UK petrol and diesel car ban could move to 2035

Transport Secretary “thoroughly exploring” bringing ban on sale of all new conventionally powered petrol and diesel cars forward to 2035

The Government is considering bringing the 2040 ban on the sale of all new conventionally powered petrol and diesel cars forward to 2035.

Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference, Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps said he would like to see the Government examine at the 2040 target and “thoroughly exploring” whether there’s a case for bringing it forwards.

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Shapps acknowledged the Committee on Climate Change’s view that the ban should be brought forward to 2035 at the very latest and pledged to test the arguments in favour of it, working with industry to examine how to proceed.

He concluded: “Just as we rejuvenated the automotive sector in the 1980s, we’re going to work with our pioneering car sector to help them sell the next generation of electric cars around the world, providing high-skilled jobs, utilising British know-how and ending that dependence on fossil fuels once and for all.”

Commenting on the news, chief executive of the SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) Mike Hawes said: “Industry is committed to zero emission transport for all, investing heavily in the technologies to get us there.

“This is about market transformation, however, and despite growing choice, low and zero emission vehicles still only make up a fraction of the market underscoring the huge challenge of fast-tracking a shift to zero emission transport.

“Ambition must be matched by measures that support industry allowing manufacturers time to invest, innovate and sell competitively. This includes long-term government commitment to incentives and investment in infrastructure to accelerate the uptake of these new technologies.” 

Petrol and diesel car ban: background

This isn’t the first time that calls have been made for a faster phasing out of petrol and diesel cars in the UK. Current Government policy – set out in the Road to Zero strategy – says “conventional” petrol and diesel cars should be banned by 2040, and only cars that are “effectively” zero emissions should be sold by that date – leaving the door open for new plug-in hybrids to be sold past 2040.

But the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee – a cross-party group of MPs from the Labour, Conservative, and Scottish National parties – recommended not only that the 2040 date should be brought forward to 2032, but that new plug-in hybrids should also be banned from sale. Experts say this would require consumer demand for zero-emission vehicles to increase by 17,000% in a little over a decade.

The BEIS report published in 2018 claimed, however, that “zero should mean zero”, and urges the Government to set a “precise target for sales of new cars and vans to be truly zero emission by 2032.” This would leave only ‘pure’ electric cars (EVs) like the Nissan Leaf and any future hydrogen cars, like the Hyundai Nexo, on sale in new car showrooms.

In a scathing attack on central policy, the BEIS committee says the Government’s “lack of clarity on the meaning of the 2040 targets is unacceptable.” The MPs recommend “Government either acknowledge that petrol and diesel will ultimately need to be fully phased out from cars and vans, or admit that it is not seeking a zero emissions fleet. It cannot have both.”

Plug-in car grant cuts under fire

Another area that came under fire in the BEIS report was the decision by the Department for Transport (DfT) and Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) to cut grants for electric vehicles by 25 per cent. The BEIS report’s authors say this decision “has been made too soon and too suddenly”, and “risks undermining the UK’s burgeoning EV market”. EV sales made up just 1.7 per cent of all new car registrations last year, though UK residents are the fourth biggest buyers of electric cars (by market share) worldwide.

The UK’s charging infrastructure also came in for criticism. BEIS said “poor provision of charging infrastructure is one of the greatest barriers to growth of the UK EV market”, and warns “public charge points will be required in residential areas for the 40–50% of homes in the UK that do not have off-street parking”. The authors highlight there is just one public charger per 98,800 residents in Wales, compared to the North East, where the ratio is one charger per 3,931.

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The BEIS report acknowledged certain policy areas of which it approves, such as the Faraday battery technology challenge, but is also calls Road to Zero “vague and insufficiently ambitious”. The authors cite evidence that claims air pollution causes 40,000 early deaths and costs the UK economy over £20 billion each year.

BEIS says another barrier to electric vehicle ownership is the fact that only 1,600 mechanics are qualified to work on EVs and hybrids, with most of these employed by main dealers.

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