‘An abdication of leadership’: EV industry reacts to Sunak’s net zero announcement

The UK electric vehicle industry has been booming of late – recent data shows that private ownership of hybrid vehicles has gone up by 83% whilst ownership of fully electric vehicles has increased by a mighty 178%.

This monumental uptake has been bolstered by a deal for the creation of a £4 billion electric vehicle battery factory from Tata, and other anticipated measures including the arrival of electric vehicle charging street lamps, all designed to make owning EVs easier.

There are also increasingly initiatives to make it less costly to get hold of electric cars, such as Octopus Electric Vehicle’s salary sacrifice scheme to help workers lease both new and used electric cars.

Despite this, prime minister Rishi Sunak has announced that he will delay the 2030 ban on the sale of new petrol vehicles from 2030 until 2035.

As a result, there is serious concern from leaders within the sector about the future – including reports that car manufacturers including Ford, Jaguar Land Rover and BMW have been bombarding Downing Street with phone calls to get some clarity.

From manufacturers, electric vehicle battery makers to industry analysts – Sustainability Beat rounds up the latest comment from the sector.

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‘Motorists will pay the price’

The CEO of transport research group NewAutoMotive Ben Nelmes said: “Pushing the ban on buying petrol and diesel cars back to 2035 is an abdication of leadership that motorists will pay the price for. It sets us back in the global race to develop green industries – a huge own goal by the UK”.

He added: “It’s also a hammer blow to the UK’s leadership on climate change. Despite what the Prime Minister has claimed, it will be harder to meet our legally binding emissions targets.”

“He is right to say that electric car prices are dropping and charging infrastructure is improving – but this is thanks to the industry investing billions of pounds working towards the 2030 target. Pushing the date back will raise costs for motorists by deterring future investment in the UK and supply chain”.

He continued: “It will restrict job creation, weaken energy security and lead to higher bills for longer for everyone. It removes a key pillar of the current government industrial policy of green growth, reversing the work of the last decade.”

Nelmes isn’t the only one to state that the policy backtrack will wind up costing more, Dr Simon Evans of Press Gazette took a look at figures from the Climate Change Committee and said on X (formerly twitter):

“Rishi Sunak claims he’s saving families from ‘unacceptable costs’ but he’s actually going to cost renters £2 billion per year (by keeping their homes draughty) and drivers £6 billion (because EVs will be cheaper upfront by 2030 anyway)”

‘Carrots move markets faster than sticks’

The chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Mike Hawes said: “Manufacturers will continue to put innovative new models on the market but consumers need encouragement to buy more than ever.”

“Today’s announcement must be backed up with a package of attractive incentives and measures to accelerate charging infrastructure or give consumers the confidence to switch. Carrots move markets faster than sticks”.

‘The government is no longer leading Britain’s net zero transition’

The CEO and co-founder of Northern charging network Be.EV Asif Ghafoor also blasted Rishi Sunak’s decision to push back the policy, lambasting him for taking the easy route:

“The cold reality is Sunak needed to face up to the challenge and to do so with conviction. The world is going through a major industrial shift – no one ever said it was going to be easy,” he said.

“At such an important time, the government should be leading the charge, creating jobs and opportunities and attracting investment to this country. Instead they are changing dates, generating uncertainty and demonstrating a total lack of ambition and courage in their vision for the country’s green future.”

He continued: “The government is no longer leading Britain’s net zero transition. Their internal squabbles and indecisiveness have created a total loss of faith in any new measures or goals they announce. It will now fall on the public to drive the changes they want to see and the market to respond to that demand.

“The PM’s announcement was treated with a mixture of much frustration and some relief,” director of corporate affairs at BRVLA Toby Poston wrote on LinkedIn.

“Those that have made huge financial and strategic investments in zero emission business models are concerned that the Government has created huge consumer uncertainty by applying the brakes.”

“Others in the fleet sector are breathing a quiet sigh of relief and hoping that the announcement has given them more breathing space, during which costs will fall and consumer sentiment will improve.”

“The coming days will hopefully provide some much needed detail, especially around the ZEV Mandate.”

‘Our business needs three thing from the UK government. A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three’

Speaking to the FT newspaper, car manufacturer JLR backed the delay describing the news as “pragmatic”, saying it “brings the UK in line with other nations, which we welcome”.

However, in a statement Ford UK chair Lisa Brankin said: “The UK 2030 target is a vital catalyst to accelerate Ford into a cleaner future. Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency. A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three.”

“We need the policy focus trained on bolstering the EV market in the short term and supporting consumers while headwinds are strong: infrastructure remains immature, tariffs loom and cost-of-living is high”.

The Green Party MP Caroline Lucas went so far as to write in The Guardian that “it’s quite a moment when a Green party MP finds herself on the same side of an argument as the chair of Ford UK – but here we are”.

That perhaps is an indicator of just how more tension to come as the green debate hots up in the run up to the next election.

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