Decarbonisation: The sector has its say

Published:  20 July, 2021

Plans to decarbonise road transport by 2050 met a mixed response from the automotive sector when the government laid out its strategy recently 

Carbon emissions from UK road transport will be a thing of the past by the middle of the century, according to the government’s new plans. However, many in the sector still hold reservations about the roadmap that has been laid out for the strategy to achieve this.

Step change

In a written statement to Parliament on Tuesday 14 July, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps laid out the goals of the Transport decarbonisation plan: “Transport is the largest contributor to UK greenhouse gas emissions, with road transport alone accounting for almost a quarter of our total emissions in 2019. We must deliver a step change in the breadth and scale of our ambition to reduce transport’s GHG emissions to reach net zero.

“In March 2020, ‘Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge’ committed to bring together a transport decarbonisation plan to deliver transport’s contribution to carbon budgets and net zero across all forms of transport. The plan is genuinely high ambition – technically and feasibly – for all areas of transport and notes that decarbonisation will rely, in part, on future transport technology, coupled with the necessary behavioural and societal change.

Electric vehicles are to play a major part in this: “The plan also sets out a world-leading pledge to consult on the end of sale of all new, non-zero emission road vehicles by 2040 at the latest. As a major step towards that, alongside the plan we have published a consultation on phasing out the sale of all new non-zero emission HGVs by 2040, demonstrating our commitment to tackle the second largest source of domestic transport carbon emissions and furthering our ambition to decarbonise UK roads.

“This comes with a green paper, which will set out options for a new regulatory framework requiring vehicle manufacturers to improve the efficiency of new road vehicles. This will allow us to meet our phase out ambitions while creating new jobs for the automotive sector and delivering certainty to drivers.”

The Transport Secretary added: “To underpin our petrol and diesel phase out dates and help achieve them, we are also publishing a 2035 delivery plan. This plan brings together all of our committed funding streams and measures for decarbonising cars and vans, from across government, into a single document.”

Amid its flurry of announcements, the government also published its response to the electric vehicle smart charging consultation: “The response commits to laying legislation later this year to ensure that all private EV chargepoints meet smart charging standards. The transition to EVs is central to government’s net zero commitment but will also increase demand on the electricity system. Smart charging can help mitigate these impacts.”

Accessible and affordable
Commenting on the government’s plan, SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes observed: “The automotive sector welcomes the publication of the Transport Decarbonisation Plan and associated consultations, which are necessary to create a clear and supportive framework to accelerate the transition to net zero mobility. The industry is already delivering with an ever-expanding range of electrified vehicles which are being bought in ever greater numbers. However, achieving net zero cannot rely solely on the automotive sector. Massive investment, not least in infrastructure, is necessary and must be delivered at accelerated pace, for which we still await a plan and equally ambitious targets. Crucially, we must maintain a strong and competitive market that ensures the shift to electrified vehicles is affordable for all.”

Looking specifically at cars and vans, he noted: “The electric revolution must be accessible and affordable for all. The right regulatory framework can give drivers the confidence to switch, and manufacturers the clarity they need to invest. However, the ambitions are incredibly high and the timeline tight, so any regulation must be backed by a package of measures that accelerate market uptake through consumer incentives, as well as an irreversible commitment to the expansion of charging infrastructure and rapid energy decarbonisation, so we’re not putting brown energy into green cars and vans.”

Good intentions
Looking at the issue from a fuel and power delivery perspective, Gordon Balmer, PRA Executive Director said, "We welcome the government's good intentions for decarbonising transport, however they have to be based on what is achievable. Alternatives to diesel such as electric and hydrogen have not yet been developed to a point where they can be sold into the commercial freight sector. You cannot legislate your way to inventing cleaner technologies. Without a roadmap, this is a mere aspiration. While PRA members are supportive of the principle of decarbonisation, there needs to be a realistic and well-thought-out plan to support these proposals, including how refuelling infrastructure will support alternative fuels such as hydrogen.”

The issue of road pricing was also raised by the PRA: “While the government is signposting a low carbon future, the financial implications are yet to be addressed. The principle that road users should pay for the roads that they drive on is fair. Fuel duty ensures this happens because people pay more duty as they use more of the roads. The same principle should apply to the low carbon future, which should be market-led.”

Choosing the direction of investment is also an issue according to Gordon: “It is not yet clear which low carbon fuels, hydrogen technologies or battery forms will emerge as the most environmentally friendly and efficient. Many PRA members are still hesitating on installing charging points as the business case is not yet there. Road user charging could ensure the Government remains neutral as far as the competition between technologies is concerned, while raising sufficient revenue to plug the gap in Exchequer funding caused by any future decline in fuel duty receipts.”

