The Road to Zero Plan Leads Nowhere

By Paul Homewood

From the Mail:


After months of speculation, the Government has finally unveiled its plans to force motorists to ditch petrol and diesel cars and only drive electric models.

Called the Road to Zero strategy, it sets out the policies ministers hope will drive the nation’s 45 million motorists into zero-emissions vehicles over the next three decades.

While many of the changes are focused around the 2040 proposed ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel motors and the optimistic prediction for an entirely electric road network just a decade later, some of the strategies are already in place today.

Road to Zero: Here is five ways the Government plans to switch motorists to electric vehicles in 2040 under new directives outlines in the Department for Transports latest proposals

Part of the transition to everyone driving electric cars in 2050 includes the target of at least half of new cars sold in 2030 being ultra low emissions models, including pure electric and plug-in hybrid cars.

Mike Hawes, chief executive at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said the prospect of this being achieved was slim, as car makers could not accelerate the technology at such a rate.

‘Achieving 50 per cent market share would require a nearly 23-fold increase in uptake from the current position of just 2.2 per cent,’ he said. 

‘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.’ 

While the SMMT wasn’t the only body to voice concerns about the strategy, the Road to Zero documentation confirmed that the plan will be reviewed in 2025, which could include revised strategies if not enough progress is being made in the switch-over to electrified cars.

Here are five focal points of the Government’s intention to make make a graduated switch to a low-emissions road network.

1. Reduce emissions of vehicles we’re driving today

Any car showing visible smoke from it's exhaust will automatically fail the recently revised MOT. Any diesel car with a particulate filter that's been tampered with or removed will also fail

While the end goal is for all motorists to be sat at the wheel of electric cars in 2050, the Government wants to initiate changes immediately that will curb the level of toxic pollution produced by vehicles.

This includes supplying low-carbon fuels that will reduce the toxic outputs of the cars we currently use.

Another part of the plan is the already-in-place MOT rules that were introduced in May with more stringent restrictions regarding emissions.

This includes the automatic failure of any vehicle producing visible smoke from it’s exhaust pipe and diesel models originally supplied with pollution-reducing particulate filters that have had them tampered with or removed altogether.

There are also plans for research to be undertaken to measure the level of particulate emissions from tyres, brakes and road wear to understand if further toxic reductions can be made.


2. Continue to offer incentives to buy electric cars (but not necessarily with grants)

The Plug-in Car Grant, which was introduced in 2011, has been extended and revised since then, with the current rates being offered due to expire in October this year.

According to the Department for Transport, the grant has been used to purchase more than 150,000 vehicles in the last seven years.

The Government will continue to offer the grant until 2020, though it could reduce the subsidies offered when the existing rates are revised in three months.

The scheme offers up to £4,500 off pure-electric new cars and a lower subsidy of £2,500 for plug-in hybrid models.

And it looks as though the incentive will be reduced or pulled altogether after 2020.

The Road to Zero document states: ‘As the market becomes better established and more competitive, the need for direct government financial support will decrease.

‘We therefore expect to deliver a managed exit from the grant in due course and to continue to support the uptake of ultra low emission vehicles through other measures.’

The SMMT said the plug-in car grants need 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,’ commented Mike Hawes.

‘Consistent and technology-neutral incentives are needed if government’s extremely high ambition levels are to be met.’

Other motoring bodies voiced similar concerns.

AA president, Edmund King, added: ‘We will still need financial incentives beyond 2020 to act as catalyst for further investment in electric vehicles and infrastructure.’

The RAC suggested readjusting the recently updated VAT car tax rates to make hybrid vehicles more inviting as a stepping-stone to electric cars.

Head of roads policy, Nicholas Lyes, said: ‘Changes to the car tax system last year arguably made it less attractive to buy a plug-in hybrid vehicle – which is odd, given the government’s recognition that these vehicles are a crucial stepping stone to an all-electric vehicle.

‘There is a strong argument for looking at new incentives to help make the purchase price as comparable to similar sized conventional equivalents – perhaps by way of a VAT discount or even an exemption on them.’

The Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme (EVHS) will also continue in its current form – with a grant of £500 – until March 2019, or until 30,000 installations have been supported.

Again, the strategy will review grant levels with a view to removing financial support for having plug-in points installed at homes as uptake increases and the market becomes self-sustaining.


3. Boost the charging infrastructure 

The Government will use a £400million fund to boost the charging infrastructure up and down the country, including at motorway services

While offering grants to help retrofit homes with charging points might be scaled back, the Government has proposed to fit all new houses, flats and offices with charge points.

