Electric vehicles: driving the transition Contents


Existing EV targets

11.Target-setting is important to indicate policy goals, and to support investment by providing greater certainty to businesses, energy providers and consumers. The Government set a target in 2015 to “ensur[e] almost every car and van is a zero emission vehicle by 2050”.20 It has set additional targets over the past year to guide this transition:

In July 2018 the Road to Zero Strategy set an aspiration for “at least 50%, and as many as 70%, of new car sales and up to 40% of new van sales being ultra low emission by 2030”.23 Alongside the sales targets, the Government has set a goal for the UK to be “a world leader in the development, manufacture and use of zero emission vehicles… [and] in the design, development and manufacture of batteries” in the Automotive Sector Deal.24

Delivering the 2050 goal

12.We welcome the Government’s new targets for vehicle sales, which provide some measurable deliverables en route to the 2050 goal. However, as we explain below, in our view they lack the necessary specificity to address the urgent challenges of climate change and air quality, and they are not sufficiently ambitious to set the UK EV sector in a ‘world-leading’ position.

Setting the destination: zero emissions

13.Policy targets need to be expressed clearly if they are to guide effective investment; ambiguous goals run the risk of either deterring investors, or inadvertently promoting developments that do not align with the policy intention. Clarity is also essential to provide a measuring stick against which policy performance can later be assessed, and policymakers held to account. In the case of EVs, clear policy direction is needed to encourage the development of new vehicle models, to promote the growth of charging infrastructure, and to give motorists confidence in the long-term viability of owning an EV.

14.The first 2040 target, set in July 2017, describes an intention to phase out “conventional” petrol and diesel, without specifying the types of vehicle that this covers. Witnesses to our inquiry understood “conventional” to include mild and full (conventional, non-plug-in) hybrids (see Box 2), implying that these should be banned from 2040.25 The second target, to ensure that new vehicles are “effectively” zero emission, is similarly opaque. Neither Ministers nor officials were not able to clearly explain the meaning of either term to us, nor to confirm whether the targets would still allow for the sale of non-plug-in hybrids. The best explanations that the Minister for Business and Industry, Richard Harrington, could offer were that “conventional” referred to “old” technology, and that “effectively” meant “pretty much” zero.26

15.The Director of Energy, Technology and Innovation at the Department for Transport (DfT), told us that consumers would “potentially” be able to buy cars that are not zero emission in 2040.27 Both the ‘conventional’ and ‘effectively zero’ terms have persisted, undefined, in the Road to Zero Strategy. Rather than setting a clear target, statements made to us and in the Road to Zero Strategy indicate that the Government simply expects new cars and vans to have “significant zero emission capability” by 2040, and “the majority of new cars and vans sold to be 100% zero emission”.28

16.The Government’s lack of clarity on the meaning of the 2040 targets is unacceptable. Industry cannot be expected to make supportive investment decisions when Ministers and officials themselves cannot say how the target should be interpreted. This means that car manufacturers do not have certainty about the types of vehicles they will be able to market in the UK in the near future, and charging infrastructure providers are less able to make assessment about future demand for their product. The unclear messaging from Government is damaging and unfair to those companies wishing to drive the transition to EVs. The Government cannot rely on expectations alone to deliver desired policy outcomes.

Box 2 Hybrid vehicles

The term ‘hybrid’ can be used to describe a broad range of EV technologies. Mild and full hybrids (also known as conventional hybrids) combine an ICE with an electric motor, and a small battery that is typically charged by braking, but they cannot be plugged in to charge from mains electricity. Mild hybrids are completely unable to travel with zero emissions, while full hybrids have a very short zero emissions range (1–2 miles). Newer plug-in hybrids also combine an ICE, electric motor and a battery, but their battery recharges by plugging into the electricity mains. They can complete whole journeys with zero emissions, provided the battery has sufficient charge; the petrol ICE is used as a back-up for longer journeys.

