Comment

Banning new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 is feasible but don't penalise the auto industry

It’s good that the Government is focusing on other critical environmental issues rather than portraying the automotive sector as villain

Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives at 10 Downing Street 22/9/20
Boris Johnson has been forthright about championing environmental industries, but why target car use above aviation and plastic packaging? Credit: Aaron Chown/PA

As has been widely anticipated, the Government has announced bringing forward the deadline for banning sales of new petrol- and diesel-engined cars to 2030, earlier than the current date of 2035, as part of its much-heralded £12 billion plan for a “green industrial revolution”. 

We’ve known that this may happen. 2032 has previously been mentioned by senior officials, and with the Government open about its intentions to push growth of environmental industries as a way out of the economic slump, it won’t be a surprise to many if it is brought forward by five years. 

Honestly, the 2035 deadline seemed fairly optimistic as it was – and, interestingly, hybrid cars have had a reprieve until that date. That is already the life-cycle of only two normal mainstream production cars, which tend to be replaced every seven years or so. Not only that, but it’s precious little time to further clean up the National Grid and improve battery technology, which is essential if we’re to reduce the lifetime burden of electric cars and their batteries. 

Yet I believe that 2030 can be done. The charging infrastructure is the main thing that everyone worries about, yet I have lived with electric cars for years now, do far higher mileage than the average driver and am confident that it will be good enough by that point. 

Right now, batery propulsion is absolutely a limiting factor for anyone who routinely does long journeys. I’m the first to admit that. But just look at the spread of chargers across the country, and also at how much more focused providers are on making charging a more reliable and even enjoyable experience. 

The UK's charging infrastructure has come in for criticism, but it's improving

According to the zap-map.com website of car charging facilities, 386 new chargers have been installed in the UK in the last 30 days.

In other news, Gridserve has just announced details of its Electric Forecourt, which is set to open in November this year. It’ll feature 24 ultra-rapid chargers, all of which are powered by renewable energy. Payment will be contactless, charging will be quick, you can buy a coffee, go to the loo and buy your groceries, and there are plans for 100 similar sites to be built in the next five years.

Charging provider Ionity is also working to install 2,400 ultra-rapid chargers across Europe, with some 50 intended for the UK. 

Also, BP Chargemaster is rolling out its ultra-rapid network and expects to have 700 in place by 2025, and 1,400 by 2030. It’s also just opened its first 50kW rapid chargers located in a Marks and Spencer car park. It’s not just any charger… It’s contactless, and will deliver 100 miles of range in around 40 minutes – barely enough time to buy and eat your Lochmuir smoked salmon salad. 

A rendering of the Gridserve 'forecourt of the future', stocked only with with rapid chargers

So look, less than two weeks ago I said on this website that we need to be patient and accept that electric cars and the charging infrastructure will take time to establish themselves. And that’s still a key message here. It’s not going to happen overnight and we need to realise that.

Yet, I believe there is now so much money, brainpower and determination going into electrification that the 2030 deadline is achievable. Especially if we can be positive and realistic about it, rather than endlessly moaning about how long it takes to charge a car. Plus, don’t forget that plenty of drivers will still be using petrol and diesel cars for many years after the 2030 deadline, there just won’t be any new ones sold.

In truth, the deadline change neither bothers nor surprises me, but the lack of news on other environmental fronts outside of transport really does. Despite being acutely aware of the unpleasant reality of the car and its impact on the world, I’m sure that I’m not alone in being utterly sick of the car being used as the scapegoat for all of the world’s woes. The headline act for all things un-environmental. The thing that gets legislated virtually out of existence before other equally environmentally burdensome industries have even had the government finger wagged at them.  

Over here in the automotive department – we’re working on it, and we’re making progress. Okay? In a much more public petri dish than most, I’d add. 

Remember than that the proposed ban is on sales of new petrol- and diesel-engined cars. The internal combustion engine will be around for a while yet

So how about we look at some other things? How about we really wonder whether it’s even worth our while bothering with a deadline for banning sale of combustion engines 10 or 15 years down the road, when the WWF is estimating that 27 per cent of the Amazon rainforest will be without trees by 2030? How ironic that we should be panicking about spending time charging an electric car, when President Trump is days away from pulling out of the Paris Agreement in a very clear statement that the US economy comes before any of those pesky global climate concerns?  

Plastic has been, quite rightly, in the media spotlight for many years now. So where are the government deadlines to make all packaging fully recyclable? The legislation that governs packaging was set in 1997, and only applies in a very half-hearted manner to companies producing more than 50 tonnes of packaging. Surely, here’s something that legislation can change virtually overnight, for near instant environmental benefit. Where is the legislation making solar or wind power obligatory on all new property builds – especially large-scale industrial sites? But no, let’s not worry about that. Let’s kick the motorist again instead. 

What about the amount of plastic - not to mention other detritus - in our oceans? Credit: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

So yes, it is intensely frustrating to see the thumbscrews being twisted ever tighter on the already forcedly transitioning automotive industry. But it is a resilient industry that is nothing if not resourceful and fast-paced, and I do believe that 2030 can be done. I am not at all sure that this increased pressure on the motoring sector is the economic fertiliser that the government seems to think it is, but I do have faith in the engineers and developers that are actually making the cars of tomorrow happen. 

So while we fret about how quickly the EV can become appropriate for everyone, let’s also not forget about the multitude of other industries, from shipping and aerospace, to fashion, to packaging and food production…

If we’re really in this to tread more lightly on the planet’s resources, and not to simply shift profit margins from one industrial arena to another, then the government needs to act much more holistically than it is currently doing so with its one-dimensional attack on cars. 

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