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Negative reviews: reactions to Sunak's net zero proposals

The prime minister’s decision to delay ban on sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by five years was widely criticised by campaigners, the auto industry and climate change experts

21 September 2023
Rishi Sunak


Prime minister Rishi Sunak has announced that he will delay ban on purchasing new petrol cars from 2030 to 2035 and is also push back the phasing out of domestic gas boilers.

Reactions have been almost entirely negative, with announcement being condemned by climate scientists, environmental campaigners, key players in the automotive sector, by opposition parties and some Conservatives.

The speech can be seen by clicking here

The policy responses

A number of leading Conservatives shared their displeasure. In a statement former PM Boris Johnson said: “Business must have certainty about our net zero commitments. This country leads on tackling climate change and in creating new green technology. The green industrial revolution is already generating huge numbers of high-quality jobs and helping to drive growth and level up our country. Business and industry – such as motor manufacturing – are rightly making vast investments in these new technologies.

“It is those investments that will produce a low-carbon future – at lower costs for British families. It is crucial that we give those businesses confidence that government is still committed to net zero and can see the way ahead. We cannot afford to falter now or in any way lose our ambition for this country.”

In a statement sent to BBC Newsnight, former environment minister Lord Goldsmith said Rishi Sunak was “dismantling credibility” by backtracking on government's net zero plans. Lord Goldsmith said: “Around the world, one of the few areas where the UK really is looked up to is on climate and the environment. Today Sunak is dismantling that credibility, not by accident but by choice. And after having solemnly pledged to his own MPs that he would honour those manifesto commitments. His short stint as PM will be remembered as the moment the UK turned its back on the world and on future generations. A moment of shame.”

Also unimpressed is former cabinet minister Simon Clarke said: “I am very clear: The delivery of net zero should not be a hair-shirt exercise. But I am equally clear that it is in our environmental, economic, moral and – yes – political interests as Conservatives to make sure we lead on this issue rather than disown it.”

Conservative MP Chris Skidmore, a former energy minister who carried out a review into net zero, said Sunak was risking the greatest mistake of his premiership. “If this is true, the decision will cost the UK jobs, inward investment, and future economic growth that could have been ours by committing to the industries of the future,” he told BBC Newsnight.

“I've seen on the WhatsApp groups, many MPs very concerned about the messaging. And it runs against the commitment we've made in our general election manifesto in 2019. Support net zero. The key thing here, you can't just say that you’re back in net zero by 2050 and that you're going to tweak the targets in the middle. Those targets are essential to meet the pathway, and net zero isn't about 2050, it's about meeting our commitment we make it to the 2030 because if we don't make our 2030 targets, we are not ever going to be on track for 2050.”

The PM’s announcement did get support from a number of Conservative MPs, including former business secretary Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg endorsed the proposals, who said: “Taking burdens off the backs off taxpayers during an inflationary period is the right thing to do, and could prove an election-winning strategy.”

Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay, chairman of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, welcomed the proposals: “If reports of a delay to the rollout of unrealistic net zero measures are to be believed this is great news for UK consumers. It will make pie-in-the-sky deadlines into ones that are less invasive, less costly and more realistic. I'm pleased to see sensible pragmatism from the PM.”

Speaking for the opposition, Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow energy secretary, said: “This is an act of weakness from a desperate, directionless prime minister, dancing to the tune of a small minority of his party. Liz Truss crashed the economy and Rishi Sunak is trashing our economic future.”

Christopher Hammond, chief executive of UK100, a cross-party network of local leaders committed to action on net zero and clean air, said: “The prime minister’s short-term election gamble will leave businesses and local communities dealing with the long-term consequences of higher bills, a less competitive economy and dirty air. If the prime minister is serious about being honest about net zero, he should be clear that delaying action means we won’t deliver our climate goals. Standing still is more expensive in the long run.”

Antonia Jennings, chief executive at Centre for London, said: “Today’s announcement from the government is bad news for London and for our planet. Londoners already live with some of the worst air quality in the UK, and transport accounts for a quarter of carbon emissions in the capital. Each year, 4,000 Londoners die prematurely from the effects of air pollution, and many mobility providers have already spent years planning for the 2030 target.

