“A bright future for Britain’s manufacturing industry in electric vehicles, particularly in the West Midlands and the North.“
Professor David Greenwood, Director for Industrial Engagement, and CEO of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult at WMG, University of Warwick
It was 2030, until it became 2035. The Prime Minister’s recent announcement delaying the ban on the sale of internal combustion engine vehicles is not hugely surprising, but it is muddled thinking.
Well received by some, but with many perhaps unfairly castigating Sunak as making a U turn on the climate this is a gamble from a Prime Minister torn between one arbitrary date and another.
The truth is changing the date until 2035 will make marginal difference to any of the big manufacturers. Already halfway through production cycles, no car company will change their plans based of a date in one country which has already changed once and could still change yet again.
This is what makes this date change significant – not for manufacturers but for us, as consumers. Despite having little practical impact, the Prime Minister chose to make this announcement anyway. For politics, and for optics.
EVs are not perfect, nor is the infrastructure or conditions where it needs to be yet for the whole country to switch tomorrow to electric cars. Luckily, that’s not something anyone is being asked to do. With Rishi Sunak’s recent push back of the 2030 date for EVs, we still have over a decade to get the conditions in place so that people want to drive electric vehicles, not that anyone has to be pressured. The approach from the government should be 100% carrot, 0% stick.
Yes, there aren’t as many electric vehicle chargers as we would like. Actually, charger availability is growing at roughly the same rate as EV adoption. In some areas, such as Wales or Cornwall, this is a huge issue. But for most, it’s simply a non-issue.
Another issue often raised is the cost. Again, this is a half-truth. The up-front cost of EVs can be high, but prices are coming down hugely, with EV batteries costing just a tenth of what they did a decade ago. For many the total cost of ownership can be less with an electric car after just a couple of years use, once money saved through fuel is considered.
This, combined with a model of car ownership that is moving further towards short-term use, like PCPs, means that the purchase price of a car effectively means less than it ever did. Purists might not be a fan of this model, but more and more people are paying for convenience.
So the biggest issues around electric cars then can be said to be overblown, at best. But why the sudden panic? EVs have been rising as a proportion of sales for years now, and we’re not even leading the pack – in Norway for example over 90% of new cars sold in June were some form of plug in, with over a quarter of new cars from Tesla.
And yet there are apparent mixed messages from government. On the one hand, keen to emphasise their status as on the side of drivers. The Prime Minister has recently declared that there is a ‘war on motorists’, with ministers intervening to limit policies to curb car use, like new 20mph speed limits. Yet on the other hand, EVs are often implied to be impractical, with the 2030 date recently pushed back for seemingly political purposes.
All us drivers can back sensible policies to make driving easier and more pleasant, but there’s no need to draw these artificial dividing lines between electric cars and everyone else.
What’s more, there’s a bright future for Britain’s manufacturing industry in electric vehicles, particularly in the West Midlands and the North. For the government, this is a ‘two birds, one stone’ moment. For years we have maligned the decline of the British car making industry as production moved abroad. Now, we have a chance to press our technological advantage and create new spaces for British industry as a European home for EV production and battery technology. We must embrace these opportunities, not trade on gut reactions for quick political wins.