EV strategy: rapid recharge needed Contents

Summary

A successful transition to electric vehicles (EVs) is essential if the Government is to meet its legally binding net zero target by 2050. Surface transport is the UK’s highest-emitting sector, with passenger cars responsible for over half the sector’s emissions according to the Government’s latest data. Life-cycle assessments of EVs demonstrate that they can provide dramatic reductions in emissions, alongside improved air quality. But with EVs making up about only 3 per cent of all cars currently on UK roads, concerted Government action to get people to adopt electric cars is now needed urgently.

The Government has legislated to end the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2035 and there has been some welcome progress towards the target—the Government’s Zero Emission Vehicles mandate, requiring manufacturers to sell an increasing proportion of EVs each year, was introduced in December 2023. There has also been some progress in the rollout of the UK’s charging infrastructure and the Government has recently published strategies to enhance innovation in battery technologies and strengthen the UK’s car manufacturing industry.

However, progress is not happening fast enough, and major barriers remain. EVs are still more expensive than their petrol and diesel counterparts, and there is an insufficient range of affordable EVs on the market. Up to 40 per cent of households do not have off-street parking at home and thus are entirely reliant on public charging. The availability of public chargepoints across the UK is highly variable, and the Government has missed its targets for motorway chargepoints. Major funding programmes for public chargepoints have faced serious delays. Many consumers face considerable anxiety around whether and where they will be able to charge EVs reliably, affordably, and quickly, and around the battery range of second-hand cars.

Consumer confidence is critical to secure a successful transition. So, as well as material progress on the above obstacles, the Government must do more to convey a positive vision of the EV transition. We heard calls from a range of witnesses for clearer communication and more leadership from the Government. The Prime Minister’s speech announcing the pushback of the petrol and diesel phase-out date from 2030 to 2035 told the public that achieving net zero “is going to be hard”. By emphasising the costs while failing to stress the benefits and robustly counter misinformation, the Government is not building public confidence. After the Prime Minister’s speech in September 2023, 37 per cent of consumers surveyed by Auto Trader said they would never buy an EV.1

The concern the Government expressed to us about the scale of misinformation has not been matched by commensurate urgency in tackling it. Faced with conflicting claims and alarmist headlines, consumers need a go-to source of comprehensive, clear and balanced information so they can make informed decisions about their vehicles. The Government must develop a communication strategy in collaboration with industry and consumer organisations to provide this resource.

The Prime Minister told the country that the UK needs “more time to prepare” and to tackle remaining challenges to the EV transition. The Government must now seize the opportunity it has given itself. It must publish a roadmap through 2035 setting out the steps it will take to achieve the target, focusing on seven key areas:

  • Tackle the disparity in upfront costs between electric and petrol and diesel cars. There is an insufficient range of affordable EVs, and EVs are more expensive than their petrol and diesel equivalents. The upfront cost of EVs, including second-hand cars, remains a significant barrier to consumer adoption and targeted grants should be reconsidered for EV purchases. Unlike markets across Europe the Government has removed incentives to support private buyers with upfront costs for EVs. This is premature as we seek to move from early adopters and fleets purchasing EVs to a wider proportion of the population. Any incentives should be tapered as the prices of EVs fall and approach parity with petrol and diesel equivalents.
  • Turbo-charge the charging infrastructure rollout. The number and range of public chargepoints must anticipate demand, giving consumers confidence in purchasing an EV, and keep pace with the number of EVs on the road. The Government must urgently review outdated and disproportionate planning regulations which are a major block to the rollout. While there has been significant private investment, a considerable number of chargepoints necessary for 2035 will not be commercially viable for industry to install by this point. The Government must tackle delays in the rollout of funding schemes for public chargepoint infrastructure and build on the support available to local authorities. The Government must also bring forward legislation to introduce new powers to direct local authorities in areas where there is insufficient infrastructure. As many local authorities face major funding challenges, central government support, such as through the Local Electric Vehicle (LEVI) fund, will be crucial in enabling local government to fulfil its role.
  • Ensure charging is reasonably priced, convenient, and reliable. While in many cases EV charging costs less than petrol refuelling, the Government must explore options for equalising the discrepancy between the VAT rates for domestic and public charging. The current situation is unfair for drivers without access to off-street parking. Recently introduced regulations to ensure chargepoints are accessible and user-friendly are welcome—these should be reviewed by summer 2025 at the latest to explore how the Government can go further as technology and consumer behaviour evolves.
  • Accelerate grid decarbonisation. Across the life of an EV, emissions are already considerably lower than their fossil fuel equivalents. But ensuring the EV transition eliminates greenhouse gas emissions from passenger car use requires that the electricity they use for charging is decarbonised. Ongoing work to upgrade the grid must prioritise low-carbon energy generation projects, designating them as strategically important and fast-tracking them through the process.
  • Begin an urgent review of road taxation. The shift from petrol and diesel to EVs—currently exempt from fuel duty, congestion charging and vehicle excise duty—necessitates a radical rethink of road taxation. The tax system should be aligned with the Government’s policy objectives. Fiscal measures must incentivise low-emission choices and disincentivise polluting ones. As the UK moves away from petrol and diesel cars, people need an understanding of the total cost of motoring with EVs. We support the conclusions of the Transport Committee’s 2022 report that comprehensive reform of road taxation is needed, to start an honest conversation with the public and work towards a system that is seen as fair and enjoys public acceptance.
  • Enhance UK manufacturing and battery innovation. Recent announcements on new investments in the UK’s car manufacturing industry and the publication of the Advanced Manufacturing Plan and UK Battery Strategy are welcome. The Government must monitor progress in these areas closely and provide a progress update by mid-2025.
  • Invest in UK recycling. UK recycling facilities and regulation are not keeping pace with the uptake of EVs. The Government must urgently review and progress options to rapidly accelerate investment in UK vehicle and battery recycling facilities. Effective regulation will ensure that recycling is undertaken by responsible operators, and that the UK is able to recoup as much of the critical materials contained in EV batteries as possible for its own domestic production.

The EV transition covers a wide range of policy areas, from planning regulation to taxation, waste management to industrial strategy. The range of Government departments and non-departmental public bodies which must deliver consistent and joined-up progress across all areas is broad, including the Department for Transport, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Department for Business and Trade, the Environment Agency and the Office for Product Safety and Standards. Either the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles must be resourced as a delivery unit to coordinate cross-Government action, or a new body such as a Ministerial Taskforce should be set up to provide direction.

If the Government now moves forward with renewed and concerted focus, it is still possible to ensure a successful EV transition that enjoys the confidence of the public and makes the necessary contribution to the UK’s net zero targets. However, if it fails to heed our recommendations the UK will not reap the significant benefits of better air quality and will lag in the slow lane for tackling climate change.


1 AutoTrader Group, ‘Significant jump in number of people saying they’ll never buy an electric car’ (25 Septmeber 2023): https://plc.autotrader.co.uk/news-views/press-releases/significant-jump-in-number-of-people-saying-they-ll-never-buy-an-electric-car/ [accessed 30 January 2024]




© Parliamentary copyright 2024