“For London to reach net zero by 2030, we need policies that support a shift to electric vehicles, while reducing private car ownership. This measure does neither, and will instead keep more polluting vehicles on our roads. Given 42% of Londoners don’t own a car, the most effective way to support people through the cost of living crisis is to invest in public and active transport.”

Expert reactions

Climate change experts were uneasy about the PM’s announcement.

Professor Piers Forster, chair of the Climate Change Committee, said: “The government not only has a legal obligation to meet its Net Zero 2050 target. It has a commitment to hit the interim emission reduction targets it has put into law. The Climate Change Committee has an obligation to assess progress towards those targets. In June, we said in our Progress Report that we were less confident in the government’s ability to deliver its 2030 and 2035 commitments than we were a year previously.

“We need to go away and do the calculations, but today’s announcement is likely to take the UK further away from being able to meet its legal commitments. This, coupled with the recent unsuccessful wind auction, gives us cause for concern. More action is needed and we await the government’s new plan for meeting their targets and look forward to meeting their response to our Progress Report, expected at the end of October.”

Baroness Parminter, chair of the House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee, said: “I am dismayed by the announcement and will be writing to the prime minister, on behalf of the committee, outlining our concerns and seeking clarification on his roadmap to net zero. 

”The overwhelming evidence we have received so far in our current Electric Vehicles (EVs) inquiry is that both industry and the public need policy certainty, consistency, and clear leadership on the journey to net zero. We had that same message from stakeholders consistently in our previous inquiries into the Boiler Upgrade Scheme and into behaviour change needed to meet carbon reduction goals.

”The target to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030 was welcomed by all the industry we took evidence from. It is they who are crucial in providing the low-carbon products and services we need to get to net zero.

”Given a third of all emission reductions required by 2035 need to come from individuals and households adopting new technologies, choosing low-carbon products or services and reducing carbon-intensive consumption it is hard to see how our legally binding carbon targets will now be met.

”The prime minister’s change of direction and delaying targets for EVs and heat pumps mean that the government will not provide the leadership, certainty or consistency needed. He has chosen to kick the can down the road, rather than pick it up and put it in the recycling bin. 

”We welcome the incentive to encourage people to buy heat pumps by increasing the size of the Boiler Upgrade Scheme. We need incentives in other policy areas like EVs, so our inquiry into electric vehicles will continue and our recommendations will take stock both of these disappointing developments today and the need to address barriers to their uptake.”

The energy sector

Dr Nina Skorupska CBE, chief executive of the REA (Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology) said: “While badged as a ‘pragmatic response’ to the cost-of-living crisis and the UK’s (undoubted) good progress to date on cutting emissions, it is hard not to see today’s news as a retrograde step arguably designed to play to the PM’s base before party-conference season and pre-election. Furthermore, Sunak feeds into the ongoing misguided media rhetoric of ‘net zero extremists’ picking high profile policies to roll back on in the hope to garner votes, while leaving the industry a few positive measures through an effective repackaging of ongoing commitments.

“The renewables and clean tech industry have long called on government to support all households in the energy transition. This could have been achieved through more consistent policies over the last five years, and today’s statements mark an admission of government’s previous failures.

“The purpose of long-term targets is to allow time for people to make the transition and for government to support them in doing so, and delays risk making the transition more expensive, while damaging UK competitiveness in terms of green investment. It is curious as to how government intends for the UK to remain a world leader by retracting on commitments – Industry urgently requires details on the prime minister’s new approach as a whole.

“The EV industry will particularly be looking towards more ambitious and favourable international markets.

“In addition, the throwaway statement of not ‘forcing’ the general public ‘to have seven different bins’ causes further concern of rollbacks on recycling infrastructure and ambitions. It is essential that government still deliver on consistency of waste collections and ensure the separation of food and garden waste, as was committed to over two years ago.

“We, of course, remain fully open to working with government on the delivery of our legally binding net zero targets, including making the most of the expanded Boiler Upgrade Scheme. The REA will however be holding government to account to see net zero really delivered.”

