Sales of new petrol and diesel cars to be banned by 2040: where’s the news in that?

National TV, radio and press headlines screamed “new petrol and diesel cars banned from Britain’s roads by 2040”, as the government published its plan to improve urban air quality and simultaneously reduce emissions from transport.

But industry experts could be forgiven for telling journalists that wrote such ‘electrifying’ and apparently headline-grabbing stories: “Where have you been.”

After all the ‘news’, contained in the government’s long-awaited ‘UK Plan for Tackling Roadside Nitrogen Dioxide Concentrations’ and thus improving air quality was, in fact, not news at all.

The government said in the document that it would “end the sale of all new conventional petrol and diesel cars by 2040”. However, it first announced the measure in 2011 when it said it was “our intention that conventional car and van sales would end by 2040, and for almost every car and van on the road to be a zero emission vehicle by 2050”.

It is understood that hybrid vehicles will be excluded from the UK government’s ban, if it becomes a reality, but despite the document running to 103 pages and being accompanied by a 155-page ‘technical report’, it contained little detail on how the move to end the sale of internal combustion engine cars and vans would actually be achieved.

The government is firmly focused on an electric car and van future – hydrogen vehicles do not get much of a mention in the document but could play a role – but if a zero-emission future is to be achieved numerous key questions need to be answered and issues resolved. They include:

  • The significant work that must be done to improve and increase the vehicle recharging network to the extent that plug-in cars and vans can be widely adopted by fleets. The report says that Highways England will support the uptake of electric cars and vans by working to ensure that 95% of the major road network it manages will have a chargepoint every 20 miles and that where possible, they will be rapid chargepoints.
  • Vehicle manufacturers must work hard to make plug-in vehicles a more viable proposition in terms of model choice, price, battery range and weight and total cost of ownership.
  • How the government will replace the £26.7 billion it raised in 2016/17 in fuel duty?
  • How the UK will generate the electricity required to power millions of plug-in vehicles?
  • How consumers will be able to ‘fast’ charge vehicles at home without tripping their electricity system when other appliances are also running?
  • How drivers that do not have their own garage or off-street parking spot will be able to recharge electric cars and vans?

Such points will take much answering as the clock ticks down to 2040, but Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “We are determined to deliver a green revolution in transport and reduce pollution in our towns and cities. We are taking bold action and want nearly every car and van on UK roads to be zero emission by 2050.”

Many fleet decision-makers may think “I’ll be retired by 2040 so the issue is not my problem”. Nevertheless, they should ensure their fleets are fit-for-purpose and compliant and that means operating vehicles powered by the very latest technology.

The first step is to future-proof fleets against new regulations, that include the April 2019 introduction of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone in London and, potentially, Clean Air Zones in other towns and cities nationwide in the next two or three years (The Buzz: May, June and July 2017).

Diesel vehicles that are Euro6 emission compliant and petrol Euro4 emission compliant as well as hybrid, plug-in hybrid, 100% electric models and hydrogen vehicles will be able to operate inside the Ultra-Low Emission Zone without paying an entry charge. It is expected that similar entry criteria will be adopted by local authorities that introduce similar Clean Air Zones.

Five cities – Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton – are already required to introduce Clean Air Zones under the government’s 2015 UK Air Quality Plan. Additionally local authorities in Greater Manchester and in Bristol and South Gloucestershire have secured Air Quality Grant funding to develop Clean Air Zone proposals.

The government says it will work closely with those local authorities with a view to them finalising detailed proposals covering entry and charging criteria to the Clean Air Zones within 18 months for introduction in 2020 or sooner if possible.

It is almost certainly true that there is hardly a fleet in the UK that is not running Euro4 emission compliant petrol cars and vans and organisations should ensure replacement cycles enable the introduction of Euro6 compliant diesel cars and vans within the next 18 months or so.

Additionally, fleet chiefs should undertake analysis to see, on a vehicle-by-vehicle, employee-by-employee basis, whether hybrid, plug-in hybrid or 100% electric models maybe a viable alternative to internal combustion engine models.

The government report makes clear that “charging zones or measures to prevent certain vehicles using particular roads at particular times” could be considered, but those areas should look to first: Change road layouts to solve congestion, encourage the public and private uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles; focus on innovative retrofitting technologies and new fuels; and, encourage the use of public transport.

The government says it will work with local authorities and others to consider how to help minimise the impact of measures on local businesses, residents and those travelling into towns and cities to work where such action is necessary; and will issue a further consultation in autumn to aid development and assessment of options.

In the immediate future, the government has said that it wants local authorities, with the help of a £255 million cash handout, to take the lead and clean up poor air quality ‘hot spots’, although it will set a clear national framework.

The government wants local authorities to set out initial plans by the end of March 2018 and follow those up with final plans by the end of December 2018. Final approval of the plans rest with the government.

Meanwhile, as the UK moves to an electric vehicle future, any fears that values of defleeted petrol and diesel cars and vans will tumble have been dismissed.

The Vehicle Remarketing Association (VRA) said that in the “short to medium term instability in the used market was highly unlikely”. It said that the 2040 deadline was far enough away that its “strongest effects will not be felt for some considerable time”.

VRA chairman Glenn Sturley said: “It is highly unlikely that this announcement will have any kind of immediate effect on the market for used petrol and diesel vehicles, especially those that meet the newer, cleaner Euro5 and Euro6 emissions standards.”

The ‘UK Plan for Tackling Roadside Nitrogen Dioxide Concentrations’ is available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/633022/air-quality-plan-detail.pdf

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