The reduction in the value of the plug-in car grant (to £2,500) and the lowering of the price threshold for eligible cars (to £35,000) was a recurring theme at the inaugural Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) Electrified Conference. This example was also used to demonstrate why the car industry and consumers both need longer term certainty from the government rather than having changes introduced overnight with no advance notice.
Here’s a summary of the latest key electric car developments in the UK from the Conference, which was chaired very professionally by BBC Radio 4’s Justin Webb.
Firstly, the big picture. The UK has a target of net zero greenhouse gases by 2050. So that vehicles will be doing their bit, the government announced in November 2020 that the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and light vans will end by 2030. Plug-in Hybrids are due to get a stay of execution until 2035, although the details are yet to be confirmed.
That means that we have nine years to get from where we are now – with the vast majority of cars sold having internal combustion engines – to no new petrol or diesel cars or light vans being sold in 2030. The general consensus between speakers at the Conference was that they imagined that it would be sensible to have consumer incentives in place to help us on the road to the 2030 ban. Instead, the plug-in car grant incentive has been reduced. Perhaps even more significantly, the same has also happened to the plug-in van grant.
This makes it more likely that businesses can afford new EVs, but consumers can’t (even some variants of the Peugeot e-2008 – hardly an extravagant luxury EV – are now excluded from the grant).
Worse than the reduction in the grant was the fact that it was done overnight, making it very difficult for the industry and consumers to make plans. This was contrasted with the Company Car Benefit in Kind tax system, the rates for which are now known years ahead – which is pretty important for company car drivers who may have a car for between 3-5 years.
Consumers are confused about electric cars anyway, and lack of certainty and consistency in areas such as grants doesn’t help. It was noted that “How to persuade consumers that EVs are the right approach is the biggest challenge of them all.”
Another key takeaway was that even more collaboration is needed between stakeholders including the UK car industry, the government, the energy sector, and many others, in order to hit the transport CO2 reduction targets. Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said that the government had lost sight of one key player in all this – the consumer. Thankfully, Electric Vehicle Association England has recently launched to act as a voice for EV drivers in England.
Mike Hawes’ view wasn’t shared by the government, in the form of the Rt Hon. Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport, who delivered the Ministerial Keynote speech, and who believed lots had been done by the government to help consumers adopt EVs. He also added that the new Zero Emission Vehicle Transition Council had met for first time, the Transport Decarbonisation Plan is coming in spring, and that the UK was in a strong position to host COP26 in Glasgow in November. Grant Shapps also said that he’d driven an EV for the past two years, something which wasn’t the case with all of the speakers.
Anneliese Dodds MP, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, also gave a Ministerial Keynote, and reiterated the comment made by Ed Miliband on the morning of the SMMT Conference, that the Labour Party was calling for interest-free loans to help consumers purchase EVs.
Charging an electric vehicle is a concern for many drivers who are yet to make the switch to EVs, so the issue of charging infrastructure was raised repeatedly at the conference. Although there are now around 40,000 charge point connectors around the UK, the lack of reliable rapid chargers for long distance drivers is a key issue that needs to be improved. And one in three households in the UK have no driveway, preventing home charging.
From the point of view of both the consumer and the UK car industry, the UK desperately needs battery production in the form of a Gigafactory to help lower battery prices (and to avoid big heavy batteries being transported around the world) – and ideally more than one Gigafactory. Thankfully the first one is now in progress, but we also need all the other EV powertrain components to be developed and manufactured in the UK, such as electric motors and power electronics.
A genuinely green energy supply for consumers who are charging electric cars is also essential to ensure EVs have low lifecycle emissions, and a number of speakers confirmed that the UK is on course to a zero carbon energy supply. And developments such as Vehicle to Grid (V2G) charging will help lower the carbon footprint of EVs further (see the Electric Nation V2G project).
Mike Hawes summed up by saying that there’s even more need for all stakeholders to work together to try to involve and engage with everyone. Green Car Guide will do its bit by continuing to communicate to consumers about EVs in an expert, engaging and independent way, as it has since 2006.