Today announced five-year ban delay means UK can no longer call itself a climate change champion
We’re long past the stage of debating whether or not the original 2020 decision to ban the sale of new internal-combustion-engined cars in 2030 was a good one, yet for better or worse the fact is the date was set both in the minds of car buyers and the industry itself in making investments to ensure it was ready for the switch to EV.
Yet ever since that day, the amount of indecision and lack of leadership and ownership on this issue from the UK government has been remarkable, something that has now culminated with prime minister Rishi Sunak delaying the 2030 ICE ban for five years.
For starters, the rollout of a charging network to support the switch to EV has been painfully slow. The five-year delay, has Sunak said in his announcement this afternoon, is needed to make it fit for purpose, less it be used as an excuse to simply drag heels for longer.
Then there’s consumer confidence. The government’s will-they-won’t-they flip-flopping on the 2030 date has hardly been a ringing endorsement for the casual car buyer wondering whether or not to make the switch to EV.
Electric cars have many merits, but in the wider public consciousness, they are new with lots of unknowns, and rather than a positive education and hand-holding job through the transition backed by incentives, shade has been thrown on them and doubts about whether or not a switch will happen as planned were allowed to fester.
For car buyers, the likes of the Ford Fiesta and other smaller, more affordable cars are being killed off anyway to make way for EVs. Given the long-term view needed on investments in new cars, the five-year delay isn’t going to magically bring them back.
Then there’s the inability to even clarify the law itself. The 2030 ban was really a 2035 ban, given the exemption for hybrids with ‘a meaningful electric range’ that remained within it for five years. Remarkably, though, that hybrid exemption was never outlined. We won’t ever know now. Did the government? Unlikely.
This was true too of the ZEV mandate, a rising increase of the proportion of EV sales car makers must hit between now and 2030. Just a few months out from its introduction in 2024, it has yet to be officially set. It was tipped to be released this week, but whether the ZEV mandate now survives is another unknown and one still yet to be confirmed by the Prime Minister. How have car makers been supposed to business plan inventories for next year amid the lack of any clarity on a key regulatory framework with large fines for not hitting it?
This too should be the end of the UK wanting to be seen as a leader in climate change and will seriously dent this country’s standing as a place for businesses to invest in a stable, forward-looking regulatory environment. It’s a softening of what was a world-leading stance on making a switch and businesses are rightly annoyed.
Ford UK boss Lisa Brankin said her business requires “ambition, commitment and consistency” from the government, and the removal of the 2030 ban undermines all three. Again, whatever you think of the ban in the first place, Brankin’s words ring true for the situation we’re in.
Perhaps the date was too ambitious anyway, given the 2035 date set by the European Union that the UK now falls in line with. Given where the power balance lies between the UK and EU when it comes to the automotive industry, alignment with the EU always seemed the more sensible path anyway.
I can remember the day it was announced: the ban was listed as a single-line bullet point in a long list of net zero targets. There wasn’t any other information at the time and it all seemed rather whimsical. The three years of chaos since then should have been three years of careful planning before that date to perhaps end up at the same decision as Sunak has done today, yet of course there’s the added backdrop here of votes to be won in crucial upcoming by-elections, with a general election looming in around a year’s time.