Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in the UK, appeared before the press this week to insist the government’s 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel car sales was an “immoveable” deadline.
The clarification comes after a week of vagueness on the issue after a number of Tory figures publically urged a rethink of Tory net-zero policies. Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, for example, has been calling for climate pledges to be put on hold.
Earlier in the week, PM Rishi Sunak said he wanted to make progress on reducing emissions in a “proportional and pragmatic way” but stopped short of explicitly backing the deadline for phasing out internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.
Ambiguity over the 2030 deadline comes after an unexpected win for the Tories in a London by-election credited to a successful Conservative campaign that opposed an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) car tax charge.
Government flip-flopping in the interim prompted concern by a number of players in the auto services and auto finance sectors.
Philip Nothard, Insight Director of auto technology provider Cox Automotive, said: “I imagine there will be considerable anger from many OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] at the prospect of any change, especially if it’s coming from the cynical perspective of attracting votes.
“The 2030 deadline was always ambitious and its misalignment with the rest of Europe an irritant, but OEMs, their global supply chains, and an entire emerging sector of infrastructure partners have committed all they have to this timetable. Many will believe a U-turn is now simply unimaginable.
“Incentives from the UK Government are crucial to encourage and support consumer transition to BEVs [battery electric vehicles] and accelerate the shift towards sustainable transportation. Any deviation at this stage must be down to pragmatism and what’s best for the transition to ‘zero tailpipe’, the automotive sector and the car buying public, not simply as a tactic to curry favour with voters.”
Melanie Shufflebotham, COO of EV charge point intelligence provider Zapmap, said: “The country’s future climate commitments should not be a political football, especially when the signs of global heating are so visible today.
“Road transport accounts for around 20% of all our emissions, and electric vehicles are a proven technology solution.
“The 2030 ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars has given businesses the confidence to invest — an entire industry is working towards meeting this deadline and it is well within reach.
“In spite of the recent surge in misinformation, the facts are that charging infrastructure is rolling out at pace, electric sales are strong despite a challenging economy, and existing EV drivers are happier with their vehicles than those still driving petrol.
“The government must be like a handbrake-less electric car, and not roll back.”
Peter Golding, managing director of fleet software provider FleetCheck, said: “It seems pretty clear that the government believes there might be some electoral gain in appearing to backtrack on green policies but they have to realise that playing games with policy in this way has direct consequences for businesses.
“Since the introduction of the 2030 EV deadline and measures such as low benefit-in-kind taxation for electric company cars, fleets have invested massive amounts in electrification. They have done this on the basis of the government’s seemingly cast-iron commitment to an electric future.
“The way in which doubt has now been cast on that future is damaging for fleets with a wide range of potentially negative effects. It could mean, for example, company boards up and down the country asking their fleet managers whether electrification is still the way to go and could send shudders through residual values for EVs, which are at least partially predicated on electric power becoming the market norm quite quickly.”
Golding said that government ambivalence could be especially damaging for the adoption of electric vans in the short and medium term.
“The truth is that many businesses already have huge doubts about the practicalities of electric vans and won’t need much of an excuse to kick the electrification can down the road. Introducing any element of doubt into government policy is almost certainly going to slow electric van adoption. It’s that simple.”
The government’s comments would be especially poorly received by motor manufacturers, who have invested billions in electrification, he added.
“Imagine if you are Tata, who last week announced a multi-billion pound investment in future UK EV manufacturing through Jaguar Land Rover, hearing days later that the same UK government that convinced you to build here was now backtracking on electrification. How would you feel?
“To some extent, the government has reiterated their support for 2030 following the prime minister’s initial comments, but we now need the strongest possible signals that the EV deadline remains in place and that this administration is committed to it. It should be stated unambiguously that there will be no backtracking and no loopholes introduced.
“They need to repair the damage that has been caused by their carelessness and work to restore the solid foundations on which fleets and other parties in the motor industry have been building an electric future.”