Car industry leaders think the government’s plan to ban the sale of combustion-engined cars by 2030 is becoming increasingly unlikely to happen on time.
As the deadline to switch all new car sales to electric by 2030 rapidly approaches – with the exception of hybrids, which get a stay of execution until 2035 – car dealer bosses have voiced concerns the targets are not achievable.
Speaking out on Twitter, Vertu Motors CEO Robert Forrester said he had now come to that very real conclusion.
‘The ban on ICE vehicles in the UK in 2030 will have to move back five or 10 years,’ he wrote.
‘It is a question of when, not if.’
Forrester’s bold statement came a few days after car dealer and manufacturer leaders voiced similar fears at the Car Dealer Live conference.
The audience of motoring industry professionals was asked directly if it thought the 2030 target was achievable, and some 66 per cent of those who voted didn’t think it was.
Speakers on stage lined up to have their say on the 2030 goal.
Paul Hendy, boss of south coast near-£1bn turnover group Hendy, said the ban was a ‘train hurtling towards us down the tracks’ and one that would take some force to stop.
‘The problem is, it won’t be this government that sees it over the line in 2030,’ he told the audience.
‘Quite frankly, the infrastructure won’t be there. It might be in some cities, but I can’t see it. But who is going to be brave enough to stop it?’
He wasn’t the only one with grave concerns about the ban that’s now just seven short years away.
Snows Motor Group COO Neil McCue told the conference he simply ‘can’t see’ the government sticking to its 2030 timescale.
He said: ‘The city where I live, I look at flats and terraced houses – how are people going to charge? Some businesses have chargers, but there’s not enough. I don’t see how it is going to work.
‘We are investing millions in infrastructure in our sites and I just don’t see how it is going to work. We’re a mile away from the government’s target.’
You can watch what the panellists at Car Dealer Live said on stage at the event, held at the British Motor Museum, in the clip above. To watch the full day’s sessions, you can purchase a replay ticket here.
The government recently announced it will invest £56m in a new wave of public chargers. That will fund around 2,400 points – the problem is, this is a mere drop in the ocean of what’s needed.
Experts say the UK will need at least 300,000 public chargers to help cope with demand come 2030 – but as of the end of January 2023 there were just 37,851 points across just over 22,000 sites.
While that number has increased 31 per cent in a year, the pace is nowhere near fast enough to match the government’s ambitious targets.
The EV industry points out that most people charge at home, but consumers have images of queues at charging stations printed in national newspapers at Christmas etched firmly in their minds.
In this week’s Budget, no mention was given to the support for charging points.
The SMMT’s Mike Hawes has told the government it ‘must deliver more solutions to increase the affordability and ease of charging for all’.
But asked directly whether the trade body thought the ban would be delayed, a spokesperson told Car Dealer it wouldn’t comment on ‘speculation’.
The SMMT, though, knows as well as any other that if the path is going to be changed, the motoring industry needs to know now.
Waylands Automotive CEO John O’Hanlon told the Car Dealer Live audience: ‘I was lucky enough to have dinner at the House of Lords with a few key players and they were absolutely unequivocal that 2030 [the EV target] is arriving.
‘By the end of the evening, maybe they’d had a bit more wine, they said they would shoot for the stars and might clear the roof, but I was trying to get the message across. The manufacturers are making plans and it’s getting harder for them to change them.’
Jonathan Goodman, boss of electric car brand Polestar, thinks the government isn’t actually making the effort to meet its own target.
‘No, I don’t think they’re doing enough,’ he told the audience at Car Dealer Live.
‘If you look, 2030 for a manufacturer is tomorrow. There’s a seven-year development cycle for a car.’
Goodman identified the slow roll-out of charging points as the biggest roadblock to the 2030 ambitions.
‘They are rolling out charging points at a fast rate, but it needs to be faster,’ he added.
Suzuki GB director Dale Wyatt thinks politicians, from whichever party is in power at the time, will delay the ban.
He said: ‘My view is that we’ll have a change in government, probably before 2030, and events will determine how serious people are about the 2030 timeline.
‘I think it’s a trajectory. We’re heading towards it, but I think it’ll be pushed back a couple of years.’
Chinese electric vehicle brand MG has cornered a large part of the electric vehicle market and is busy rolling out new MG4 EVs from its 155 dealerships across the country.
Commercial director Guy Pigounakis told Car Dealer Live attendees he thought that the path to 2030 was fixed – for now.
