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Antony Antoniou – Reform UK Northampton North
Prospective Parliamentary Candidate
(PPC) 2024 General Election

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Government EV mandate now in force

UK’s Electric Vehicle Rules Shift into High Gear

The UK government has turned the dial up a notch on electric vehicles (EVs) through newly enacted rules requiring automakers to steadily increase their share of zero emissions cars sold. This acceleration towards phasing out petrol and diesel vehicles raises important questions around impacts on consumer choice, infrastructure readiness, and finding the right balance between environmental needs and market realities.

New Sales Thresholds Take Effect

As of January 1st, 2023, automakers selling cars in the UK face mandated annual EV sales targets that ratchet up over time, reaching 100% by 2035. This year’s requirement sets the bar at 22% of sales needing to be battery or fuel cell powered electric vehicles. Brands that exceed quotas for polluting models face stiff penalties – £15,000 for every non-compliant internal combustion engine car sold above designated thresholds.

While the UK’s 2035 end target for eliminating petrol/diesel vehicles matches the EU, previously Britain had a more ambitious 2030 goal before pushing it back in 2020. This created more alignment with Europe’s phase out timeline and reduced short-term pressure on automakers. However, ramping up from today’s EV sales penetration of around 17% of new cars sold annually to 22% this year still represents a steep jump. Requirements will continue rising steadily to reach 80% in 2030 before hitting 100% in 2035.

Driving an Accelerated Transition

The logic behind annual sales quotas that inch higher progressively lies in avoiding an overloaded switchover as 2035 approaches. Compared to suddenly expecting automakers and buyers to pivot enmasse at the eleventh hour, more gradual evolution allows various players to prepare. With long fleet turnover cycles, signalling well in advance that combustion engines are on the way out provides clarity for manufacturers to shape investment and production strategies. This gives more lead time to develop models, retool factories, and reshape supply chains. Prescribed annual milestones aim to provide momentum pulling the auto industry inexorably towards electricity.

For charging infrastructure providers, clearly telegraphed incremental sales growth informs buildout of essential EV charging stations – whether fast chargers on motorways or slower connections catering to overnight residential parking. Understanding forthcoming demand patterns allows them to identify promising locations and scale up appropriately. This infrastructure rollout remains a huge logistical challenge, but defined gradients for adoption enable planning. Meanwhile, car buyers themselves need time to acclimate to an all-electric reality through greater model availability at reduced prices. Steadily tightening regulations re-orients the entire ecosystem.

Potential Pitfalls for Consumer Choice

While this structured path no doubt aids various players in pivoting towards EVs, mandated sales percentages pose risks of constraining customer options prior to full phase outs. Consumers may soon encounter situations where brands hit compliance limits on internal combustion engines, refusing to sell additional petrol or diesel variants.

By fortune or foresight, some automakers find themselves better positioned for this transition, having jumped further ahead on EVs within current lineups. Mass market brands like Volkswagen offer multiple affordable battery electric models for European drivers to choose amongst, thanks to major investments seeded years ago when diesel pollution scandals struck. Premium players like Tesla focus exclusively on leading-edge EVs while mainstream companies play catch up. Yet others have been slower to electrify – whether smaller brands like Mazda with more limited research budgets or outliers like Subaru where customer buying patterns skew rural rather than urban early adopter.

Brands lagging on EV options due to late start or narrow margins making investments tougher now stare down the barrel of fines if combustion engines dominate sales. Consumers loyal to these makes now face risks of truncated selections. Suites of accessible petrol/diesel vehicles allowing budget conscious purchases may dwindle rapidly as manufacturers throttle back production volumes to avoid penalties. Worthy fringe models only selling in small numbers could disappear from importer order books and dealer lots as automakers laser focus on mass demand segments.

Barriers Around Charging Infrastructure Access

While EV model offerings from major brands promise to improve rapidly, another key question hangs around charging infrastructure keeping pace with sales momentum. Industry projections indicate the UK needs to scale public charging points from around 25,000 currently to 300,000 by end of this decade.

Absent reliable public networks, drivers without home charging get left behind in this transition. Urban flats, terraced housing, and streets with vehicle parking permutations that preclude running extension cords all face ‘range anxiety’ about distances reachable between top ups. Issues around charging queue frustrations known as ‘charge rage’ at service stations highlight infrastructure strains. Allowing sales quotas to diverge too far ahead of charging capability risks access divides.

Those lacking driveways or garages find themselves trapped through no fault of their own. Rural communities face similar gaps around network coverage enabling longer trips. And networks powered by renewable energy sources require parallel green grid upgrades to deliver promised environmental benefits. Managing this intertwined chain requires coordination.

The Role of Politics

As a consumable driving broader political agendas, cars sold today face particularly volatile policy environments. Recent UK political turmoil repeatedly raised prospects of pivots on environmental legislation should leadership change, compromising consistency. While 2035 bans enjoy cross-party support, cracks exist around interim milestones with fears timelines could backtrack should economic conditions deteriorate.

Automakers above all desire certainty around targets and timeframes on which to base their complex multi-year production and technology plans. Sudden goalpost shifts driven by political or populist whims waste vast investments, something especially precarious for smaller players with tight margins. Changes also confuse buyers weighing purchase options spanning a decade of use. Finding compromise balancing certainty with flexibility remains key.

Striking the Right Balance

Fundamentally the push towards electric vehicles channels necessary progress on emissions reductions to tackle unfolding climate impacts. But forcibly upending markets too abruptly risks unintended consequences penalising consumer choice and affordability. Setting the pace of change through annually tightened requirements gives the auto industry critical guide rails while buying time to cultivate readiness.

Ensuring supportive infrastructure, model diversity, incentives and public buy-in run in lockstep with sales mandates stays essential to safeguard accessibility. As the UK’s electric vision gathers momentum, constructive solutions embracing the transition while minimizing disruption offer the right roadmap. Careful tuning of collaborative approaches from industry and government together can smooth out the journey.

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