On the 26th July the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) launched its Air Quality Plan which stated that from 2040 onwards new petrol and diesel cars will be banned in the United Kingdom. The announcement was not entirely a surprise to many but the challenges of phasing out the country’s dependency on the internal combustion engine cannot be underestimated. The reactions of various bodies were understandably mixed – The Committee on Climate Change welcomed the news while Quentin Wilson of Fair Fuel UK predicted in a recent BBC interview that ‘you are going to have to get rid of 15 million diesel cars, you'll have to change car factories, no more petrol stations, just think about what that's going to do’
As we all know, historical periodisation is never rigidly defined and to give another transport example, steam locomotives ran alongside diesel units for many years. The government has said that it wished to end ‘the sale of all new conventional petrol and diesel cars by 2040’ but hybrid cars will continue to be sold and there are no proposals to ban all existing petrol and diesel-powered cars after that date – good news for anyone like myself who owns a classic. However, the possibility of local authorities establishing regulations limiting owners of the most polluting cars to travel at certain times of the day or in certain places seems quite plausible; councils will be obliged to produce their final plans by the end of next year. Heavy Goods Vehicles are also excluded from the ban.
The history of electrically powered vehicles on British roads is a long one and five decades ago the UK Electric Vehicle Association put out a press release stating that this country had more battery-electric vehicles on its roads than the rest of the world put together. The majority of these were, of course, milk floats, a form of motoring life that now seems to belong to the recent past. In 1997, Toyota introduced the Prius, the first mass-produced hybrid car and twenty years later Ford’s CEO Mark Field claimed that ‘global offerings of electrified vehicles will exceed gasoline-powered vehicles within the next 15 years’.
At the time of writing, the sales of new electric cars in the UK amount to less than 1 per cent of the market and an entire generation of engineers and technicians may need fresh training; the Institute of The Motor Industry has introduced its new Electric & Hybrid Vehicle qualification, as very few mechanics are currently trained to work on high voltage technology. Charging a car via a domestic three pin plug is a lengthy process – it can take around eight hours - and in the words of Mike Hawes, the Chief Executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders ‘demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles is growing but still at a very low level as consumers have concern over affordability, range and charging points’.
Volvo has recently announced that by 2019 all their new cars will be either electric or hybrid and five of the former will be unveiled by 2021. Two years from now will see the new battery powered Mini and the Transit Custom plug-in hybrid and it is highly possible that within a decade almost every urban street and major petrol station will contain several fast charge points as electric car’s profile continues to rise. One prediction is almost guaranteed to come – a fundamental change in Britain’s automotive landscape.