What's next for EVs with UK government's impending 2030 row back?

Road Cars

The government's stated "proportionate and pragmatic" approach to its 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars means it's likely to delay till 2035 – but where does this leave the UK's burgeoning group of EV users?

Audi etron GT charging

Where will Britain's electric cars all charge — especially if owners have no driveway?

I think the only surprising thing about the government showing signs of wanting to reverse pedal on its commitment to ban sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2030 is that anyone is in least bit surprised by it.

Now, to be fair, and as I write this, the ban remains government policy despite over 40 MPs writing to the Prime Minister to ask him to reconsider. But so too does it come with new rhetoric promising a “proportionate and pragmatic” approach to achieving net zero. And here’s the thing: in the position in which we find ourselves today, banning petrol and diesel cars in less than six years’ time is neither proportionate not pragmatic. And if sometime between now and then, the government or that which replaces it does not indeed decide the pragmatic approach is effectively to delay the ban until the same 2035 as our former EU colleagues, frankly I’ll eat this laptop.

The point which needs grasping is that where stakeholders stand in relation to concerns for the environment is not really what’s driving this, however much they might like you to think it is. There isn’t a major political party in this country that is not committed – at least in theory – to driving down emissions or which does not acknowledge that transportation, and therefore cars, remain key to this process. But I can decide I’m going to jump over the moon in 2030, I can remain resolutely committed to doing so from now until then, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. It won’t.

Corsa 2020

The Corsa is one of many very expensive EV’s provided alongside petrol fuelled versions

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If we look at the take up of pure electric cars, the numbers remain tiny. In June fewer than 7000 private buyers bought EVs, out of total of over 150,000 cars sold. Why? Three reasons: people remain anxious about range, they have nowhere to charge them at home and they’re so damned expensive. Today, the cheapest new Vauxhall Corsa Electric costs £35,125. The cheapest petrol Corsa you can buy – albeit less powerful and well equipped – costs £19,275.

Now of course the prices of EVs will come down, they’ll have to, but it won’t be done by producing ‘poverty spec’ cars with wind up windows, because actually there’s little money to be saved that way. The single biggest cost in an EV, by far, is its battery pack, so that’s where the cuts will come. And smaller batteries may mean cheaper cars, but so too do they mean cars with even less range and even more range anxiety.

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And even then if you, like most people, live in a house or flat in a terraced street in a town or city, you’re still going to find it very difficult, if not impossible, to charge and that’s not likely to become any easier any time soon. I cannot find a single independent observer who reckons the charging point roll out is going at anything like the pace required to meet a 2030 deadline. And who’s going to buy an EV if they cannot even be sure they’ll be able to charge it, other than paying through the nose for it, for instance at a motorway services where electricity is already more expensive than petrol? And all this, remember, before the government figures out how it’s going to recoup the very many billions it currently relies upon from the tax on petrol and diesel cars.

Of course the choice is not simply between a pure petrol and diesel car on the one hand and a full EV on the other. There are hybrids too and they will be allowed to stay on sale until 2035. But plug-ins are extremely expensive, and inefficient too, requiring as they do two entirely separate power sources to be carted from one place to the next, usually with one doing all or almost all the work while the other is carried as near enough dead weight.

So the situation seems to me as follows: EVs work well, but primarily as second cars in households with off-street parking, and while the situation will likely improve over the next six years, come 2030 I expect this case largely to remain the same, while plug-ins are not the answer to anything, but an expensive stop gap solution for those wealthy enough to be able to afford them.

Tesla being charged up by a generator

A petrol-powered charger for your electric car? This may be top of your Christmas gift list in 2030

What’s going to happen, then? I expect whichever set of glorious leaders are in office at the time will find a fig leaf which just about allows them to cover themselves and say they’re honouring the commitment. And it will be found deep within the undergrowth that is the definition of the word ‘hybrid’. For in truth, and technically speaking, even pure petrol cars are hybrids because they require battery power to get their engines turning.

It won’t be quite a cynical as that, but I’d not be surprised to see so-called ‘mild’ hybrids dodging the fall of the axe. These are cars with simple electric drives, usually running on a 48 volt system that provide a small amount of electrical energy to supplement the internal combustion engine. This is usually enough to allow the car to dispense with the need for a separate starter motor and alternator, offsetting the weight gain of the electric motor and small battery, but not nearly enough to allow the car to run on electricity alone. They provide a touch more torque at maximum load levels too, but in almost all scenarios owners won’t even know they’re there.

I can’t myself see any other way in which the government can appear to meet its commitment without new cars sales being decimated. Looked at like that, it becomes not so much a question of the right or wrong way to do it, but in reality probably the only way.