As the Conservative Party’s Vice-Chair for Business, I know how much businesses hate uncertainty; they need to know the Government will stick to plans and targets. I also know, as the Member of Parliament for Meriden in the West Midlands, how important the automotive sector is to our region and, indeed, to the whole UK economy.
But while the Uxbridge by-election sparked a debate about our electric vehicle transition, ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in seven years isn’t ULEZ expansion round two. It is good that the Government is holding its nerve.
Take Jaguar Land Rover, headquartered in neighbouring Coventry, is the UK’s largest car manufacturer. Earlier this year, it announced it would invest £15 billion in developing new electric models. And last month, there were reports it had committed to investing £4 billion in a gigafactory in Somerset. These levels of investments take time and planning and can be costly to reverse.
Nor is this just about businesses. The public wants to see action to tackle climate change too: according to YouGov, voters think that protecting our planet is the fourth-biggest issue facing our country.
That’s why we can win support for our plan to keep Britain driving while cutting emissions and benefiting people and communities. Unlike Labour’s charge for older vehicles, our target drives the investment and innovation needed to cut prices and create jobs. In other words, we are nurturing the market to do what it does best.
It’s a big change, but a necessary one if we are to tackle climate change and usher in a new generation of cleaner vehicles.
Unlike the ULEZ, the 2030 target doesn’t penalise motorists who bought their vehicles in good faith. In fact, the transition is much softer than reported for those worried about costs and the range. Even in 2030, second-hand petrol and diesel cars will still be on sale, along with new hybrids, so people can choose.
The vast majority buy these cars, so for most, there will be little change – all while electric cars fall in price. In recent days, the second-hand market in electric cars is showing that these vehicles are becoming more affordable.
If we were to delay our target, it would seriously hamper our efforts to reach Net Zero, the impact of which we can already see across Europe. A five-year delay would release an additional 100 million metric tons of CO2 – the equivalent of the emissions of 22 million cars, or powering every home in Australia.
But ending our contribution to climate change needn’t mean higher costs for people and businesses.
There’s one bill we would all like to do without: the cost of filling the car with petrol each week. The average car costs £79 to fill up; charging an electric vehicle at home, on the other hand, costs just £17. That’s a significant saving.
Nor should the change to electric vehicles be inconvenient. While the range of these vehicles continues to improve as manufacturers produce new and better models, they already have sufficient range for most people. Nearly 99 per cent of journeys are under 100 miles, which every electric vehicle on the market can do on a single charge (the longest-range model can do 450 miles).
Because of their cheap running costs, electric cars are already cheaper to run over their lifetime than those which run on fossil fuel. Sticker prices still need to come down, but have already fallen over the past decade; we need manufacturers to build more, and the market to develop, to lower prices further.
The Government’s zero-emission vehicle mandate will make manufacturers produce more and more electric vehicles to meet demand, growing the market and cutting costs over time.
Manufacturers and charge point firms have the confidence to invest in the UK because they know that, come 2030, there will be a significant and quickly growing electric vehicle market here. There are already 44,000 public charge points available across the country – a 36 per cent increase in the past year alone; private firms are investing £6 billion to grow our charging network, knowing more and more electric vehicles will be on our roads.
There is a significant environmental cost to delaying our target, so I am pleased the Government has confirmed it’s not moving.
But uncertainty would also upset the private investment needed to create the infrastructure and secure the future of Britain’s car industry, which supports many jobs in my constituency and across the country. We should be building on the Tata factory in Somerset and aiming to attract further investment; the Coventry battery factory (currently being championed by Andy Street) could create 6,000 jobs for our area.
We must take advantage of the opportunity to lead the way on electric vehicles and secure as many new factories as possible. It’s better to build as much as possible here, creating jobs in our communities, than importing from overseas.
There’s undoubtedly a lot to do before 2030 and beyond. But our target drives the investment and innovation needed to deliver the electric vehicle transformation, lower people’s bills, create jobs, and tackle climate change.
First published by ConservativeHome. Saqib Bhatti MP (Meriden) is a member of the Conservative Environment Network.