‘Whether we need 300,000 or two million charging points, the government is well behind facilitating the installation of either of those numbers by 2030, and that will be the breaker,’ he said.
Even Goodwood Festival of Speed organiser the Duke of Richmond thinks the 2030 target could be ‘difficult to achieve’.
In an interview with the PA media agency, he said: ‘Can we deliver enough clean energy to fire up all these cars by that time?
‘And can we begin to deliver the infrastructure needed to keep them all powered up? That looks difficult to me.’
The duke said he was concerned that the charging infrastructure in the UK wouldn’t be ready to meet the 2030 target, and he was concerned that the government wasn’t doing enough to support the car industry.
‘It’s definitely not getting the support,’ he said. ‘It’s such an important industry.’
Crazy to change now
Tom Barnard, editor of EV website Electrifying.com, told Car Dealer that he thinks it may already be too late to change the date of the ban – and doing so would be ‘crazy’.
‘Car makers have a long history of trying to fight against legislation that will cost them money, even if it’s for the greater good,’ he told Car Dealer.
‘Think of CFCs in air conditioning, lead in petrol, catalysts and asbestos brakes. Change is difficult, but they adapt and move on, and it would seem crazy to go back.’
Barnard said it would be ‘unfair for the heel-draggers’ to push the deadline back, but that he thought hybrids could be the saving grace for the industry.
‘There is one big loophole which could fudge the issue and provide a compromise, though. The deadline for PHEVs is 2035 – more than 11 years away.
‘Anyone who still wants or needs an internal combustion engine – and manufacturers who want more time to sell them – will have another five years after the ban to get their house in order so long as they have a plug and a battery bolted on somewhere.’
What Car? editorial director Jim Holder added: ‘I don’t believe 2030 will be delayed. While it was decided on a political whim, it’s now had cross-party support for years, and other blocs and nations have followed suit.
‘There’s too much political equity in the green agenda for any major party to be seen as standing against it.’
Interest in new EVs is certainly still growing rapidly. EV sales accounted for 18.2 per cent of the new car market in February.
The SMMT expects this to grow further still. In an update on February registrations, it said 488,000 plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles were expected to join Britain’s roads in 2023.
This is helped by the huge increase in choice – manufacturers are set to launch more than 40 new plug-in electric models to the market in 2023.
‘This will inevitably increase demand for charging infrastructure, and while the new £56m funding [for new charge points] is welcome, there remains a clear requirement for binding targets that ensure chargepoint rollout keeps pace,’ added the SMMT.
Meanwhile, in the used market, electric vehicle values are plummeting.
Since Tesla’s price drop in January, used electric car prices are in a tailspin, losing 7.7 per cent in February compared with the month before.
Depending on whom you speak to, this could be down to concerns over charging issues and rising energy prices, or simply the fact that more EVs are arriving in the used marketplace.
Cap HPI told Car Dealer that Tesla Model 3 values fell by four per cent (£1,325) in February after dropping by more than 10 per cent in January. This equates to more than £5,000 over the past two months and almost £12,000 over the past four.
Director of valuations Derren Martin said this had even led to dealers liquidating EV stock and many are refusing to buy any more.
CarShop CEO Nigel Hurley told the Car Dealer Live delegates that his huge car supermarket group won’t buy any EVs now unless they’re ‘very cheap’.
He said his business would instead be sitting and waiting to see how the price drops pan out.
In Europe, the kickback from the industry towards a 2035 ban in Europe led to the German and Italian governments raising a stink. A key vote on the proposals was delayed at the last minute earlier this month.
Fierce opposition came from the Italian government, which said it would ‘firmly oppose’ the law unless the European Commission ‘revises its position and proposes environmentally sustainable alternatives’.
Meanwhile, the European Council for Motor Trades and Repairs (Cecra) thinks the ‘debate on the end date for combustion engines is not closed’.
Few could argue the car industry hasn’t thrown its all into achieving the target.
New electric car launches seemingly happen every month, while the waves of Chinese brands heading to the UK with their battery-powered vehicles will increase choice hugely.
But industry experts are clear: Unless the charging infrastructure keeps pace with sales, the government’s hand on the 2030 ban may very well be forced.
A Department for Transport spokesperson told Car Dealer: ‘We remain committed to phasing out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, with all new cars and vans being zero-emission at the tailpipe by 2035.’