The government should ban sales of virtually all new petrol and diesel cars by 2032, a group of MPs say in a withering report that labels the current 2040 target “vague” and “unambitious”.
Ministers wanted to phase out sales of “conventional” petrol and diesel cars by 2040, under a policy called the “Road to Zero”.
But moving and hardening the target will help Britain meet its climate change targets, and assist the UK industry in developing technology it can export to the world, the business, energy and industrial strategy committee said on Friday.
“Zero should mean zero,” the report stated. “We recommend that the government prioritise overarching policy goals on climate change and air quality over sectoral interests, and bring forwards a clear, precise target for new sales of cars and vans to be truly zero emission by 2032.
“This would put the UK in the ‘first tier’ league of nations leading the electric vehicle transition.”
But the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders criticised the report, calling the target “nigh on impossible”.
Mike Hawes, chief executive, said: “This is unrealistic and rejects the evidence put forward by SMMT on behalf of the industry, which is investing billions into these technologies but which recognises consumers need greater confidence and support if they are to buy these vehicles in the numbers we all want.”
The MPs’ report highlights two issues: the need to spur public adoption of electric cars, which remains very low, and the need to develop expertise in electric technology to safeguard the 186,000 jobs in Britain’s car manufacturing industry.
“Unless we move and move quickly towards electric vehicles in this country, we’ll lose those jobs to overseas,” said Labour MP Rachel Reeves, who chairs the committee. “We need to make sure that we’re leading the revolution, whether our target is 2032 or 2040.”
To improve sales, the report said the government should set clearer directions over the rollout of public charge points. Local councils are currently in charge of public charge points but they do not see the rollout as a priority. The report added that a decision last week to cut incentives offered on most plug-in cars made “little sense”.
The MPs also criticised the government for fudging the language in the “Road to Zero”, which sought to avoid specifying the types of engine technology that would be banned by using the term “conventional” petrol or diesel cars.
“We recommend that the government either acknowledge that petrol and diesel will ultimately need to be fully phased out from cars and vans, or admit that it is not seeking a zero emissions fleet. It cannot have both,” the report said.
“Industry cannot be expected to make supportive investment decisions when ministers and officials themselves cannot say how the target should be interpreted.”