Electric vehicles: driving the transition Contents


100.Transport is the next major challenge in the UK’s decarbonisation journey. Recent developments in electric vehicles (EVs) worldwide mean that this technology is optimally placed to help lower emissions from road transport, particularly in smaller vehicle segments. The Government’s aims to make the UK a world leader in both zero emission vehicles and batteries are laudable, but policy targets reflect neither the relative maturity of EV technology, nor expectations for the market’s global development over the coming years. The Government’s existing 2040 targets do not even lead within the UK—Scotland has set a greater ambition—and the government’s aims are ambiguous at best. On top of this, there is a lack of coordination across the policies and incentives set by different departments. There has also been insufficient consideration of the support needed to empower local authorities to perform as key delivery partners for charging infrastructure. Clearer and more consistent policies are required to provide reliable, coherent signals to investors and consumers. If the Government is genuinely committed to leading the EV transition and meeting its decarbonisation targets, it needs to clarify and expand its ambitions, preferably by June 2019.

101.The development of charging infrastructure is essential to give motorists the confidence to switch to EVs. The network must be far-reaching and convenient if drivers are to be convinced that EVs provide a serviceable alternative to petrol and diesel vehicles; drivers will not switch to EVs, even when price parity with petrol and diesel is reached, if they are not confident that they can charge their vehicle in local areas and on major roads. Developments are however hampered by the disconnect between the Government’s ambition for a nationwide charging infrastructure, and its reliance on local authorities and private companies to deliver this national aim. A more strategic approach, taking a UK-wide whole-systems view, would be better equipped to deliver a fit-for-purpose public charging network. This is especially important to deliver charge points in the many locations where local public resources are limited, and where the business case for charge points remains uncertain.

102.As with all disruptive technological transitions, the global move from internal combustion engines (ICEs) to EVs bears risks—but also opportunities—for incumbent industry players. Government and business should work together to develop an intelligent approach that can enable the UK automotive sector to remain a global heavyweight for decades to come. Other countries have already taken a substantial lead in battery production; seeking to catch-up on this activity would leave the UK on a back foot. The UK can better capitalise on industrial opportunities if we instead aggressively target high-value aspects of the EV supply chain where we already hold comparative strengths, and reskill our ICE workforce so as to be trailblazers in the EV revolution.

Published: 19 October 2018