Electric vehicles: On a road to somewhere?

By Christine Quigley

It’s only Tuesday, but this week has already seen a number of crucial developments for the future of electric vehicles in the UK. On Monday, Jaguar Land Rover announced to some fanfare that its iconic Jaguar brand will be all-electric by 2025, while its broader portfolio will feature electric options across the board by 2030.  

Over the weekend, Government announced £50m of funding to expand the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme and Workplace Charging Scheme, specifically targeting small businesses and people living in leasehold and rented homes. At the same time, the Department for Transport launched a new consultation on the consumer experience at public electric vehicle chargepoints, looking at how regulation can make it easier to pay, can ensure a reliable network and can improve accessibility, lighting and signage. This is important because it indicates that the DfT is planning to use some of the relatively broad powers conferred on the Secretary of State for Transport under the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018. This legislation enables the Transport Secretary to regulate electric and hydrogen charging/refuelling points to ensure that consumers can use them easily, including minimum design and functionality standards to secure physical and payment interoperability. The consultation announced this week seems to be a precursor to putting some of these powers into practice for electric vehicles – welcome news for all those who want to encourage more people to choose cleaner cars. 

The Government also recently renamed the previously-monikered Office for Low Emission Vehicles to the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles. The difference isn’t just semantic, instead it indicates strongly the direction of travel that Government is moving in, away from hybrid vehicles and towards fully-zero-emission models, whether electric or alternatively fuelled.  

The DfT’s Road to Zero strategy, published just two and a half years ago, called hybrid vehicles ‘amongst the cleanest vehicles on the market’ and said that they were ‘an important way of helping motorists make the switch to a different way of powering their vehicles’. It’s clear from more recent pronouncements from Government in the run-up to COP26 that rapid developments in zero-emission vehicles, coupled with the need to move further and faster to decarbonise transport, are accelerating the transition from diesel and petrol domestic vehicles, and that hybrids are increasingly being skipped altogether. 

Transitioning everyone from combustion engines to zero-emission private cars meets one of the Government’s challenges, but doesn’t entirely answer another. Major UK cities, particularly London, are working not only to cut emissions, but to reduce traffic congestion in city centres that weren’t built to handle modern transport volumes. Switching out every diesel or petrol car for an electric one won’t itself reduce pressure on roadspace, so while much of the public conversation about decarbonising road transport focuses on domestic cars, more and more of the Government’s thinking is focused on two areas; on encouraging alternatives to private car ownership in cities through investment in public transport, and on decarbonising other forms of road transport, from buses and taxis through to vans and trucks. 

While the coronavirus pandemic has been devastating for our economy, the significant reduction in business and leisure travel has had one positive impact; a major reduction in air pollution and carbon emissions. Over the next few months, governments at a national and devolved level alike will be looking at how to get the economy moving again without sacrificing the environmental gains made in the past year. Zero-emission vehicles will be a major part of their plans, making now a great time for British innovators and manufacturers to showcase their technology and capability. Where JLR goes, expect other manufacturers to follow very shortly.