Lawrence Slade, chief executive of Energy Networks Association, said: “Delivering world-class energy infrastructure and ensuring our energy networks remain fit for the future requires policy and regulatory clarity. The UK has an historically stable regulatory regime, which makes it so attractive to infrastructure investors. This needs to be matched by stability from policy makers on their long-term objectives, if the UK is to continue to having a leading role.

“We are working with the government and regulator to improve and accelerate grid connections, to support economic growth and decarbonisation. The connections queue is moving – we will connect 78,000 customer projects to the distribution network this year and nearly 34GW to the transmission system in the next two years.

“The networks are reforming the way projects connect to the grid, but success also relies on planning reforms, as the Electricity Networks Commissioner identified in his recent report. We have set out the changes we’d like to see on planning and hope to see progress here in the coming months as the government sets out further details on the announcement made today.”

The automotive sector

The automotive sector, which has been gearing up for the 2030 ban on sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles, was largely unimpressed by the PM’s announcement.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), said: “The automotive industry has and continues to invest billions in new electric vehicles as the decarbonisation of road transport is essential if net zero is to be delivered. “Government has played a key part in bringing some of that investment to the UK, and Britain can – and should – be a leader in zero emission mobility both as a manufacturer and market. To make this a reality, however, consumers must want to make the switch, which requires from government a clear, consistent message, attractive incentives and charging infrastructure that gives confidence rather than anxiety. Confusion and uncertainty will only hold them back.

“The automotive industry’s commitment to a zero-emission new car and van market remains unchanged. Net zero cannot be achieved without this sector’s decarbonisation. The prime minister has confirmed that a mandate to compel the sale of EVs – the single biggest mechanism to deliver net zero – will be published shortly, starting in January 2024. Manufacturers will continue to put innovative new models on the market but consumers need encouragement to buy more than ever. Today’s announcement must be backed up with a package of attractive incentives and measures to accelerate charging infrastructure to give consumers the confidence to switch. Carrots move markets faster than sticks.”

The zero-emission vehicle advocacy network Zemo Partnership said:  ”While we welcome the government’s reaffirmed commitment to Net Zero by 2050 we’re concerned that the signals these changes send to business and investors could jeopardise both our ability to meet climate targets and to harvest the huge economic opportunities that the transition offers for Britain’s automotive and associated industries.

“Industry and investors (and consumers) need policy consistency and certainty to deliver the best outcomes for UK Plc. The revised 2035 phase-out deadline represents a watering down of the hybrid car requirements from 2030 (which had not been defined anyway) but still puts the UK in line with EU countries zero tailpipe emission targets for cars. However, the lack of detail of the trajectory (through the ZEV Mandate) for cars and the absence of any mention for other vehicles or for renewable fuels, continues to leave very worrying gaps in the net zero transport agenda, with transport acknowledged as one of the most urgent and challenging sectors to decarbonise.

“Along with many of our 250-plus member organisations, Zemo will be looking closely for ‘devils in the details’ in policies that will follow these high-level announcements. We will be doubling down on our activity to bring all stakeholders together to accelerate the transition to net zero transport together.”

Ian Plummer, commercial director at online vehicle marketplace Auto Trader, said: “Pushing back the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel sales by five years is a hugely retrograde step which puts politics ahead of net zero goals. This U-turn will cause a huge headache for manufacturers, who are crying out for clarity and consistency, and it is hardly going to encourage the vast majority of drivers who are yet to buy an electric car to make the switch. Rather than grasp the challenge and use the tax system to ease concerns over affordability, the prime minister has taken the easy option with one eye on polling day.”

Lisa Brankin, chair of Ford UK: “Three years ago the government announced the UK’s transition to electric new car and van sales from 2030. The auto industry is investing to meet that challenge. “Ford has announced a global $50bn commitment to electrification, launching nine electric vehicles by 2025. The range is supported by £430m invested in Ford’s UK development and manufacturing facilities, with further funding planned for the 2030 timeframe.

