UK auto manufacturers and dealers have warned that government plans to phase out petrol and diesel car sales risk pricing poorer people out of owning vehicles, as well as putting thousands of jobs at risk.
Ministers want to phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035, but are considering whether to move the date to 2032, and whether to include hybrid cars in the ban. They have asked the industry to submit their reactions to the proposals by Friday, several of which have been seen by the Financial Times.
“Restricting customer choice to expensive electric vehicles would result in less affluent customers being excluded from mobility, preventing the government from achieving its levelling up agenda,” said the submission from one carmaker with UK manufacturing operations.
Other manufacturer submissions raised similar concerns, along with worries about the need for widespread charging points to give consumers confidence to switch to battery cars.
Banning traditionally powered cars will “put additional strain on those with low incomes where public transport is not available”, one carmaker said in its filing, seen by the Financial Times.
“We do not believe that all customers will be able to afford the latest technologies, and social injustices could be exaggerated further if those in hardship continue to use their internal combustion engine technologies beyond the end sale date,” it added.
Battery electric vehicles are currently more expensive than traditional equivalents, although cheaper to run because of fuel costs if recharged at home. Prices of electric cars are falling but significant reductions in battery costs are needed for them to drop below petrol rivals.
The approach currently proposed by ministers — to focus solely on battery electric cars rather than hybrids — is “too narrow”, one manufacturer with a UK plant warned.
“Challenges around affordability, infrastructure and consumer acceptance mean that it is far too early to set a date for a 100 per cent transition to electric vehicles,” it added.
“A broad approach, that makes use of a range of technologies and energy sources, will deliver the necessary CO2 reductions more quickly and more effectively.”
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The industry has consistently argued that plug-in hybrids, which can make medium-distance journeys on battery power, allow families to experience electric cars without the anxiety of needing to recharge on long journeys.
Carmakers are facing the challenge of meeting tightening emissions rules in several markets, including the EU, China and the UK.
While all players are rolling out battery cars to hit the targets, the three companies in Europe that are ahead — France’s PSA, Germany’s BMW and Japan’s Toyota — all use hybrid or conventional engine technology to meet the new rules.
A report by think-tank Policy Exchange suggested including hybrid vehicles in electric targets until 2028, to give carmakers clarity over how long the technology will be allowed to be sold.
Vehicles that can drive more than 30 miles on electric range “should not be included in the definition of what is phased out”, said one carmaker in its entry.
Other groups warned about the risk to jobs from focusing on one technology.
“The political rhetoric to focus on pure electric as the only environmentally sound solution is simply wrong,” said Mark Lavery, chief executive of Cambria Automobiles, in the dealer group’s submission.
The company’s filing, seen by the FT, warned that thousands of UK jobs would be lost if the government rejected alternative ways of lowering emissions, such as synthetic fuels, hydrogen vehicles, and hybrid technology.
Mr Lavery added: “A balanced approach will protect planet Earth and protect British jobs and prosperity derived from the automotive industry.”
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