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In Charts: EVs should be ‘celebrated’ as part of net zero in election run-up

Electric vehicles plugged in at a UK charging hub
Data shows that UK sales of electric cars increased by five per cent to 24,000 in May 2024 compared to May 2023, accounting for 18 per cent of new car sales (Photo: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

Transport remains the UK’s highest-emitting sector, accounting for more than a quarter of emissions

The “full transition to electric vehicles will be one of the most important actions to achieve the UK’s net zero target”, says the UK’s independent Climate Change Committee in its Sixth Carbon Budget.

According to government figures, transport is the largest emitting sector of greenhouse gases in the UK. In 2021, domestic transport accounted for 26 per cent of total emissions in 2021, outstripping both the energy sector (at 20 per cent) and the business sector (18 per cent). 

The Conservative government’s September 2023 decision to push back its deadline on phasing out internal combustion engine vehicles from 2030 to 2035, was met with criticism from industry and environmentalists. Lisa Brankin, UK chair of automaker Ford, said the rollback “undermined” the industry’s need for consistency.

The deadline forms part of the UK’s zero emissions vehicle mandate, which stipulates sales targets for the number of zero emissions cars and vans produced by UK manufacturers. Starting from 2024, these targets increase every year, to reach 100 per cent in 2035, and manufacturers face a £15,000 penalty for each non-compliant car.

The announcement of a July general election has brought the policy back into the spotlight.

At an Energy Climate and Intelligence Unit press briefing on July 3, TV presenter and campaigner for low-emission cars Quentin Willson said the uptake of electric vehicles must be “celebrated as part of the green economy”, rather than scaled back.

Willson said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to delay the final deadline was an “electoral device” and the Conservatives “are going to weaponise net zero in their strategy”.

Sales strong despite deadline change

Ben Nelmes, CEO of non-profit New Automotive, said in a statement that the ZEV mandate is driving a “clear swing towards electric cars”. The overall trend towards EV adoption remains strong despite changes to the final deadline, he added at Monday’s briefing.

UK sales of electric cars increased by five per cent to 24,000 in May 2024 compared to May 2023, accounting for 18 per cent of new car sales, data published by New Automotive shows. Meanwhile, over the first five months of 2024, 16.3 per cent of new cars were fully electric, up from 15.9 per cent in the same period of the previous year.

The ZEV mandate states that by 2024, 22 per cent of the cars sold by manufacturers should be zero emissions, though there is some leeway — companies not on track to meet this target can, for example, buy credits from manufacturers overachieving on the target.

Despite growing EV sales, manufacturers still seem to have concerns. In contrast to its initially positive position, Ford’s European head of electric vehicles Martin Sander told audiences at the Financial Times’ Future of the Car Summit, held in London in May: “We can’t push EVs into the market against demand and we’re not going to pay penalties.”

Fiona Howarth, CEO of Octopus Electric Vehicles, which leases EVs to consumers, said at Monday’s press briefing that a prospective government should show “ambition” towards the ZEV mandate. “Just because there are companies which have underinvested in the cleaner future of the car industry doesn’t mean that we should soften the policy for the [whole of the] UK,” Howarth said.

Labour backs earlier deadline

Ahead of the July election, the opposition Labour party has pledged to restore the 2030 phaseout date for fossil-fuel powered cars and vans. A Labour spokesperson told Sustainable Views that restoring the original target would deliver “certainty for the UK’s automotive sector”.

“Electric vehicles are already cheaper to run and will soon be cheaper to make than petrol cars. More delay means higher costs for drivers, billions in investment lost and more good jobs shipped overseas,” added the spokesperson.

A service from the Financial Times