17.We are concerned by the Road to Zero’s Strategy’s launch statement, which indicated that non-plug-in hybrids will not be covered by the “conventional” vehicle phase-out.29 Advice from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) indicates this is inconsistent with the UK’s long-term decarbonisation targets. The CCC has advised that only pure battery electric vehicles and long-range plug-in hybrids should be eligible for sale post 2035, to ensure that almost all trips can be completed without using the petrol/diesel engine.30

18.Witnesses to our inquiry had mixed views on the potential role of both plug-in and non-plug-in hybrids for cars and vans.31 Car manufacturers and other automotive stakeholders saw plug-in hybrids as an important transitional technology to alleviate motorist ‘range anxiety’ (the concern that an EV will not have sufficient charge to complete a given journey), whilst battery ranges are limited and charging infrastructure is still being developed.32 They assumed that these vehicles could be replaced with fully electric vehicles in the longer term. Toyota and Ford viewed conventional hybrids as a long-term solution for lowering car and van emissions–but not reducing them to zero.33

19.Plug-in hybrids could have a role to play during the EV transition, at least in the near term—but non-plug-in hybrids are not compatible with the Government’s long-term climate change commitments. Whilst we support the principle of technology neutrality, the Government should recognise that by allowing the ongoing sale of conventional hybrids, and short-range plug-in hybrids, the current ‘ban’ fails to ensure that only the cleanest new vehicles will be available for sale from 2040. We recommend that the Government either acknowledge that petrol and diesel will ultimately need to be fully phased out from cars and vans, or admit that it is not seeking a zero emissions fleet. It cannot have both. We recommend that the Government aim for zero emissions, in line with its longstanding 2050 target, and phase out non-plug-in and all but the cleanest plug-in hybrid vehicles. This should include more stringent zero emission range requirements for plug-in hybrids to ensure that vehicles deliver on targeted emissions reductions.

Accelerating ambition: a 2032 target

20.The Industrial Strategy has set an aim to make the UK a world leader in the development, manufacture and use of zero emission vehicles,34 with the decision to host the world’s first Zero Emission Vehicles Summit this September providing a strong demonstration of intent.35 Yet comparison with stricter international targets makes it clear that the UK’s position is anything but world-leading (Table 1). The target to phase out petrol and diesel by 2040 lags behind similar aims set by Norway (2025) and China (2030). It is less ambitious than Scotland’s own target (2032).36 Nissan told us that the 2040 deadline establishes the UK as a “second tier” country in the EV race.37

21.It is not clear that a 2040 target will push—rather than follow—market trends. Many manufacturers have themselves set targets for 15–100% of new sales to be EVs as early as 2025 or 2030, with Porsche aiming for 100% by 2030 (Table 2). Further, the National Infrastructure Commission has recommended, on the basis of market projections, that government, Ofgem and local authorities enable the roll out of sufficient charging infrastructure to allow EVs to reach close to 100% of new vehicle sales by 2030.38 The relatively low ambition of the 2040 deadline aligns with statements we heard from DfT Director Richard Bruce, which suggest that Government has conceded its ‘world leading’ ambition in all but name. Mr Bruce explained to us that a truly zero emission target was not necessary in the UK, because stricter regulations abroad would likely lead to a de-facto zero emission standard:

“the vast majority [of vehicles in the UK]—will be 100% zero because, in regulatory terms, that is what manufacturers are going to have to make to sell cars in China, in the US and in Europe”.39

22.This unambitious approach undermines the Government’s aims to become an EV world-leader, and hampers UK prospects to develop a competitive edge in the EV market. It is further unclear why the Government is choosing to set an ambition lower than that anticipated by our international competitors. The 2040 deadline is not even consistent with the Government’s longstanding 2050 target for an almost entirely zero emissions fleet. The average age of a car at scrappage is 14 years, meaning that sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles will need to cease around 2035 in order to achieve an almost entirely zero emission fleet by 2050, a concern that has been highlighted by the Committee on Climate Change.40

Table 1: Government commitments to the end of sales of conventional vehicles





India, China, Slovenia, Austria, Israel, the Netherlands, Ireland




UK, France, Sri Lanka, Taiwan


Source: Reproduced from CCC, Reducing UK emissions: 2018 Progress Report to Parliament, June 2018, Table 5.3

Table 2: Manufacturer commitments on electrification






Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) 50% of sales in Japan and Europe



BEVs 15 - 25% of sales



EVs 25% of sales



EVs 100% of sales



EVs and conventional hybrids 50% of sales



EVs and conventional hybrids 50% of sales



BEVs, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and hydrogen vehicles 15% of sales

Source: Reproduced from CCC, Reducing UK emissions: 2018 Progress Report to Parliament, June 2018, Table 5.4

