UK Automotive committed to zero emission ambition but barriers must be addressed together

09 July 2018 #SMMT News
  • UK motor industry shares government’s goal of zero emission transport, but barriers around infrastructure, consumer acceptance and supply chain need to be addressed.
  • Industry welcomes technology neutral approach, with no plans to ban any particular technology.
  • Diesel recognised as playing a key part in the transition, and will continue to play a vital role for consumers and businesses.
  • 2030 targets far beyond European expectations and industry predictions.
  • Infrastructure announcements welcomed, but government must offer world-class package of incentives to match ambitions for ultra-low and zero emission vehicle uptake.

UK Automotive remains committed to the goal of zero emission transport, and will continue to invest massively in the full range of technologies and products, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Responding to the government’s Road to Zero Strategy, the industry said it supports the UK’s ambitions but huge challenges around consumer demand as well as refuelling and charging infrastructure need to be addressed for the transition to zero emission vehicles to be a success.

The Strategy also recognised the critical role internal combustion engines, and particularly diesel, will continue to play for many years to come. The latest diesels are helping address air quality and this will only improve further as the technology continues to advance. As the Strategy explains, diesel remains the right choice for many drivers, especially those who drive long distances, and this should now give consumers and businesses the confidence to buy the right car – whatever the technology – for their particular driving needs.

Road to Zero also includes government’s ambitions for the number of ultra-low emission vehicles on the road by 2030. Government’s target of 50-70% of the market for cars and 40% of the market for vans is far higher than the expectations set out by the European Commission or by other major automotive markets. The UK is currently at just 2.2% market penetration of ultra-low emission vehicles, and only 0.6% of zero emission vehicles, underscoring the challenge involved in increasing this to at least 50% in only 12 years. For consumers to adopt these technologies, government must provide a long-term commitment to a world-class package of incentives, including tax and other financial stimuli, policy support and infrastructure – only some of which have been set out today.

The UK automotive industry is already advancing towards zero emission transport, investing billions to develop and supply alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs). There are now around 80 AFV models on the market, including some 50 plug-ins, with more to come. The challenge is not so much availability, as consumer confidence. Importantly, the Strategy recognises the need for the transition to be led by consumers and industry, but this must be supported by the right consumer incentives.

Industry welcomes government’s commitment to a country-wide charging infrastructure, with the Strategy acknowledging the important role it will play in helping reassure consumers and accelerate the uptake of ultra-low and zero emission vehicles. Government’s technology neutral approach is essential but must be strategically coordinated to deliver the roll out of new charging and refuelling infrastructure, involving all relevant stakeholders including chargepoint providers, energy and fuel companies, distribution network operators and local authorities.

The UK remains a centre of excellence for internal combustion technology, and our industry supports more than 850,000 jobs across the country. While the sector is embracing the transition to battery technology, there are further opportunities, especially in supply chain, so collaboration is essential to safeguard the recent success which has delivered growth and jobs. The 2025 review provides a timely opportunity for a comprehensive assessment of the Strategy and the impact of the underlying policies on global competitiveness.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said:


Industry is firmly committed to a zero emission future and is investing billions in technologies to get us there. The Road to Zero Strategy recognises the huge progress already made and the vital role conventional engines, including diesel, will continue to play in the transition to 2040 and beyond. The latest advanced diesels meet the world’s toughest emissions standards, helping to reduce climate change and improve air quality – while also providing affordable mobility to millions of motorists, particularly those that travel longer distances and deliver our essential goods and services. Fleet renewal is the quickest way to improve our environment so consumers should now have the confidence to purchase the car that best meets their driving needs – whatever the technology – secure in the knowledge there are no bans.

2040 definition

We welcome the Strategy’s acknowledgement of the need for a technology neutral approach and the news that there will be no ban of any particular technology. There are already a range of low and zero emission technologies available to suit the needs of different drivers. Government must provide the conditions to encourage consumer demand, while the market determines and industry delivers the appropriate technological solutions. With no one clear technology winner at this early stage, we are pleased policy makers have listened to industry’s calls to avoid prescriptive measures, which would hamper innovation and hold progress back, recognising that the transition should be led by industry and consumers.

2030 ambition

We are concerned about targets for ULEV penetration that go far beyond the high levels of expectation proposed by the European Commission. Achieving 50% market share would require a nearly 23-fold increase in uptake from the current position of just 2.2%. These new technologies, and the lengthy investment required to deliver them, cannot be fast-tracked. We need realistic ambition levels and measures that support industry’s efforts, allow manufacturers time to invest, innovate and sell competitively, and provide the right incentives and infrastructure to take the consumer with us.


We welcome the commitment to supporting uptake of alternatively fuelled vehicles through financial incentives to 2020. However, the plug-in car and van grant needs to be maintained, at least at the current rate, beyond 2020. Evidence shows that prematurely removing upfront purchase incentives before the market is mature can have a devastating impact on demand. Consistent and technology-neutral incentives are needed if government’s extremely high ambition levels are to be met.

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