No pressure, Liz Truss: time to save the British car industry

UK production line 2022

The UK’s head start in EV development and manufacturing has been squandered

Unknowns ahead of 2030 transition to zero-emissions vehicles put the UK’s car industry at peril

The incoming prime minister, Liz Truss, will have only one real pressing issue when she takes office: the cost of living crisis.

The automotive industry is undoubtedly affected, with leads down, and evidence already that long-delayed purchases are being pushed back further by buyers, ironically at a time when the light at the end of the tunnel of production shortages shines brighter than it has done for a long time. Rising interest rates are making what purchases are made even more expensive. 

Every industry has its own challenges, of course, yet few have such a ticking alarm clock over them as the automotive industry, in its need to transition to zero-emissions sales by 2030 by government orders. 

Now, just over seven years remain until that date, which in industry terms might as well be next week, because it typically captures just one generation of car.

Few cars in development now will have a shelf life beyond that date, meaning it’s nearly last orders for so much of the UK automotive industry as we know it. Factories will have to be updated to build cars powered by completely different technology, engine and transmission plants must transform or die (thankfully, Ford’s Halewood transmission plant is doing the former in converting to making electric motors) and the way cars are developed will shift ever more from hardware to software. 

Yet still so much remains unknown about this shift. This government has specialised in headline statements light on detail, and the automotive industry has been caught up in this. 

It’s nearly 18 months since the ICE ban was announced, and in that time it hasn’t even been decided what constitutes a hybrid with a ‘meaningful’ electric range, the kinds of which will be given a stay of execution alongside EVs until 2035. On such an issue Toyota is poised to pull out of the UK, as we analysed last month. It’s scandalous that we can be in this position. 

The UK was ahead of the curve of much of the world in both the date of the ban and also how early it was announced. The silence since has been deafening. Yes, the government has much on its plate, but when does it not? In the vacuum that has followed since, what could have allowed the UK to have a head start in becoming a world leader in EVs, their development and manufacturing, has been squandered. 

It’s not just the cars being made and the factories where they’re built but also the jobs and communities that these cars and factories support. Then there’s the development of these cars; while the UK’s car-manufacturing footprint isn’t as strong as it once was, it has absolutely remained world-class in this area.

Yet in said shift from hardware to software, the skillbase is changing and a very real skills shortage is opening up. More must be done to promote the automotive industry as the thriving, cutting-edge place to work that it truly is.

No pressure, then, prime minister. It’s only the future of the British automotive industry at stake. 

Source: Autocar

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