23.The shortfalls of the 2040 target date are widely recognised amongst stakeholders. 14 Mayors of the UK’s largest cities, National Grid, E.ON, environmental groups, and charging companies have called for it to be brought forwards to 2030.41 The House of Commons Joint Inquiry on Improving Air Quality recommended that the target be brought forwards in more general terms - a view shared by Royal Dutch Shell, amongst others.42 Only four of our witnesses specifically advised against bringing the target forwards.43

24.The transition to EVs is set to accelerate over the coming decades; the UK will need to match, or better, international commitments if we are to be a ‘world leader’. A leadership position would enable the UK to develop sought-after expertise in EV technology, manufacturing and charging infrastructure, with substantial potential export opportunities. The current 2040 target for ‘effectively zero emissions’ vehicles places the UK in the passenger seat, leaving us to accept vehicle emission standards set by more ambitious international regulations. Stronger ambitions are also needed to ensure that the Government delivers on its goals to mitigate climate change and improve air quality. A more ambitious target date would help to ensure that petrol and diesel vehicle stock is retired by 2050, and would align the goal for England, Wales and Northern Ireland with the Scottish Government’s ambition to phase out petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032. Zero should mean zero. We recommend that the Government prioritise overarching policy goals on climate change and air quality over sectoral interests, and bring forwards a clear, precise target for new sales of cars and vans to be truly zero emission by 2032. This would put the UK in the ‘first tier’ league of nations leading the EV transition, and help to harmonise objectives across the UK.

25.Interim milestones towards the new target date could help to further improve investor confidence, creating checkpoints to monitor progress and adjust policies if necessary–similar to the cycle of 5-yearly carbon budgets.44 We welcome the Government’s willingness to set interim targets, with the adoption in the Road to Zero Strategy of an ambition for “at least 50%, and as many as 70%, of new car sales and up to 40% of new van sales being ultra low emission by 2030”. We recommend that the principle of interim targets is maintained, with the interim targets themselves strengthened and updated to reflect the increase in ambitions to bring forward the phase out of ICE vehicles to 2032.

26.Unite, SMMT, Toyota and BMW raised concerns about bringing the target date forwards, noting the potential detrimental impacts of the EV transition on the ICE industry and workers.45 Whilst we recognise their concerns, to remain globally competitive the UK automotive sector should seek to lead, rather than follow, as the world transitions from ICEs to EVs, and as we depart the EU. It is imperative that Government supports domestic industry and workers through the EV and EU exit transitions by creating an attractive domestic environment for investment. We discuss options for this in Chapter 6.

22 The Rt Hon Teresa May MP, PM speech on science and modern Industrial Strategy (21 May 2018)

25 Q101 [SMMT]; University of Southampton (EVD0046)

29 “The government has no plan to ban any particular technology - like hybrids - as part of this strategy”. GOV.UK, Government launces Road to Zero Strategy to lead world in zero emission vehicle technology (9 July 2018)

30 Committee on Climate Change, Government’s Road to Zero Strategy falls short (10 July 2018); Committee on Climate Change, Letter to Chris Grayling and Greg Clark (11 October 2018)

31 Many indicated that hybrids of all varieties would have a long-term role to play in the commercial and larger vehicle segments, which face different challenges to cars and vans. Q101 [Unite]; Qq 295–6 [Toyota]; Q296 [Nissan], Q300 [BMW]; Committee on Climate Change, CCC welcomes UK Government investment in electric vehicles (11 September 2018); Committee on Climate Change, Letter to Chris Grayling and Greg Clark (11 October 2018)

38 National Infrastructure Commission,National Infrastructure Assessment, page 53 (July 2018)

40 Committee on Climate Change, Reducing UK emissions 2018 Progress Report to Parliament (June 2018); Committee on Climate Change, Letter to Chris Grayling and Greg Clark (11 October 2018)

42 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health and Social Care, and Transport Committees, Fourth Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of the Environmental Audit Committee, Third Report of the Health and Social Care Committee, and Second Report of the Transport Committee of Session 2017–19, Improving Air Quality, (7 March 2018); The Guardian, Shell would support UK bringing forward petrol ban from 2040 (5 July 2018); Electric Blue [EVD0047], Q226 [Nottingham City Council], Q225 [Energy Saving Trust]

44 UKEVSE [EVD0044], Chargemaster [EVD0038], Q287 [Nissan]

Published: 19 October 2018