Curtis Hutchinson: Beyond the ban
Once again the Government has brought forward its proposed ban on new cars running on fossil fuels. What will this mean to SMEs looking to future-proof their fleet strategies?
As deadlines go, 2040 was always going to be ambitious for the UK to wean itself off new cars using fossil fuels. Bringing it forward to 2035, and including hybrids and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) in the mix, made a challenging deadline look unachievable.
No wonder the recent bombshell from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps that the ban could actually be implemented in 2032 is causing exasperation.
Stuart Rowley, the president of Ford of Europe, was quick to respond, describing the new deadline as a “hugely ambitious target”, pointing to the challenges presented by the current recharging infrastructure to make it a reality.
In an interview with the BBC, Rowley said it was important for the Government to work with stakeholders to “remove the barriers to adoption of electrified vehicles”.
Ford has been late to the electric party, bizarrely choosing to make its EV entrance with the £40,000 Mustang Mach-E SUV. Meanwhile the Fiesta, Britain’s bestselling car, only gets a mild hybrid treatment as part of a rollout of 18 Ford models this year with some form of electrification.
While avoiding direct criticism of the Government’s stance on hybrids and PHEVs, Rowley made it clear that Ford would be actively involved in the consultation process which he said should be looking at outcomes rather than being technology-specific.
“We think hybrids and PHEVs will be an important part of the technology mix. The input we’ll be giving to government is we’d like them to consider that; particularly PHEVs for people travelling long ranges,” said Rowley.
To further complicate matters for fleets considering long-term strategic decisions, Shapps also made it clear he wants to scrap the £3,500 Plug-in Car Grant, prompting the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) to call on the Government to safeguard it.
“By setting these new decarbonisation targets, the Government is in danger of writing a cheque that the fleet sector cannot cash,” said BVRLA chief executive, Gerry Keaney.
“Businesses are being asked to invest billions of pounds in new electric vehicles and infrastructure over a short timescale. Tax incentives are vital, but so are the Plug-in Grants. They need to be maintained in some form until at least 2025 if we are to deliver the transi-
tion that is required.”
The desire and intent for businesses to reduce emissions by electrifying their fleets is there. But the Government is not making it easy for them as they address the conundrum of how to make it work practically and cost-effectively, with moving goal posts.
The newly published EV Report from 360 Media Group finds costs and infrastructure remain key concerns but moved the debate on by including focus group input from SMEs based in seven current or future Clean Air Zones, including London, Bristol and Birmingham.
“In Bristol the awareness of both EVs and hybrids was much greater than other focus group locations. It was cited that the local authority is making its clean air plans inclusive, coupled with a more extensive Clean Air Zone, meaning that the planning and preparation for EVs was ahead of other parts of the country,” said Ian Richardson, managing director of 360 Media Group.
The report also looked at the role played by employees in driving EV uptake and found it more limited than you might expect.
“We found around half of company car drivers are involved in the final decision, which, of course, means the other half are not; suggesting that benefit in kind incentives are not a key influence for many SMEs,” he said.
Despite being a more established technology, the argument for hybrids lacked conviction, with many fleets citing a lack of cost efficiency and longevity.
“Only a small number of the fleets we spoke to operated hybrids and these tended to be run by decision-makers focused more on their personal tax benefits. Many fleets still regard them as being expensive to buy, lease and run. The limited choice of brands and models
were also cited as barriers, especially the lack of small cars,” said Richardson.
Clearly something has to change to bring down emissions. The Government is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 but appears focused on outlawing new cars running on fossil fuels in just 12 years’ time; a move which will impact fleet decisions taken today. Setting an arbitrary date without a plan is not the solution. The Government needs to consult with stakeholders and agree a plan that sets us all on the road to carbon neutrality.
Less stick and more carrot would be a good start.