Britain’s Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has announced a shift in the timeline for banning new gasoline and diesel vehicles, moving the target from 2030 to 2035. Sunak framed this adjustment as a new approach to addressing climate change.
During a press conference held at Downing Street, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed his reasoning behind this change is rooted in his belief that the majority of vehicles sold in the UK will be electric by 2030 due to the declining costs of electric vehicles (EVs). Further suggesting that this transition should be driven by consumer choice rather than government mandate. This delay aligns the UK with the European Union’s plan to mandate zero-emission vehicles for new car sales after 2035, effectively prohibiting the sale of new petrol and diesel models in the EU, which the UK departed from in 2020. The 2030 ban was initially proposed by Boris Johnson’s Conservative government with the goal of positioning the UK as the first major economy to achieve decarbonisation in road transport, surpassing countries like Germany, France, and Spain in this endeavor. In reaction to this target, automakers committed significant investments to transition their fleets toward decarbonisation.
“To give us more time to prepare, I’m announcing today that we’re going to ease the transition to electric vehicles. You’ll still be able to buy petrol and diesel cars and vans until 2035”. Sunak said in a keynote speech on September 22, 2023. “Even after that, you’ll still be able to buy and sell them secondhand.” Sunak suggested one reason to make such a change is to align “our approach with countries like Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Australia, Canada, Sweden, and US states such as California, New York and Massachusetts and still ahead of the rest of America and other countries like New Zealand”.
While the move allows businesses more time to transition to electric vehicles, it has sparked various reactions and this decision has not been without controversy. Automakers, many of whom had already made significant investments in alignment with the previous 2030 target, have criticised Sunak’s move to postpone it to 2035. There are concerns within the industry that altering these regulations could potentially impede the adoption of electric vehicles. For instance, Kia, which had plans to launch nine electric models in the UK in the coming years, expressed disappointment at the policy shift.
Ford, on the other hand, had announced a global $50 billion commitment to electrification, including £430 million invested in its UK development and manufacturing facilities, with additional funding earmarked for the 2030 timeframe. Ford’s U.K. head, Lisa Brankin, said “this is the biggest industry transformation in over a century and the UK 2030 target is a vital catalyst to accelerate Ford into a cleaner future.” A Volkswagen U.K. spokesperson said: “We urgently need a clear and reliable regulatory framework that creates market certainty and consumer confidence, including binding targets for infrastructure rollout and incentives to ensure the direction of travel.”
Simon Williams, the head of policy at RAC, expressed disappointment over the news and raised concerns that delaying the ban from 2030 to 2035 could potentially decelerate the progress made by the automotive industry in transitioning to electric powertrains. Furthermore, he emphasized that it might also impede the adoption of electric vehicles. Williams also urged the government to reinstate the plug-in car grant, which was discontinued in June 2022. “As cost remains one the biggest barriers to going electric, there’s surely no reason why the Government can’t help many more drivers into EVs” with grants such as the plug-in car grant.
Sunak’s decision to delay the ban might be seen as a strategic move in light of an upcoming national election. By scaling back some green policies, he appears to be aiming to win over voters who are grappling with high inflation and stagnant economic growth. He argued that previous governments had rushed into setting net-zero targets without securing sufficient public support. Recently, BMW made around a £600 million investment into Mini production facilities in Oxford and Swindon, paving the way for full-scale electric vehicle manufacturing by 2030. This significant investment, backed by the UK Government, not only was going to safeguard jobs but also aims to boost production to approximately 200,000 vehicles annually in the near future. Initially, both internal combustion engine (ICE) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) will share the production line. However, the plan was that by 2030, the Oxford Plant would exclusively manufacture all-electric Mini models. The considerable investments made by automakers and related industries to align with previous policies are now facing uncertainty. Job security within the sector, as well as the demand for electric vehicles (EVs), could be adversely affected.The automotive industry had been steadily gaining momentum in transitioning to EVs to meet the 2030 deadline. The delay to 2035 introduces an element of uncertainty and might cause automakers to reconsider their strategies and investments. This could impact jobs within the industry, potentially leading to workforce challenges. Moreover, the delay might affect consumer confidence and willingness to adopt EVs. The initial target of 2030 had set a clear direction for the industry and consumers alike. The extended timeline might reduce the sense of urgency for consumers to make the switch to electric vehicles.
The extension also raises concerns about the impact on the environment. This decision to postpone the ban on new petrol and diesel cars may have broader consequences for the environment and the UK’s efforts to combat climate change. One of the primary concerns is the potential setback in the reduction of carbon emissions from the transportation sector. The UK has committed to ambitious carbon reduction targets, and the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) was a crucial component of this strategy. Delaying this transition threatens to undermine the progress made in curbing emissions, as traditional combustion engine vehicles continue to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions for a further 5 years. This not only hampers the UK’s ability to meet its carbon reduction goals but also impacts air quality and public health, particularly in urban areas.
In conclusion, while the extension to 2035 offers some benefits including flexibility and accommodation all the industry needs to get behind the later date, it also introduces uncertainty and could impede the progress towards a cleaner and more sustainable automotive industry in the UK. The decision’s ultimate success will depend on how effectively businesses and consumers adapt to the new timeline.