“This is the biggest industry transformation in over a century and the UK 2030 target is a vital catalyst to accelerate Ford into a cleaner future. Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency. A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three. We need the policy focus trained on bolstering the EV market in the short term and supporting consumers while headwinds are strong: infrastructure remains immature, tariffs loom and cost-of-living is high.”

While Ford was vocal in its unease, some other manufacturers were more relaxed.

Lynn Calder, chief executive of 4x4 vehicle specialist INEOS Automotive, said: “2035 is a more realistic target for consumers to switch to net zero vehicles and will allow the industry to meet the challenge, but achieving this target is made harder by the current singular focus on EVs as there is a real risk that that we will fail and that it will be more expensive for consumers, with the whole industry competing for finite resources such as the lithium crucial for batteries.

“EVs are an important part of the mix, but we believe betting only on one technology will limit options and stifle innovation. There is a mix of solutions for the widescale energy transition required to achieve net zero, and with cars it will be the same. We need support for other technologies such as hydrogen and alternative fuels in the same way these alternatives are being supported by other countries.

“We will launch an all-electric 4X4 in 2026, but have also invested in the development of a fuel cell hydrogen demonstrator version of the Grenadier which proves that the technology is capable. So, we need support from policy makers to help provide the infrastructure for the next generation of hydrogen vehicles as well as for EVs.”

Japanese car giant manufacturer Toyota welcomed the announcement, stating: “Toyota has consistently adopted a multi-path technology approach to reduce emissions as much as possible as soon as possible, based on our company’s principles of carbon is the enemy and providing mobility for all. We have spent billions developing and bringing to market hybrid electric, plug-in electric, battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell electric powertrains to support the transition to greater zero emissions transport.

“Today’s government announcement is welcome as it provides the clarity industry has been asking and recognises that all low emission and affordable technologies can have a role to play in a pragmatic vehicle transition. We believe this can also help relevant parties to further adapt, including consumers, manufacturers, infrastructure and energy providers. Toyota fully shares the prime minister’s key goal of zero carbon, and is committed to achieving the government’s target of zero emissions vehicles from 2035 in the UK. We will work in collaboration with government and all our stakeholders to jointly promote the realisation of a greater zero emissions transport.”

Chargepoint providers 

The electric vehicle chargepoint sector was unhappy with the announcement.

ChargUK, the organisation representing providers of EV charging infrastructure, said: “For many years the UK has been a leader in the transition to the green economy of the future. Government policies have attracted investment to the UK and created well paid, high quality jobs.

“Members of ChargeUK have committed over £6bn to roll out EV infrastructure in all parts of the UK at an unprecedented rate, turning on a new public charging point every 20 minutes, creating good, sustainable jobs, supporting the switch to EVs and thereby reducing emissions and improving air quality for all.

“This has been made possible by a clear commitment from the UK government to decarbonise our economy, with the 2030 phase out date for new petrol and diesel vehicles 2030 acting as an essential catalyst. In his first speech as Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak said “I will place economic stability and confidence at the heart of this government’s agenda”. “Today’s extremely worrying news is not consistent with economic stability or confidence. It will compromise the entire industry, and place jobs and consumer and investor confidence at risk.

“More importantly, government will penalise individual drivers who are doing the right thing. More and more people are making the transition to electric vehicles, as they have been encouraged to do. They are entitled to expect government to keep its promises and continue to support the roll out of charging infrastructure across the UK.

“ChargeUK calls on the prime minister to confirm that the UK government remains committed to the 2030 phase out date for new petrol and diesel vehicles and to a strong ZEV mandate.”

Perran Moon, chief marketing officer of chargepoint network Believ, said: “Delaying the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles is a bitterly disappointing decision. Three years on from the original announcement and government is back tracking – it shows a lack of urgency to tackle what is now an immediate and existential threat to the climate. We believe that this is not the time to delay measures that help us move away from our reliance on fossil fuels. Now is the time to act in the interest of our climate, and quickly. Our towns, cities and countryside deserve cleaner air for all, its residents sustainable transport, and our businesses the reassurance that this government will follow through on the commitments it makes.”

