Deadline 2035? Navigating the A to B of Electric Vehicles

This month, when launching the COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow the Prime Minster, sitting next to Sir David Attenborough, announced that the ban on the sale of new diesel and petrol cars would be brought forward by 5 years to 2035. EVs (Electric Vehicles) were headline news.

The headlines were partly due to the less than enthusiastic response from the industry. Mike Hawes, Chief Executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) was widely reported as saying the move was a “date without a plan” and “that accelerating an already very challenging ambition will take more than industry investment”.

The level of government investment to support the transformation to an EV dominated road transportation system is arguably modest: in January this year the Department for Transport announced that as part of government support for the “electric vehicle revolution”, Local Authority funding to support the installation of more EV charge points on residential streets in 2020/2021 will be doubled to £10 million. This extra £5 million of funding is expected to provide 3,600 new charging points.

Yet at the same time, and in stark contrast, it is widely reported that the government is preparing to withdraw its plug-in car grant in March. This has supported electric car sales growth and provided customers with as much as £3,500 to purchase low-emission vehicles.

The suggestion that there is no plan was further bolstered yesterday when Grant Chaps, the transport minister, suggested that the sales ban on petrol and diesel vehicles could be brought forward to 2032. And it is highly likely that this date is brought forward again, in line with the growing consensus that the country needs to be net carbon neutral by 2030.

So where are we exactly with the so called electric vehicle revolution?

The number of licensed EVs on the road is currently very low – around 0.6% of all car and light goods vehicles in the UK.

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When we look at where these cars are registered in the country, they appear at first glance to be concentrated in more affluent regions. Unsurprising perhaps when we consider that EVs command an extra premium – but is that the full story? The perceived lack of charging points and range anxiety is considered a major reason why EVs haven’t taken off. And even if we had all the correct number of charging points – are they going to be in the right places? There certainly doesn’t appear to be a plan for how this can be achieved.

At Geofutures, while we think there is a broad national vision of what a carbon neutral road transport system looks like, this is not the case at the level of our cities, towns or the streets where we live. Furthermore, road transportation to EVs within 10, 12 or 15 years is an immense challenge that will require many different groups to come together since no single group – government, industry or consumers have the all answers to this multi dimension problem.

In the coming weeks, we will be exploring at Geofutures how we might get from A to B. First looking at what the current road transport system looks like, and to examine some of the key drivers for the change to EVs, including climate change and air pollution. We will then look at different scenarios for 2030 – where we’re trying to get to and make some suggestions about how we might navigate our way there – taking the quickest, most economic and most ecological routes.

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