.
‘Currently, just five per cent of the sector is appropriately qualified to work on electric vehicles, so in the next 15 years the race will be on to get the rest of the workforce up to speed.’
‘Those who aren’t properly trained or equipped to work on electrified vehicles would be risking serious injury or potentially fatal shock. It will be interesting to see, therefore, if there is any focus on additional funding for technician training in the spring budget next month.’
RAC head of policy Nicholas Lyes said: ‘Manufacturers face a great challenge in switching their production from conventional powertrains to cleaner electric technology. More electric vehicles will also require a great deal of investment in charging infrastructure – particularly for those who rely on on-street parking outside their homes.’
Noting that electric vehicles will carry high prices for some time to come, he highlighted the important role that plug-in hybrids played for people in bridging the gap to going totally electric and called on the government to extend the plug-in car grant for three years at least to help motorists who want to go electric but are put off by the high initial costs.
Ian Plummer, commercial director at Auto Trader, said: ‘The target is a stretch given where we are today – pure-electric vehicles only accounted for 1.6 per cent of new car sales last year, and even fewer of used. That said, consumers do feel ready for the change; appetite and interest is high as environmental concerns play a more influential role in people’s purchasing decisions, but price is still holding many back. EVs remain almost double the price of their internal combustion engine counterparts, so government grants and incentives are essential to drive meaningful uptake of EVs.’
Alex Buttle, director of car-selling comparison website Motorway.co.uk, said: ‘The government already had its work cut out to meet its 2040 deadline, and endless confusion over Brexit and the car industry’s future haven’t helped its cause. By cutting that deadline by five years, it has brought even more pressure on itself. Now is clearly the time for action rather than words.
‘If the government is to stand a chance of meeting such an ambitious target, the challenge remains the same as before: they must improve the UK’s EV infrastructure and encourage early switching to electric cars.
‘There is clearly resistance from car owners to switch until they are confident there’s a charging infrastructure in place that will be able to cope with demand.’
Meanwhile, SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes called on the government to demonstrate how it would fulfil its ambitions sustainably and in a way that didn’t undermine sales of low-emission technologies, including popular hybrids, all of which he said were ‘essential to deliver air quality and climate change goals now’.
He commented: ‘It’s extremely concerning that the government has seemingly moved the goalposts for consumers and industry on such a critical issue. Manufacturers are fully invested in a zero-emissions future, with some 60 plug-in models now on the market and 34 more coming in 2020.
‘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 60 days’ time, while the UK’s charging network is still woefully inadequate.’
Main picture: Boris Johnson and Sir David Attenborough at the Science Museum at today’s launch of the key climate talks. Picture: Chris J Ratcliffe/PA Wire/PA Images