Autocar’s manifesto: Why Government must rethink the 2035 combustion ban

Earlier this year, the UK government announced that it was considering bringing a planned ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans forward from 2040 to 2035 – or maybe even earlier – and extending it to include hybrids and plug-in hybrids. As part of the process, the Department for Transport and Office for Low Emission Vehicles launched a public consultation to find out what the public thinks of its proposals.

The consultation asks for views on:

 The phase-out date.

 The definition of what should be phased out.

 Barriers to achieving the above proposals.

 The impact of these ambitions on different sectors of industry and society.

 What measures are required by government and others to achieve the earlier phase-out date.

This is a hugely significant and important decision, and we at Autocar felt it was vital to make sure that our voice – and yours – is heard. Below, therefore, is our response to the consultation, which we have submitted to OLEV. We urge you to do the same.

Autocar’s view

Let’s make one thing clear: Autocar supports the electrification of the UK car parc as quickly as is practicable, both as a way of cutting toxic emissions in our cities and of eliminating the CO2 output of British cars and vans, a contributor to global warming. For years it has been clear to us – as we believe it also has been to all global car makers – that these are dominant, desirable outcomes.

However, the proposed ban on sales of all internal-combustion-engine (ICE) cars and vans by 2035, and possibly 2032, strikes us as a close-to-unworkable way of achieving laudable aims.

It’s almost guaranteed to do irrevocable harm to a British car industry that was once the darling of politicians but has been successively battered by the Great Recession, Brexit uncertainties and now the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. We believe a realistic examination of the effects of the proposed ban must generate a change of emphasis.

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Naturally, there’s even more to do. No ban should appear until there has been a thorough and impartial assessment of the oil industry’s recent, game-changing plan to introduce low-carbon fuels in two stages. Perhaps as a result, the ICE ban can be introduced more slowly to do even less harm to the UK automotive industry.

Two last things: we must consider the capability of the power grid to cope with the coming exponential demand for car power and must take much more care about the sourcing and recycling of EV batteries.

Estimates of the effects of an EV-only car parc on the UK power grid vary from “it’s no problem” to “it will be cataclysmic”. A government that expects the public to support – and pay for – the huge changes ahead owes them clear information about how the power will be provided.

On batteries, more than 70% begin life in China, often depending on energy-intense processes supported by that country’s coal-fired power stations. New, clean sources must rapidly be approved and financed, just as battery recycling must grow in scale and sophistication. It’s not enough to talk of second lives for batteries in remote wind-farm storage facilities. After a time even these batteries will end their lives: currently in landfill, most of them.

Despite concerns, we at Autocar enthusiastically welcome the electric age. We love clean air. We want to address climate change. We know that fantastic EVs can be built already. But we believe that UK laws aimed at promoting the new era must be more imaginative and more sensitive. The adoption of more reasonable and realistic legislation in 2038 should be the start.

Have your say

The deadline for submissions to OLEV is Friday 31 July, and they must be emailed to communications@olev.gov.uk or sent to Consultation Response, Office for Low Emission Vehicles, Zones 3/29-33, 33 Horseferry Road, London, SW1 4DR. We would love to read your responses as well so that we can outline the views of our readers in a future issue. If you would like to contribute, email yours to autocar@haymarket.com.