The prime minister Rishi Sunak has announced that the government’s ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars (and hybrids) is being pushed back from 2030 to 2035.
A combination of long lead times for car manufacturers, the government’s upcoming Zero Emission Vehicle mandate, and next year’s general election means that not much will change due to the government’s latest policy u-turn.
This reverses the previous plan championed by former prime minister Boris Johnson, which said that no new petrol/diesel/hybrid cars could be sold from 2030 onwards, with recent plug-in hybrid sales phased out in 2035. Johnson had pulled the deadline forward from its original date of 2040.
The move to water down ambitious targets by former PM Boris Johnson in 2020 has reportedly sparked a significant row among Tory MPs. Still, there is fury from manufacturers who have already sunk billions of pounds into accelerating their electric vehicle (EV) plans to meet the 2030 target.
Well ahead in opinion polls, the opposition Labour Party said it would stick with the original 2030 target.
Under the new plan, there will be a deadline for all new petrol, diesel, and plug-in hybrid vehicles in 2035. After that, it will be zero-emission cars only – which currently means battery-powered electric vehicles.
This is the same timeframe adopted by the EU and many other governments, whereas the UK had previously been ahead in phasing out new fossil-fuel cars.
The prime minister also stressed that you’ll still be able to buy used petrol and diesel cars after 2035, which he tried to make sound like an additional gift to us all. But that was always the case anyway, so it changed absolutely nothing.
Second-hand cars will be unaffected by the ICE (internal combustion engine) ban and may be bought and sold freely just as now. That means many older petrol and diesel cars, plus conventional hybrids and plug-in models, will likely be used long after the 2035 deadline to sell new ones.
In the government’s original proposal, under a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate on how many EVs carmakers have to sell, 80 per cent of new cars sold in the UK would be fully electric by 2030 – with low-emission hybrids allowed until 2035.
Despite Downing Street’s best attempts to make it sound like the prime minister was doing us all a favour and that it was somehow connected to the cost-of-living crisis, it was nothing of the sort.
Car industry leaders called the decision to push back the ban on new internal combustion engine vehicle sales to 2035 “hugely retrograde”. They said it could create anxiety, given the steps already taken by the sector to meet existing targets.
This u-turn is nothing more than an attempt to shore up the prime minister’s support from a rebellious Tory back bench and a desperate attempt to cash in on EV uncertainty ahead of a general election next year.
Under the new mandate that the government could make public, the 80 per cent 2030 electric target should remain – with the other 20 per cent a mixture of fossil fuel models and hybrids until 2035. Various Conservative MPs are worried that they’ll lose their seats at the next election due to public fear and misguided belief about being forced to give up their petrol cars in six years (which is not and has never been the case). Helped by regular EV bashing from the right-wing media, they think they’ve now succeeded in pushing back against the enemy of ‘Net Zero’. In reality, they’ve done nothing of the sort.
This fear and doubt has been stirred up by the massive expansion of the London Ultra Low Emission Zone, a profoundly unpopular move by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan (a Labour politician), to tax older petrol and (not that old) diesel cars entering pretty much any road inside the M25.
The fundamental factor driving change is concern for the environment, with purchasers evidencing a desire to make more ecologically friendly purchasing decisions, which will play a part in lowering emissions. Climate change is accurate, and there is no doubt that vehicle emissions, especially in cities, are a significant pollutant and need to be dramatically reduced.
For many, of course, the sheer cost of making the switch has been a limiting factor, with price the most often cited reason for delaying making the purchase. People accept the environmental argument and want to be part of the solution, but difficulties arise when it comes to spending the necessary sums. For these folks, the announcement of a delay may not be welcomed due to the assumption that it will also delay a more affordable second-hand market.
To help facilitate the transition away from fossil-fuel cars in the UK, £1.3 billion of investment was announced in 2020 to fund EV charge points for homes, streets and motorways across England. A further £582 million was set aside for grants to help people and businesses into EVs and PHEVs. The Government is also investing in battery development and mass production. At the same time, more money was earmarked for nuclear power plants, partly to help meet the electricity demand the growing number of EVs will bring.
However, even though car makers will be mandated by law to sell increasing numbers of EVs starting at 22 per cent of their total sales in 2024 and rising to 80 per cent by 2030 – or face financial penalties, the government has so far resisted industry calls to incentivise EV buyers with taxpayers’ cash.
Although the UK has yet to publish details of how the 2035 ban will work, it’s unlikely to differ much from the EU’s plan to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2035. That means we’ll likely see exemptions for low-volume or specialist manufacturers. However, while the EU intends to provide further exemptions for internal combustion engined cars powered exclusively by efuels, the UK government has so far made no plans to offer efuel exemptions here.