RAC Foundation report says petrol and diesel to dominate until at least 2030

riversimple 001.jpg Conventionally powered petrol and diesel cars will remain with us until at least 2030 and short to medium-term carbon emissions reductions from the road transport sector will depend mainly on improving their performance. This is according to a new report for the RAC Foundation/UKPIA by Ricardo-AEA.

The report says that the 2025 new car CO2 target should be designed to capture well-to-wheel (and, ultimately, full life-cycle) emissions.

The report, launched at a conference in London, says that electric vehicle take-up has been disappointingly slow and that the future – of pure battery vehicles, at least – will depend on breakthroughs in battery technology.

The report is more optimistic about the short to medium-term potential for plug-in hybrid vehicles which, it says, seem to make more sense as a mass-market proposition. By 2020, the authors expect between 5 and 15% of vehicles sold will be plug-ins, with the figure rising to between 20 and 50% by 2030.

On the evidence in the report, the RAC Foundation and UKPIA (the UK Petroleum Industry Association) recommend that future regulation based on tailpipe emissions is increasingly unfit for purpose and must be changed to a well-to-wheel basis, and ultimately to reflect full life-cycle emissions.

They also recommend that Government should push strongly for a move from the current NEDC test cycle, towards the ‘Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicles Test Procedure’ (WLTP) to capture tailpipe emissions and fuel consumption more accurately. This, they say, should be introduced in tandem with tightening the entire vehicle type approval test.

The report argues for a maximum 70g/km CO2 tailpipe target for 2025, with a preferred aim of 60g/km. Regulation must also begin to capture well-to-wheel (or, better, full life-cycle) emissions, while spreading the burden on vehicle manufacturers in an equitable manner.

The report recommends that Government takes a technology-neutral approach to encourage low carbon vehicles and that it should focus on the use of fiscal, regulatory and other policy levers to drive both the demand and supply of such vehicles, leaving the motor industry to lead the evolution, and the bringing to market, of the various technologies.

Download the RAC Powering Ahead Report

The Committee on Climate Change has previously said it would be “feasible and desirable” to have up to 1.7 million fully electric and plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2020.

But most industry analysts predict the number will be significantly lower.

However, average new car emissions in 2020 are still likely to meet the EU target of 95 gCO 2 /km because of the refinement of existing technologies.

Powering Ahead , a review by the consultancy Ricardo-AEA of a range of authoritative market forecasts, shows even the more positive assessments foresee only 200,000 plug-in hybrid and pure battery powered cars being sold each year in the UK by 2020.

Some experts think sales of these types of vehicle will actually be as low as 40,000.

To put these numbers in perspective, just over 2 million new cars were sold in the UK in 2012.

In total there are about 29 million cars on the road in the UK.

Powering Ahead – which was commissioned jointly by the RAC Foundation and the UK Petroleum Industry Association – analysed the predictions made in 14 other major studies for the take-up of low-carbon cars.

Recognising the varying assumptions made in the other reports, and after discounting the most extreme projections, Ricardo-AEA still found widely differing assessments for the scale of green car sales in 2020:

Technology Market share in 2020 Volume (based on the number of cars sold in 2012) Market share in 2030 Volume (based on the number of cars sold in 2012)
Hybrids 5-20% 100,000 – 400,000 20-50% 400,000 – 1m
Plug-in hybrids 1-5% 20,000 – 100,000 15-30% 300,000 – 600,000
Pure battery electric cars 1-5% 20,000 – 100,000 5-20% 100,000 – 400,000
Range-extended electric cars 1-2% 20,000 – 40,000 5-20% 100,000 – 400,000

Note: Figures based on analysis of 14 major studies into the take-up of low-carbon vehicles. In 2012 2,044,000 new cars were sold in the UK. Figures in the table are based on a rounded number of 2,000,000.

The report says:

“In the longer term, the likely mix of technologies is extremely difficult to predict. The speed with which plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles achieve significant market shares is highly dependent on their total cost of ownership in comparison to that of more conventional alternatives. This is, in turn, dependent on factors such as oil prices, further battery and fuel cell cost reductions, and government policies.”

Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said:

“Estimating future sales of electric cars is not quite like sticking the tail on the donkey, but not far from it. There are so many variables to factor in that even those paid to predict the future of low-carbon vehicles cannot agree on what is in store. The only common ground amongst the experts is that we are unlikely to see as many electric cars sold as politicians might like.

“It is more than two years since the government introduced the plug-in car grant. Yet even with subsidies of £5,000 per vehicle available only 3,600 cars have been purchased through the scheme.

“This report concludes that the key to making electric cars a commercial success is a major advance in battery technology. Until then these vehicles are likely to remain too expensive and too impractical to penetrate the mass market.

“Eventually there will need to be a step change in the type of cars we drive. To help achieve this, the RAC Foundation believes a target for new car CO2 emissions of nearing 60 g/km is needed for 2025. This challenging goal would help preserve the impetus car manufacturers are already demonstrating in terms of technological advancement. Electric cars might eventually come into their own: but there is no guarantee that they won’t be beaten at their own game by other low-carbon technologies.”

Chris Hunt, director general of the UKPIA, said:

“The key conclusions of the publication are that conventional petrol and diesel cars are expected to remain the dominant technology in the overall vehicle fleet until at least 2030 and that advances in fuel economy will be primarily achieved by continuing improvements to existing engine technology and greater focus on vehicle efficiency through reduced weight and drag.

“The study also suggests that about 60% of vehicles in 2030 are likely to be powered, either in part or in full, by internal-combustion engines. Although, the factors which appear to have the strongest influence over all predictions are, firstly, future policy, and secondly, the likely speed with which breakthroughs in technology will be achieved.”

Download the RAC Powering Ahead Report