CEO Update

The future is electric but consumers need carrots not sticks

06 October 2023 #CEO Update

This week saw SMMT out on the road again as we attended the second party conference of the season, this time in Manchester, to hear from government about its mission to place motorists at the heart of policy making. Coming just days after the publication of the zero emission vehicle mandate and amid negotiations with the EU to avoid tariffs on the very cars and vans needed to deliver it, the opportunity for engagement was timely.

So too was yesterday’s news that September’s hotly anticipated plate change had delivered its traditional surge in deliveries, buoying the market and sending a clear signal of its importance – and recovery – to the UK economy. Despite the challenging economic headwinds, car deliveries rose by a fifth, and for the 14th consecutive month, while LCV registrations posted their ninth month of growth.

There was good news also for electric van uptake as deliveries rose substantially for the latest green workhorses, accounting for one in 16 registrations in the month. Electrified cars, meanwhile, continued to grow in double figures across all types, including a 41st consecutive monthly increase for BEVs. Three quarters of this growth, however, was attributable to company car and fleet purchases, which benefit from fiscal incentives, while private BEV buyers fell for another month. Such a decline underlines the importance of providing these motorists with purchase incentives and other mechanisms to stimulate demand.

Government’s new plan for drivers, also announced this week, is welcome, with pledges to make it easier for drivers to install charging solutions through a widened eligibility of grants, safer on-street charging and measures to speed up chargepoint installation and grid connections – the latter critical to the national rollout of charging infrastructure which must be accelerated to give motorists the confidence to switch.

But, as September’s figures demonstrate, we must go further and faster. The UK still has the most challenging decarbonisation transition timeline and, unlike other major markets working towards a 2035 end of sale date, private motorists here lack any purchase incentives to encourage them to invest in electric mobility. Getting the market moving means we must add carrots to the sticks – creating private purchase incentives aligned with business benefits, equalising on-street charging VAT with off-street domestic rates and mandating chargepoint rollout in line with how electric vehicle sales are now to be dictated.

The forthcoming Autumn Statement provides the perfect opportunity for the Chancellor to provide the concrete support needed to make the transition equitable and accessible to all drivers. In doing so, he would help keep the UK at the forefront of the switch to zero emission mobility, delivering for the environment, society and, ultimately, the economy.

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