It will also tap into the £400million Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund pledged last year to boost the availability of electric vehicle chargers at motorway services, fuel retailers and on our streets using existing street lights.


4. Improve the aftersale network for electric vehicles

One of the biggest concerns among the industry until now is that just one per cent of mechanics in the country are trained to work on hybrid and electric vehicles.

The Road to Zero proposal appears to favour the conversion of street lamps into public charge points

In a bid to improve this, the Road to Zero strategy outlines intentions to work with the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) to ensure the nation’s garages have  technicians that are well-trained and have the skills and qualifications required to repair ultra-low emissions vehicles appropriately. 

Steve Nash, chief Executive at the IMI, said earlier this year: ‘The IMI has outlined three recommendations for the government to consider when it comes to supporting the automotive retail sector’s transition from internal combustion engines to advanced Hybrid and Electric powered vehicles.

‘The risk to health and safety is very real and needs to be addressed with urgency.

‘It is also vital that the regulatory mechanisms are in place to support businesses that will come into contact with these vehicles and will be made to defer business because of the lack of skills.’ 

5. Focus on other major polluters – HGVs, buses and taxis

Charging points that will be solely available to taxis will be installed as part of a strategy to convince cabbies to make the switch to electric vehicles

The plan outlines efforts to retrofit buses, coaches and HGVs with emissions-reducing technology, though only for the short term as solutions for these vehicles to be powered by electric motors and batteries are explored.

Highways England will be tasked with identifying and assessing zero emissions technology that’s suitable for HGV traffic, with almost all of these vehicles powered by heavily-polluting diesel engines.

The Government also pledged to work with the industry to develop an ultra low emissions standard for trucks, propose changes to VED tax rates for vans (similar to those imposed on passenger car drivers), fulfill its £48million low emissions bus scheme and invest in dedicated taxi charging points to encourage cabbies to make the switch.

Talk about cloud cuckoo land!

The government has found itself between a rock and a hard place. EVs are already struggling to compete despite govt subsidies of £4500. To withdraw the subsidy in 2020, as is mooted, would simply make them even less popular.

But if the government wants millions on the road, it simply does not have the money to continue current levels of subsidy.

The rest of the plan shows just how little they can do without spending tens of billions.

1. Reduce emissions of vehicles we’re driving today

This presumably refers to biofuels, which may be classified as “low carbon”, but are hardly a panacea.

They also mention tightening up on toxic emissions, but this has zip all to do with reducing CO2

2. Continue to offer incentives to buy electric cars (but not necessarily with grants)

With about 2.5m cars sold every year, and a target of half being ultra low emissions models, to continue subsidies at current levels would cost over £5bn a year, as well as reducing the tax take from fuel duties by £15bn a year.

By definition then any replacement subsidies would need to be much smaller, and consequently make little difference to buying habits.

Meanwhile pure electric car sales have actually fallen by 3% so far this year, compared to last, and account for a paltry 0.6% of total car sales. Buyers are not stupid, and realise that EVs simply are not up to the job.

The government may be more hopeful about the prospect of hybrid sales increasing, but in reality these will only make a marginal difference to CO2 emissions, whilst the cars themselves are not price competitive.

3. Boost the charging infrastructure

This simply a repackaging of the £400m fund already announced.

The amount itself is pitifully small, and will make little difference to most drivers.

Again we find that the government is trying to make things happen, without being prepared to pay the bill. It’s like trying to build an airliner out of rubber bands and cardboard.

4. Improve the aftersale network for electric vehicles

Clasping at straws, I think the expression is!

While safety is important for mechanics, the need for garages to employ mechanics suitably trained on EVs is likely to lead to a shortage of such staff, and make getting your car repaired much more difficult.

5. Focus on other major polluters – HGVs, buses and taxis

Again, they talk of “emissions-reducing technology”, but this refers to toxic emissions, and not CO2.

Whoever wrote this plan shows a total lack of understanding why 99% of drivers don’t want to buy electric cars.

As one commenter in the Mail neatly put it:

I live in a village which is comprised mostly of 17th century and Victorian railway houses. If I come home after 6pm I’m lucky if I can park in the same street as my house let alone outside it. How am I supposed to charge an electric vehicle? Are we to run miles of cables from our houses to wherever within half a mile I managed to find a space that day?

If the government really believes that this new plan will lead to millions of EVs on the road in ten years time, then we are in bigger trouble than I thought!

I suspect though that this is little more than an attempt to be seen to be doing “something”.

Michael Gove bounced them into the 2040 ban a few months ago, but with the Treasury keeping the purse tightly shut, they are beginning to realise that their options are strictly limited.


July 11, 2018 at 04:38AM

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