Asif Ghafoor, chief executive of EV charging network Be.EV, said: “The rate at which consumers have adopted EVs has been faster than predicted. The government must create policies that build on the public’s enthusiasm rather than sabotage it. Most car manufacturers have already pivoted away from ICE cars, most new models including more affordable EV models will be in the market by 2025 and a whole new manufacturing industry has sprung up in quiet, clean and modern EVs.

“We need legislation to unlock the power trapped in the system - but it’s all taking too long. Every leg of the planning, permissions, sourcing power and building process slows an installation down - charging networks are not able to move anywhere near quick enough to keep up with the amount of drivers transitioning to EVs. In decarbonising transport, we are facing a thoroughly novel challenge and a major industrial shift. If the government is truly committed to the EV transition, they have to take the strategic lead. Today’s announcement to push the ICE ban back to 2035 is the polar opposite to the ambition and bold strategy we need to see from the government right now.

Charlie Jardine, chief executive EO Charging, said: “The move from big oil to electric is crucial for our planet. Huge strides have been made in recent years to electrify vehicles for individuals, commercial van fleets and public transport despite the historic lack of critical planning from the government. A clear target has motivated and enabled businesses to raise investment and develop and build new products that are critical to drive net zero.

”Uncertainty and change in policy will only serve to slow or even reverse this progress hindering the development of the green economy. This is an unnecessary delay to reducing emissions and fails to capitalise on the world leading work to decarbonise UK electricity generation. We would urge that the 2030 deadline remains in place, global warming isn’t slowing down neither should the push to fight against it. Despite this change in policy, we will continue to work with our industry and financial partners to ensure that the roll out continues at the current pace.”

Nick Woolley, chief executive of ev.energy, said: ”Scrapping the 2030 target puts more money in the coffers of oil companies and increases costs for the motoring public. To decarbonise, we need to accelerate the transition everywhere, all at once – extending the life of fossil fuels in vehicles by five years is completely the wrong approach54% of the UK public want to switch to an electric car before the 2030 ban – so  ‘people’s consent’ is not the issue, nor is the grid.

“Yesterday the grid ran with a new green record, with only 14.5% of generation coming from gas, and we’ll soon see gas disappear completely and the grid becoming 100% green. So why are we not seizing this opportunity to fuel transport with green electrons?

“The great thing about EVs is they help us accelerate faster, integrating more renewable energy – as they can be used as flexible demand, matching the intermittencies of wind and solar. Powering EVs with wind and solar is also cheap, saving  drivers hundreds of pounds a year, and if employed at scale, would help save an additional 2 million metric tonnes of carbon being released into the atmosphere.

“We need the government to keep firm on their commitments, and get behind accelerating the transition, everywhere. Banning new sales by 2030 isn’t fast enough, and pushing it to 2035 is embarrassing. I want my kids to grow up in a society without air pollution, and where we are tempering the effects of climate change. Humanity is amazing when singularly focussed on one goal: we should make that goal decarbonising as rapidly as possible, not prolonging the interests of dangerous oil and gas companies.

“Focus on providing fair access to those worse off so that EVs don’t just benefit the rich. Let’s make sure everyone can connect to the grid together, not just those who are ready first.”

Tom Hurst, UK country manager at Fastned:  “Cleaner transport isn’t just important for meeting the existential threat posed by climate change, but more immediately poor air quality is costing lives today. From being at the vanguard of the EV revolution, the UK risks becoming a dumping ground for polluting vehicles from elsewhere. It’s especially puzzling given the fierce global race for green investment that the UK is already trying to compete in. Targets help secure investment, and as the UK lead of a European company with millions to invest in charging infrastructure it’s frustrating that in addition to byzantine planning rules and red tape for grid connections, there is now another hurdle in the way.”

Motoring organisations

Following the announcement that the government will delay the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, RAC head of policy Simon Williams said: “This announcement risks slowing down both the momentum the motor industry has built up in switching to electric powertrains and ultimately the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) that is so important when it comes to decarbonising road transport in the UK.

