British car manufacturing history is dominated by iconic vehicles like the original Mini and the Jaguar E-Type. Both are recognised and associated with British manufacturing across the world. The only electric vehicle (EV) produced in the UK is the Nissan Leaf, not a brand high on the list of cars people know Britain makes. Nor do people see the UK as a leader in the EV revolution, that credit goes to California, the birth place of Elon Musk’s Tesla.
The Prime Minister, Theresa May, wants this to change by “cement[ing] the UK’s position as a world leader in the low emissions and electric vehicle industry”. This aspiration has been joined by a commitment from Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, to phase out fossil-fuelled car sales in the UK by 2040. Unfortunately, neither will be enough to put Britain in the lead. But moving forward the ban on petrol and diesel cars ten years, from 2040 to 2030, would be a game changer.
We need a strong EV market at home
The UK is somewhere in the middle of the pack in the global EV market. In 2017, Germany overtook us for the first time in EV sales, and China manufactured over half of all EVs worldwide. At the same time, other countries are committing to more rapid phase-outs of fossil fuelled cars, with Norway planning a 2025 phase out and Scotland setting a 2032 target. A 2030 UK target would help to strengthen the domestic market, supporting UK based EV manufacturers to grow and bringing down costs.
Green Alliance has quantified the benefits. More rapid phase out of petrol and diesel vehicles will have health and environmental benefits: cutting carbon dioxide emissions, air pollution and noise pollution. Economic upsides would be a reduction of the UK automotive trade deficit and halving oil imports by 2035. Estimated oil cost savings associated with a drop in vehicle imports could be as high as £6.63 billion a year by 2035.
A twin track approach to phase out by 2030
2030 is only 12 years away, so the UK needs to move quickly. We propose a twin-track approach to get there building on two key cost points: whole life and upfront costs.
The first track focuses on shifting government and private fleets from internal combustion vehicles to EVs, until EVs achieve upfront cost parity, expected in 2022. EVs are already cost effective for fleet managers who can take advantage of their lower lifetime operating costs. Private fleets make up over half of all new sales in the UK, and it is estimated that EVs could save company car owners £7,400 over three years.
Once upfront cost parity has been reached, the focus can shift to the second track, managing the phase-out of diesel and petrol cars run by the wider population. By introducing a zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate, domestic manufacturing can be aligned with demand. If this mandate is combined with clean air zones, similar to London’s ultra-low emission zone, it will help to boost EV sales among those driving into cities regularly.
Whether all of this means the world will start to associate Britain with EV manufacturing remains to be seen, but it would be an excellent start for a nation aspiring to lead the revolution.
Bente Klein is a Policy Assistant at the environmental think tank Green Alliance
The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue