In an ambitious bid by Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, the UK is set to introduce a ban on the sale of new fossil fuel vehicles by 2030. The move attempts to ramp up the country’s commitment to going carbon neutral by 2050 and brings forward a long-standing plan to withdraw new petrol cars from dealerships by 10 years.
While it’s worth crediting any plans to tackle climate change with affirmative action, the announcement has been met by widespread concern that the UK government is setting itself up for failure in introducing such a radically short timeframe.
According to stats published by Compare The Market, the national uptake of electric vehicles rose to almost 200,000 in 2019. However, with new vehicle sales in the UK totalling nearly 2.7 million in the same time period, there’s a significant gap for the industry to fill in the space of nine years.
The BBC reported that a widespread shift to electric cars will take a ‘herculean effort,’ citing the concerns of the motoring industry. The RAC noted that efforts will not only need to be made in aiding the adoption of electric vehicles but also the distribution of the UK’s charging network – which would need “exponential” growth.
Unrealistic Time Frames
According to Tom Clarke, Head of Electric Vehicle Strategy at LV, the fossil fuel ban “makes no sense.” Clarke highlights the fact that the sweeping ban on petrol cars would implicitly involve the phasing out of hybrid vehicles, too – despite a pre-existing decision allowing hybrid cars to stay in showrooms until 2035.
Voicing their disappointment at the overly ambitious time frame, Howard Cox, spokesperson for Fair Fuel UK called the ban “a 9-year death sentence on diesel and petrol vehicles.” Cox highlighted how the move will lead to many vehicles “becoming worthless” in a matter of years.
The timeframe of under 10 years is a curious step taken by the government. Although it’s likely to help the nation’s efforts towards its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, it’s a significantly short timeframe that even progressive US states like California have shied away from committing to.
California has adopted a more relaxed 2035 deadline for phasing out the sales of new petrol cars, however mounting speculation suggests that the EU could implement even more strict rules on limiting the use of petrol cars starting by as soon as 2025.
If the UK is intending to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles at the beginning of the next decade, masses of investment will need to be made in building an infrastructure that supports the use of electric vehicles – from delivering more efficient vehicles to creating a wider range of charging stations.
Issues in Affordability
Another significant issue that could make the arrival of electric cars by 2030 seem unrealistic is the affordability of new electric vehicles.
Speaking to the Daily Express, Ian Plummer, director of AutoTrader said: “In order to meet the government’s new ban of petrol and diesel cars by 2030, the sale of EVs must overtake the sale of traditional ICE cars by 2024. But on the current sales trajectory this won’t happen until 2029.”
“It’s clear that electric vehicles need to be the preferred option to the masses and not just to those who are environmentalists, early adopters or the wealthy that can afford their high price tags, but that isn’t the case yet,” Plummer explained.
With more flexible car purchasing options available to markets in the form of car finance, and the prospect of faster depreciating motors making used petrol cars more affordable, there’s little to suggest that the public will be willing to spend more in getting from A to B.
In a recent Quartz article, it was revealed that 64% of surveyed respondents expressed concern about the price of electric vehicles. However, their scepticism was compounded by fears over various battery shortcomings.
Will The Ban Help to Achieve Climate Targets
Here, it’s worth noting that electric vehicles don’t actually eliminate carbon emissions, and that high volumes of plastics, rubbers and metals used to build electric cars will be made using fossil fuels like oil and natural gas. Lithium mining procedures are also needed to create the batteries to power electric vehicles.
It’s also worth remembering that electric cars need to store power that’s generated elsewhere, which may also hinder the UK’s carbon neutrality commitments.
While it’s certainly important for the UK to underline its commitments towards reducing its national carbon footprint, there needs to be a suitable infrastructure ready and waiting to take over on January 1st 2030.
Although the government has set aside billions of pounds to help implement the adoption of electric vehicles, it’s worth noting that the UK is set to spend the coming years counting the financial costs of its recovery from the Covid pandemic and its exit from the European Union – both of which are likely to involve hefty financial disruption.
Banning the sales of fossil fuel vehicles is certainly a necessary step to take, but by giving drivers and the motoring industry nine year’s notice, the government’s big idea may be facing a delayed arrival.