“But, as cost remains one the biggest barriers to going electric, there’s surely no reason why the government can’t help many more drivers into EVs by reintroducing a form of the plug-in car grant that incentivises the cheaper end of the car market. At the same time, we strongly hope manufacturers will continue producing EVs in ever increasing numbers as this is ultimately what’s needed to help bring prices down for both new and second-hand cars.

“It’s also not at all clear how rolling back from 2030 is compatible with the government’s zero-emission vehicle mandate which was due to set targets for manufacturers’ EV sales from next year. It’s perhaps telling that ministers have yet to respond to the consultation on this that closed in May.”

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “We estimate that if the UK is to meet its carbon reduction obligations then at least 37% of all miles driven by cars, taxis and vans will need to be zero emission by 2030 – but with only 844,000 of the 33 million or so cars on the UK roads today being pure battery electric that means we have a mountain to climb.

“While many new battery-electric models have been coming onto the market, and showroom prices for electric cars have been edging downwards, it is a brave assumption to think that this would have happened – or will continue at the necessary pace – without the regulatory pressure of the 2030 ban on sale of new petrol and diesel cars.

“It is hard to understand the rationale for the prime minister’s decision to delay the ban on sale of petrol and diesel cars by five years – what message does taking his foot off the gas in this way send to an auto industry that was confident of its ability to hit the 2030 deadline on the basis of a clear and consistent regulatory regime?

“Be they motorists or not, taxpayers might wonder how back-pedalling on the switch to electric cars can be consistent with the government having put huge sums of public money on the table to support battery production.”

The logistics sector

David Wells OBE, chief executive of business group Logistics UK, said:  “Pushing back the deadlines to decarbonise, rather than making progress on the investment and policies logistics businesses need to implement the route to net zero, is unhelpful and will discourage private investment in the UK and its industries. There is still much to be done, from delivering a charging network to confirming plans for alternatively fuelled vehicles, but our industry remains committed to achieving Net Zero.

“As a sector, logistics works hard to deliver on time for all sectors of the economy – if new decarbonisation deadlines are to be achieved, it is vital for the health of the UK’s supply chain, and therefore our economy, that the government does the same. At a time when industry needs detail and action, delay just creates more uncertainty.”

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) said: “We seek urgent clarity from government on what today’s announcement means for the future of HGVs and coaches. Businesses looking to play their part on the road to net zero need certainty, not delays.

“Government needs to collaborate with industry to come up with a detailed plan that provides certainty for investment, drives innovation, and directs support for those who want to do the right thing. This is the only way to bring down costs and encourage companies to make the switch to net zero in the long term. Simply changing deadlines without a clear plan in place will do neither. We will continue to seek the clarity and certainty our industry urgently needs to bring costs down.”

Parking providers

Peter O’Driscoll, managing director of cashless parking payments provider RingGo, said: “The government's decision to delay climate pledges comes as no surprise. With the shifted 2035 ban for the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles, there are still challenges around transport infrastructure that need to be addressed before going fully electric is viable. 

“Green transport strategy should be prioritised in the push for sustainability and emissions reduction. To support this we need to see action from the top. Ultimately, we need the government to combat elements like EV range anxiety by vastly improving current patchwork coverage for EV charging. On a national scale tackling chronic shortages of charging points will prove vital. However, we’re already seeing electrification progress on a local scale, with great work being done to make transport greener, especially in London boroughs.

“Moving forward, I anticipate there will be a heavier reliance on local councils to make cities healthier and more liveable. Councils will make local areas greener by adopting transport and parking policies, such as ULEZ or emissions-based parking, which have the result of encouraging the switch to electric and promoting cleaner travel.”

Vehicle services

Gerry Keaney, chief executive of the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), said: “Today’s announcement will frustrate many while offering relief to others. Those that have made huge financial and strategic investments in this technology and mobilised their customers and workforces for decarbonisation will be worried that government is applying the brakes.

