Are We Ready For An All Electric 2035?

The top item on this morning’s news has certainly sent the motor industry into a tailspin.

Leaked to the press by Number 10 ahead of the Prime Minister’s formal announcement at lunchtime, the government will bring forward the date by which the sale of new diesel and petrol cars is banned, from 2040 to 2035… and, worryingly, hybrids are now to be included in that ban. The future is all electric …. or is it??

The Prime Minister appears to have not consulted the industry, or even most of the Cabinet, at all. The 5pm news was full of Andrea Leadsom, “Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy”, trying to soothe the SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) with a climbdown, saying the announcement was just the start of a consultation process … it wasn’t, and it isn’t.

The SMMT statement in response to the news, saying that, “It’s extremely concerning that government has seemingly moved the goalposts for consumers and industry on such a critical issue”, showed real frustration.

Some facts… There are roughly 38 million cars on the roads in the UK of which just a few tens of thousands, fewer than 1%, are fully electric.

While 2019 has seen some increase in the numbers being sold in the UK (Europe is generally ahead of us) the actual purchase numbers are still very low, with quite slow growth predicted in the market.

The UK market currently still appears limited by a lack of confidence in an electric car’s range, durability and ease of use.

It is also hampered by the initial price which is broadly 25-30% more than a conventionally fuelled equivalent. This issue will not be assisted by the end of the plug-in car grant, a subsidy of £3500 on the purchase cost of fully electric cars, which is due to cease at the end of March, with no mention of it being extended.

So a bit of a double-whammy for the car makers whose hopes in a declining market have centred on the growth in hybrids which have proved to be popular, affordable and about as green as you can persuade the public to be at the moment.

Can the car makers meet the new targets?

In reality the 60 or so cars already on the market… another 30 are due in 2020 … are mostly loss leaders.

To produce these cars in larger numbers at a market acceptable price is going to be very difficult even given the intervening 15 years.

Although the cars may look similar to their traditional cousins, the massive technical differences will require complete reconstruction of production lines, at huge costs. Those costs have to be recovered somewhere.

A major stumbling block is the woeful lack of charging infrastructure, and until car charging is faster and available on every forecourt, as well as in roadside parking bays, shops, workplaces, etc, it will remain a problem.

Apparently, only 40 per cent of us have a drive to charge on so what for the rest of us?

At UKMT we’ve been testing electric cars for the last 10 years or so. Thankfully we’ve seen ranges increase from tens of miles (if I recall, the Smart originally had a predicted/achievable 60 mile battery) to typically 250 to 300 miles. This has come at a massive cost in battery development, and questionable sources of some of the rare metals being used in them.

That said, we have been constantly impressed by the concept and performance of all electric vehicles and have been willing them on.

So UK Government, how are we going to make your environmental wishes come true?

We will ALL need to “do our bit”, but only by massive government investment, support, and some solid thinking, will the necessary infrastructure appear, will the investment from the car makers appear, and will the UK’s drivers literally “buy into” electric cars.

It is time for the government to put its hand in its capacious pocket (to spend OUR money!) if it wants to impress the world’s leaders when they convene in Glasgow in November. This is, after all, what this morning’s announcement was really all about?

Graham Benge

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