CEO Update

Why the new 2035 deadline makes consumer support more vital than ever

22 September 2023 #CEO Update

Quite the week for automotive and the future of our industry. We kicked it off with a sold-out SMMT Electrified conference, which discussed the challenges and opportunities the shift to electrification offers our sector. Our call was for greater support for the private EV consumer, for whom there are currently no incentives and, hence, stalling demand. Given the Zero Emission Vehicle Mandate – designed to transform the UK’s new car and van markets by 2030 – is likely to take effect in just over 100 days, urgent action is needed.

Of course, the first step is the publication of the government response and the regulation itself. Industry needs to see the trajectory, any flexibilities and the conditions so it can plan budgets for the forthcoming years, and it cannot do that on the basis of consultation. Moreover, we need to know what we can sell between 2030 and 2035, as the consultation described vehicles with “Significant Zero Emission Capability”. Pleasingly, the Secretary of State for Transport, Rt Hon Mark Harper MP, told our 500-strong audience that it would be published “very, very soon”.

By Tuesday, uncertainty abounded as it emerged in unconfirmed media reports that the government was considering a delay to the 2030 end of sale date of conventional petrol and diesel vehicle targets. On Wednesday, we had confirmation – the date would indeed be pushed back to 2035, and that consumers could continue to buy new pure petrol and diesel cars and vans up until this date, and “second hand vehicles” beyond it. But of course, this raised further questions. Would there still be a mandate? Would the dates change? Exactly what vehicles would be permitted for sale?

Thursday brought with it some clarity. The mandate would remain, although as this edition of Update is issued, the details – and the regulation – remain outstanding. We still expect them ‘imminently’ and certainly cannot afford further delay and uncertainty, given the stakes involved in what is the most fundamental change for the industry in over a century. Billions of pounds have been invested so far and, as I said on Monday, there can be no turning back.

The mandate remains the single most important mechanism to deliver the UK’s net zero commitment – but, as we’ve always maintained, it will not deliver as intended in isolation. Consumers must be enabled and encouraged to make the switch. We know that they want these vehicles – because we asked them. Two thirds of private buyers told our survey that they were keen to get into an EV, but more than half said that concerns over affordability and charging accessibility meant they wouldn’t be ready until 2026 or later.

If we’re going to shift the dial and accelerate the move to mass market, ensuring that by 2030 80% of new car sales are indeed zero emission – and in sufficient volumes to drive infrastructure investment and feed a vibrant second-hand market – every lever must be pulled.

Now, more than ever, we need to give consumers confidence and motivation to buy, with significant purchase incentives and rapid rollout of charging infrastructure nationwide. Confusion and uncertainty will only hold them back for longer – and hold back the market, slowing the transition and undermining UK investment confidence. The Prime Minister said he wanted to support people in the delivery of net zero. Our transition needs that support and a consistent message that encourages people to shift now, not after 2035.

Rounding up a busy news week, I’d like to thank all our speakers, delegates, exhibitors and partners for supporting SMMT Electrified: Auto Trader, DHL Supply Chain, E.ON, Fastned, Illinois Department of Commerce, Mobility Operations, PA Consulting, Pinsent Masons and Vendigital. SMMT’s next event is our Global Trade Conference, taking place online, on Wednesday 18 October. You can register for free here.

Update Newsletter