“Others will be grateful for the extra breathing space this delay provides. They will be hoping that it gives more time for costs to come down and consumer attitudes to change.  We await the further details that will show the true impact of today’s announcement. It is important that progress isn’t paused and momentum can be maintained. Either way, everyone is likely to have less trust in the government’s net zero strategy and will think a lot harder before committing to any of its future strategies or roadmaps.”

Philip Nothard, chair of the Vehicle Remarketing Association, said: “It’s very difficult to walk away from this announcement and not conclude that the whole thing is something of a mess. While it is fair to say that within remarketing, there are many sceptics who have serious doubts about the present viability of EVs in the used car market, almost everyone in the sector has still been working towards the 2030 deadline in a diligent and committed manner, often making substantial investments along the way. The government’s move today has, from the feedback we’ve seen, left many of those people feeling confused and resentful.

“The government’s argument is that this five-year delay will allow more time for electrification to take place and reduce costs to private motorists, but that shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how the motor industry works. Many or most of the decisions about the cars and vans on sale in the UK in 2030 have already been finalised, and have been made based on global factors. What the UK prime minister has done today will change little in terms of the new and used cars being sold here during the next decade or more.

“In the shorter term, it is possible that this move will bring more disruption to the values of electric vehicles (EVs), purely because buyers will be confused about where the market is heading which, in turn, will reduce the appetite for electrification, creating a kind of negative feedback loop.”

Liam Griffin, chief executive at Addison Lee, said: “As a leader in the transition to electric, we know how difficult the shift has been for businesses looking to create a greener London. The reliability and availability of charging infrastructure continues to be the most significant barrier.

”Where charging providers once had confidence that a 2030 ban meant a guaranteed increase in the number of electric vehicles on the road – and therefore a greater need for charging provision across the city – they no longer have this assurance, putting the roll-out of further infrastructure at risk.

”Pulling back on the 2030 commitment reduces the ability of operators to confidently invest in the transition. Similarly, in London, the removal of financial incentives – such as the electric vehicle exemptions within London’s Congestion Zone – will deter many from moving to EVs and slow the reduction of air pollution across the capital.”

John Wilmot, chief executive of car leasing comparison website LeaseLoco, said: “Today's announcement won't have come as a huge surprise within the industry. The 2030 target was always ambitious, but it's become more evident in the past 12 months that it's simply not achievable with battery production unable to meet the vehicle unit production required to hit the deadline.

"While this is going to be an unpopular decision amongst many groups, it’s better that the government accepts 2030 is unrealistic and calls it six years early, rather than leaving it to the last minute and creating a full blown panic.

“Consumers aren't stupid. The cost of electric cars is too high and the public charging infrastructure rollout is well behind schedule. This has inevitably had an impact on people choosing to switch to electric cars now, with demand showing signs of stalling in recent months. On our platform we have seen EV sales drop from 31% of all sales in Q1 2023, to 23% in Q3 2023.

“The government has given itself some breathing space, but it still has a monumental challenge on its hands to convince the British public to embrace green motoring.”

Steve Tigar, chief executive of loveelectric.cars, an EV salary sacrifice provider, said: “Just as we are innovating in the used EV salary sacrifice sector to make electric cars more affordable, Rishi Sunak has lifted his foot off the accelerator of zero-emission motoring.

“The decision to delay the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars until 2035, from 2030, coincides with the imminent launch of our massive expansion of Re-loveelectric, our innovative salary sacrifice scheme for used electric vehicles.

“Rishi Sunak said it wasn’t right for ‘Westminster to impose such significant costs on working people’. But there doesn’t need to be a trade-off between cost and net zero; EV salary sacrifice provides a  practical solution which accelerates the transition to net zero whilst saving working people money.

“The government needs to put its shoulder to the wheel of zero emission motoring, giving drivers certainty that battery electric is the powertrain of the future. A positive step would be to confirm an extension to the supportive benefit in kind tax rates for EVs beyond 2028, giving cost- and green-minded drivers confidence to do the right thing for their pockets and the environment.”

Specialist manufacturers

A number of companies producing specialist powertrain and energy management systems for the automotive sector were uneasy.

