The government is due to announce shortly that new petrol and diesel cars and vans will be banned from 2040. The measure is part of plans to tackle the UK’s air pollution problems. It mirrors the approach being taken by France and other parts of Europe. While tackling air pollution is laudable, the move looks set to throw the UK’s petrol industry into chaos.

The price of clean air

Clean air is obviously a good thing. However, achieving it could have costly economic implications at a time when the UK economy needs careful handling. Car manufacturers can easily adapt to producing electric and hybrid cars. Many already plan to do so, with BMW being the latest to announce its plans for fully electric vehicles (in this case Minis). Little has been said though, of what will happen to the petrol retail industry when the number of electric vehicles on the UK’s roads rises steeply.

Just under 45 billion litres of road fuel is sold in the UK every year. That works out at around 77 million litres of diesel and 45 million litres of petrol per day. 2.69 million cars were registered in the UK in 2016, the vast majority of which were petrol and diesel models. The sudden disappearance of more than 2.5 million customers per year, when all those buying new cars purchase electric models, could very quickly destroy the petrol industry as we know it. If the government has considered this angle, it’s certainly keeping quiet about it thus far.

What about other vehicle types?

The government has also been conspicuously quiet when it comes to plans for other classes of vehicles. Lorries and buses contribute plenty of nitrogen dioxide to our air, yet the government seems to be pushing the responsibility to tackle those out to local authorities.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has stated, “What we’re saying to local authorities is come up with an imaginative solution to these proposals.” This puts the ball firmly in the court of local councils when it comes to tackling pollution from public transport. The government will dish out some £200m in funding to those local authorities, which will need to focus on tackling the worst polluted roads through measures such as making buses less polluting, changing road layouts and re-shaping traffic flows.

While it’s good to see the government finally on the brink of announcing its plans to tackle air pollution, PetrolPrices can’t help but think that it is missing a trick by ignoring recently announced technological advances relating to the cleanliness of diesel.

Could it be that the emissions testing scandal vilified diesel to such an extent that the government is unwilling to shout about developments such as Continental’s Super Clean Electrified Diesel technology, which reduces real world emissions by some 60%? Surely it would be more sensible to make it compulsory to retrofit super diesel technology into all diesel cars by 2025, for example. Such a plan could provide a serious head-start on tackling air pollution, with other measures still able to follow in due course.

What’s missing from the government’s plans?

Glaringly absent from the government’s plans is the much-anticipated diesel scrappage scheme. Ministers are believed to be due to consider such a scheme in the autumn, but any firm commitment to do so has been lacking. The possibility of local council diesel scrappage schemes has also been mentioned – a clear sign that the government wants to distance itself from paying any kind of compensation to diesel drivers who feel let down by the U-turn in approach to their vehicles.

Also in doubt are plans for ‘clean air zones’ within cities. When pressed on the issue of charging drivers of high polluting vehicles, Michael Gove commented,

“I don’t believe that it is necessary to bring in charging, but we will work with local authorities in order to determine what the best approach is.”

Again, it seems that central government is keen to sidestep the issue and push it out to local councils to deal with. Could it be that, even with the pressure to produce detailed plans to tackle air pollution by the 31 July deadline, and the announcement of plans to ban new diesel and petrol cars by 2040, the government is still unwilling to tackle the issue head on?

Do you think of the government’s plan to ban petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040 is the right move? Or should there be more of an effort to embrace newer, cleaner technologies to reduce emissions instead? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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