The Government's latest Air Quality Plan is flawed in so many ways that it will be impossible to implement and a clear investment strategy is needed to make Britain an electric car nation.
Promising to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol engine cars and vans by 2040, the Government has set itself an impossible timescale that industry will not be able to meet. From a manufacturer's perspective, 23 years equates to little more than the lifespan of an engine plant, which is nowhere near enough time to deliver the changes that would be necessary to support a wholesale switch to electric vehicles.
While the UK has been developing its capabilities in the areas of battery making and EV manufacturing, a lack of funding would make it virtually impossible to expand these offerings in the timescales needed to fulfil demand if the ban goes ahead. There would be a significant shortfall in both skills and production capacity.
The Government has not only failed to understand the scale of the planning and investment needed to transform Britain into an electric car nation, it may even have knocked the headwind out of planned investments in the UK too. BMW has already committed to building the electric Mini in the UK, this is mainly because it has invested significantly in an automated production facility here, with plenty of capacity, and therefore it makes sense to use it. Whether other car makers would be prepared to invest in establishing electric car production facilities in the UK at a time of uncertainty about what the post-Brexit future might hold, is far less certain.
A significant shortfall in production capacity is not the only hurdle that will need to be addressed if the Government's proposed ban on the sale of new diesel and petrol engine cars goes ahead and motorists switch to electric vehicles in the numbers projected. The National Grid has already voiced its concern about the impact this change could have; resulting in a massive increase in demand for electricity that could only be met by six more power plants similar in size and capacity to Hinckley Point. Other problems such as the lack of charging points, and other necessary infrastructure, and on-going issues related to the convenience of battery-powered electric cars, appear to have been overlooked completely.
From an environmental perspective, the case for battery-powered electric cars is far from clear cut. Battery technology can degrade over time and is not environmentally-friendly to produce or dispose of. Despite the obvious infrastructure issues, hydrogen fuel cell-powered engines could yet rise to the top as the technology of choice for electric cars in the future.
If the Government is serious about tackling air pollution in our towns and cities, the place to start is public transport, taxis and light delivery fleets. While some initiatives to help taxi operators already exist, the announcement of an additional £250 million for councils to spend on the delivery of local plans should be directed at helping bus companies and local distribution companies to make the transition to electric and hybrid vehicles. It is unlikely that the funding allocated will be sufficient to make a real difference however.
The Government must stop communicating deadlines to make headlines and instead concentrate on putting in place a clear, strategic plan that will reduce air pollution and support the uptake of clean motoring. This will involve listening to cross-industry concerns and being prepared to invest in supporting manufacturers and putting in place the infrastructure needed to deliver a solution that is practical and viable.
Richard Gane is a director and manufacturing sector specialist at supply chain consultancy, www.vendigital.com