Ian Foley, chief executive of bus re-powering specialist Equipmake CEO, said: “The scaling back of the commitment to the 2030 ICE deadline is the opposite of what the UK automotive and commercial vehicle industries need right now. Vehicle manufacturers and technology suppliers have all been working towards – and investing in – the same targets of 2030 and 2035, which up until now, have given the clear guidance needed to make the journey to net zero.

“It is deeply disappointing given that since the deadline was initially set, UK government has played a key role in fostering the growth of electrification technology through forward-thinking organisations such as Innovate UK and the APC. Indeed, because of funding received to support the development of zero emission vehicle technology, Equipmake has significantly expanded operations over the last three years.

“But the government’s latest decision also comes off the back an ongoing lack of strategy around another sector: electric buses, a market where we are a leader through our technology which converts existing diesel vehicles to fully electric. With no incentives to reduce the purchase price of a repowered bus, there is a huge, missed opportunity to reduce pollution and provide the UK bus industry with a much-needed shot in the arm. The UK can and should be a leader in zero emission mobility, but rowing back on key commitments means our net zero plan is now pushed a further five years down the road, giving rise to procrastination. It sends completely the wrong message.”

Neil Yates, chief executive of Watt Electric Vehicles, said: “The decision to scale back the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel car and light van sales sends completely the wrong message to industry and customers. The UK can and should be a global leader in zero emission mobility. Government needs to be strategically consistent and introducing greater levels of incentivisation to bolster consumer confidence, further promoting a burgeoning industry, not creating uncertainty by moving the goalposts.

“It is especially disappointing given the crucial role UK government has played in promoting the development of electrification technology through the superb innovation infrastructure and funding made available by Innovate UK and the Advanced Propulsion Centre. As a result of the support received from these forward-thinking organisations, Watt Electric Vehicle Company has been able to expand its business over the last three years, rapidly accelerating the development of our lightweight zero emission platform technologies.

“Since the 2030 ban was announced three years ago, vehicle manufacturers, electrification technology suppliers and fleet operators have been working towards the same targets, which has provided the direction and clarity needed to keep the UK on track for net zero. Many forward-thinking public and private sector organisations have firmly committed to decarbonising their fleets. We will continue to support the delivery of their corporate ESG objectives with our circular economy-focused philosophy and groundbreaking eCV1 light commercial vehicle, which delivers significant technical, environmental and financial benefits.”

Mike Nakani, chief executive of fleet electrification business VEV said: “The decision to row back from the now three-years-old commitment to the 2030 timeline is the opposite of what the auto industry needs to play its part in the race to net zero.  It is confusing an already confused situation, where the facts have been lost to politics and spin.

“At VEV we believe the existing 2030 and 2035 targets were sensible and provided a phased approach to reaching net zero. Hybrid vehicles would still be sold post-2030 in any event, which makes this latest policy u-turn even more illogical and only adds further confusion.   

“Manufacturers, fleet operators and all those in supporting roles across infrastructure and related services have gathered at the starting line to make this journey to net zero.  What we need is certainty and support from government to accelerate the race, not political prevarication.

“To push the UK net zero journey plan a further five years down the track will only giving rise to inaction and procrastination.  This is not conducive to building a better Britain or environment.”

Justin Lunny, chief executive of Everrati, a company that converts classic cars into EVs, said: “The scaling back of the commitment to the 2030 ban on new ICE cars in the UK is the opposite of what the automotive industry and consumers need right now.

“Ever since the deadline was set in 2020, awareness and desire to go electric has increased rapidly across all sectors – and, indeed, demand for our products has accelerated year-on-year as forward-thinking consumers add luxury vehicles to their garages that are both sustainable and futureproofed.

“But by rowing back, the UK government has not only pushed our net zero plan a further five years down the road, but risked fostering procrastination in a burgeoning market. It is also disappointing as the UK is home to so many innovative companies who have invested in developing the latest in electrification technology which is not only better for the planet but genuinely advances the art of the automobile for both today’s generation and tomorrow’s.

“We have a huge opportunity to lead on zero emissions mobility, but the UK government has sent completely the wrong message, both domestically and globally.”

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