Ministers from a cross-party group—the Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) committee—have called on the government to bring the contentious ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars forward to 2032; eight years earlier than planned.

The news comes after the government announced they were making cuts to the Plug-In Car Grant scheme and, as of next month, will no longer offer incentives to buyers of hybrid vehicles.

Targeted pressure

The government has received pressure from various quarters, urging them to bring forward the 2040 target, while other European countries, such as Denmark, Germany, and Ireland have a much more ambitious plan to outlaw the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030, a decade before the UK.

Although the Government’s Road to Zero strategy includes the aim that by 2030, 50 to 70% of new car sales and up to 40% of new vans will be ultra-low emission, UK transport emissions have only reduced 2% since 1990, and an increasing number of advisers from climate, energy and industry sectors say the 2040 target date is too late.

The BEIS report says it wants to see hybrids included in the phase-out of petrol and diesel vehicles, but after anger from both the automobile industry and motoring organisations, MPs backtracked from more extreme plans to prevent the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040 by allowing the lowest emission hybrids.

Further recommendations in the committee’s report were for the government to organise the required infrastructure for charging EVs, to make sure that buyers of electric vehicles enjoy preferential Vehicle Excise Duty rates (‘road tax’) and preferential rates on EV company car tax—The report also calls for the government to keep Plug-in Car Grants for new electric vehicles at their current levels.

‘Unambitious and vague’

BEIS Chair Rachel Reeves, who said the government must make 2032 the target for the sales of cars and vans to be zero-emission, said:

“The UK Government’s targets on zero-emissions vehicles are unambitious and vague, giving little clarity or incentive to industry or the consumer to invest in electric cars. “

Ms Reeves said the Department for Transport’s cutbacks of the Plug-in Grant Car scheme “drives the incentives of buying an electric vehicle into reverse,” and is a “perverse way to encourage drivers to move to non-polluting cars.”

“This is only the latest sign of the government’s inconsistent approach to developing the market for electric vehicles,” she added.

Despite the UK ranking as the fifth best European country in which to own an electric vehicle, with around 14,500 public charging points for EVs, the committee said the UK was far from ready for electric vehicles.

Reeves said the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “was clear on the need to encourage changes in consumer behaviour, including increasing the switch to electric vehicles, to help decarbonise our economy. “

She added that the government needs to “get a grip” and organise the financial support and technical skills needed for councils to develop the necessary charging infrastructure and help make sure that electric cars are an attractive choice for consumers.

Mike Hawes, Chief Executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), who feels the current 2040 target is challenging enough for the motoring industry said a 2032 target would be “nigh-on impossible”.

Mr Hawes said because zero-emission vehicles make up only 0.6% of the market, the demand for such vehicles needs to increase by 17,000% in just over a decade.

The SMMT spokesman said, “This is unrealistic and rejects the evidence put forward by SMMT on behalf of the industry,” and added that car manufacturers are investing billions into zero-emission technologies but they recognise that “consumers need greater confidence and support if they are to buy these vehicles in the numbers we all want.”

Best country to own an EV

The government say they intend to make the UK ‘the best place in the world’ to own an electric vehicle and, although the car industry expects a rapid growth in sales over the next few years, with so many unknown circumstances ahead—such as whether manufacturers can make enough batteries to support the rapid growth of electric vehicles—you have to wonder if they can make this a reality.

Electric vehicles (EVs) make up 0.6% of the cars sold in the UK, and plug-in hybrids only 1.6%. Overall, they’re a tiny part of the 31.5 million registered cars on the UK’s roads. Although purchases of electric vehicles have increased, UK car manufacturers sold only 119,821 alternatively fuelled vehicles in the UK in 2017, but that number includes hybrid vehicles, too. Only 13,597 of the vehicles sold were zero-emission battery power cars, compared to the 1.3m petrol and over 1m diesel cars.

Buying an electric car is still much more expensive than petrol or diesel vehicles, so, motorists need to see the government offering practical and financial incentives before they can consider switching to EVs.

Many drivers, despite supporting the push to reduce carbon emissions, just can’t afford to buy a low or zero-emission car or find the lack of charging facilities—more so those in rural areas—daunting, and with the recent cuts to the Plug-In Grant scheme, the average driver is in a difficult position.

The upcoming Budget is an excellent chance for the government to discuss these issues and we can but hope they’ve been listening.

What’s your view on the proposed, new target? Are you for or against a 2032 target? Do you think the UK is ready for the changes the ban on petrol and diesel cars will bring? Share your opinion in the comments.

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