This week’s new car registration figures were a good opportunity to get a feel for how the market is settling into the New Year, and whether the much talked about post-election boost would materialise. Clearly a -7.3% decline is of concern – consumer confidence has not returned and will be further undermined by recent developments such as the end of sale of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035.
The automotive industry has invested billions in developing ultra low and zero emission cars, and is fully on board with addressing climate change and air quality concerns, but these technologies remain expensive and a tiny proportion of overall sales. The market will need to undergo a transformation to get to the point where removing internal combustion engines from sale is a feasible option, and at this point we don’t even have clarity on whether the plug-in car grant will still be available after the end of March.
The ambition to get the country to a zero emission future is impressive and encouraging, but it needs to be met with a concrete plan to take us there. One that safeguards industry and jobs, allows people from all income groups and regions to adapt and benefit, and, crucially, doesn’t undermine sales of today’s low emission technologies, including popular hybrids, all of which are essential to deliver air quality and climate change goals.
As we will reiterate to government in the forthcoming consultation process, if we are to have any chance of meeting the government’s extremely challenging 2035 goal, we will need an extensive package of government support, including not just a long-term commitment to the plug-in car grant but an extension so that it covers all ultra low emission vehicles, whether plug-in hybrid, full battery electric or hydrogen-fuelled. We’ve already seen the clear evidence from other European markets of the negative consequences of removing incentives before the market is ready.
We also need an urgent commitment to major improvement in the country’s public charging infrastructure, deploying the right chargers to the right places in the best way. Consumers are ready and willing to make their next car purchase an electric one, but the switch needs to be convenient and trouble free before the country is ready to make the full transition to zero emissions.