He added: “Without a sensible plan where all road users pay for their upkeep, the burden will be borne by motorists who can’t afford to buy an EV which is still more expensive than an ICE vehicle. Currently EV drivers are literally getting a free ride as they pay domestic rate VAT on the electricity they use, no excise duty on fuel and no vehicle excise duty.”

Accelerator
Noting a delay on the HGV part of the plan, Kevin Bell, transport and infrastructure partner at law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, commented: "Originally planned for 2030, the proposed phasing out of the sale of new diesel and petrol heavy goods vehicles is now expected for 2040, and this delay may underline the challenges electric vehicles currently present in terms of range and distance, particularly when considering that freight trucks may be required to run for eight to twelve hours a day, across varied routes and environments. Perhaps this points to hydrogen as a more realistic option for the future? Nevertheless, this news, alongside the phasing out of polluting cars and vans by 2030, highlights the very rapid change now underway for the decarbonisation of road vehicles and stresses the importance of bringing battery manufacturing to the UK, a trend confirmed earlier in July when car manufacturer Nissan announced it will build its new all-electric model in Sunderland, alongside a new electric battery plant, supporting the creation of many green jobs in the North East.”

Kevin added: "The Transport Decarbonisation Plan is an important part of the UK government's rapidly accelerating decarbonisation agenda. Transport is believed to be the single biggest contributor of carbon dioxide emissions in the UK and the plans need to be lauded as they seek to make the UK a hub for green transport technology and innovation, However, there seems to be much reliance on the development of new technology and whilst new 'green' innovation will no doubt continue to materialise over the coming years, the Government still needs to focus on how the UK's power grid infrastructure will deliver the extra power required to deliver these ambitious plans without reliance on fossil fuels. Otherwise, we run the risk of stalling when we should instead be putting our foot on the accelerator."


Detail
Also commenting, NFDA Director Sue Robinson said: "Franchised vehicle dealers have been making significant investments both improving their infrastructure and adapting processes to meet the fast-growing consumer demand for electrified vehicles and embrace the transition to zero emission transportation. Retailers will continue to play a crucial role during this transition enabling their customers to switch to greener vehicles by informing them about all the benefits of owning an EV.”

She added: “However, it is imperative that motorists are supported through a range of incentives to ensure that they do not hold on to their old vehicles. In particular, we must ensure improvements to the current infrastructure are adequate and representative of geographical differences.”


Clarity
While he noted a lack of detail coming from government, IAAF Chief Executive Mark Field believed that the automotive aftermarket as a whole is more than up to the challenge posed by decarbonisation: “The Transport Decarbonisation Plan makes a number of ambitious announcements but there is little detail into how these will be achieved, both from an infrastructure and cost point of view. While the aftermarket and vehicle manufacturers await further clarity, it is evident that the direction of travel is towards a greener automotive, rail, aviation and marine sector.”

He added: “It is therefore encouraging to see so many suppliers, motor factors and garages embrace new vehicle technologies such as EV and hybrid, raising standards and continuing to be the provider of choice for vehicle service and repair to motorists.”

Serious risk
According to Steve Scofield, Head of Business Development at the IMI, the government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan overlooks the key issue of training for those working on vehicles: “The mission of the government’s plan must be welcomed – it is right that there is a clear focus to ensure the UK can meet its zero emissions objectives. But, disappointingly, yet again the issue of skills to support an electric motoring population is just not evident.

“Our recently published analysis found that by the end of 2020 only 6.5% of the automotive sector was EV ready, underlining the gaping chasm in the proportion of the automotive sector skilled to work on electric vehicles. This deficit presents a serious risk to consumer confidence in wide-scale adoption of zero emission motoring, and a serious threat to the government’s ambitions.

“The recent House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report into the transition to zero emission vehicles highlighted the need to train and retrain the workforce required to service the new car fleet, but highlighting the need and actually committing to investment in the upskilling required are two very different things - and no clear commitment by government to support the training is disappointing. The ramp-up plan for all those who are likely to work on electric vehicles – from service and repair technicians to those working in the roadside recovery and blue light sectors – must be addressed as a matter of urgency. And that means some of that £12bn investment promised by the Prime Minister needs to be put towards skills training.”

Steve added: “The IMI TechSafe standards, endorsed by OZEV at the end of 2019, mean that electrified vehicle users can access the IMI Professional Register to check the electric vehicle technical competencies of technicians at their local garage, but the new IMI data shows that the sector is currently a long way off achieving a critical mass of technicians qualified.”

Final thoughts
Over the last few years, the government has set itself a number of major targets around environmental and emissions issues relating to motor vehicles. This distillation of its intentions again shows that the aim is high, even if some of the targets are being eased back. That said, the sector does keep pointing out that to meet the goals of what they now refer to as decarbonised transport, significant investment will be needed. This does not just mean infrastructure though, it means training people as well, and enabling businesses to be able to offer that training. The government needs to engage fully with a number of sectors, including the automotive aftermarket, to make sure these goals can be achieved.

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