In our latest guest article, Transport & Environment (T&E)‘s UK director Richard Hebditch reports on the progress with phasing out the top polluters in the transport sector: petrol and diesel cars.
The case for electrification
Shifting from petrol and diesel cars to electric vehicles (EVs) is fundamental to achieving Scotland’s ambitions to reach net zero and halve emissions from transport by 2030. But Scotland’s ambitions on electric vehicles are not just in its own hands, but depend on the UK Government too. So what progress is being made?
The Scottish Government deserves credit for their ambition – one shared by the UK government (in theory at least). Ending the era of the internal combustion engine (ICE) is essential, and the new measures from the UK Government to mandate increasing supply of EVs is the biggest single carbon cutting measure in the recent update to the UK net zero strategy.
The zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate is set to come into operation in January 2024. The supply of electric vehicles is already increasing – the latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) shows that battery electric cars now make up 17% of new car sales across the UK with sales up 59% on last year. Sales of new battery electric vans are behind, making up 5% of the market this year but with steady growth (sales up by a fifth since last year).
The proposed annual targets for cars in the ZEV mandate can, and should, be more ambitious in the early years of the mandate. A target of just 22% in 2024 is below what we can expect the market to deliver anyway. The ZEV mandate should not just be a backstop to a business-as-usual scenario; it should encourage realistic ambition from the market. We believe that the UK should aim for at least a third of new car sales to be ZEV in 2024 and 17% for zero emission vans.
Car and van fleets will be one of the primary drivers behind accelerated battery electric vehicle (BEV) sales in the early years, since BEVs are cheaper to own and run than petrol or diesel alternatives on a total cost of ownership basis (particularly with favourable benefit-in-kind tax rates which have been extended until 2028). BEVs represented 34% of new registrations by the leasing sector in 2022 and with corporate registrations accounting for more than half of new vehicles in the UK, procurement decisions of fleet operators have a huge impact on the wider vehicle market.
The Scottish Government is therefore right in its approach for public sector fleets to lead on ending petrol and diesel new vehicles, with the phase out of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2025. Electric modes are now available for cars and vans and they will be cheaper to run than their petrol and diesel counterparts, not withstanding the rises in electricity costs in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The challenge therefore is to help overcome the initial higher purchase costs that there may be. The Scottish Government investment in BEV purchases obviously helps and is a model that the UK Government should learn from.
This funding should not need to be a never ending subsidy for electric vehicles. The ZEV mandate will increase supply, bring down prices and costs are already falling from technological improvements and greater competition in the EV market.
Scotland has also led in providing electric vehicle charge points compared to England, Wales and Northern Ireland (though London provides the most). This also important in ensuring that fleets can decarbonise.
But while cars and vans are the vanguard of transport decarbonisation, action is also needed for buses and HGVs. Across the UK, the bus fleet is ageing fast. Most buses are made in the UK, so this should be the perfect opportunity for climate and industrial policy to march hand in hand.
Policy on HGVs also lags behind. The UK and Scottish governments both prioritise funding for HGV innovation and demonstration projects, and hold back from endorsing particular technologies. But this risks missing the ability to go further faster. There is a clear consensus that battery electric trucks will fulfil the requirements of most use cases in the UK – the debate is just on the size of the remaining cases which might require alternatives and what technologies (battery swapping, hydrogen fuel cells, electric road systems) might be needed for those cases.
So with battery electric trucks now on the market, the priority now should be to boost their initial uptake with support for depots and warehouses to install charging and with financial support to overcome the initial costs (UK incentives to purchase zero emission trucks are well below most major European countries).
Both Scottish and UK governments are setting a clear path for all new cars and vans to be zero emission in the next decade. While competition between Holyrood and Westminister can be unhelpful, in this regard at least, competing for which can end the internal combustion engine era first can help the overall aim of ending greenhouse gas emissions from road transport.