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Is an earlier ban on new petrol and diesel cars an option?

Calls continue for the Government to bring forwards its 2040 target to end the sale of conventional new diesel and petrol cars – but is such a move feasible? We ask fleet industry stakeholders for their views. 

2040 © Fleet World

Sales of “conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans” are scheduled to end by 2040

Last summer’s Air Quality Plan and Clean Growth Strategy made headlines for reaffirming the Government’s 2011 ambitions to end the sale of “conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans” by 2040. It’s a still-ambiguous target which has come under focus recently by a joint enquiry, held by four commons select committees, into improving air quality. Their argument; the date must be brought forward, to deal with an “air quality catastrophe”.

Although the DfT has not yet issued an official response to the report – a spokesperson told Fleet World that it was carefully considering the recommendations – could the 2040 target realistically be brought forwards and how much would it impact on fleets?

Certainly Chargemaster thinks there’s no problem with a revised target, pointing out that more than 30 new models are due by 2020, and that charging infrastructure will keep pace with vehicles on the road: “On the current trajectory, it is likely that virtually every car on UK roads will be electric by 2040,” said the company’s CEO, David Martell.

And among the fleet and leasing firms, ALD’s consultancy services manager, Matt Dale believes a revised target could be realistic if it excluded commercial vehicles. He explained that the increased choice of available alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) models could mean that drivetrains without at least hybridisation may be reduced to ‘special orders only’ as early as the 2030s. Already, ALD says that in some cases demand for AFVs is outstripping supply.

Meanwhile Matt Dyer, managing director at LeasePlan UK, said 51% of orders on its SalaryPlan salary sacrifice scheme are now for Ultra Low Emission Vehicles – and it is aiming to transition its entire company car fleet by 2021, while encouraging its customers to make the switch. However, Dyer believes the Government needs to continue to incentivise the uptake and delivery of critical infrastructure for EVs for the momentum to continue.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Ashley Barnett, head of consultancy at Lex Autolease. His view is that the 2040 target should give sufficient time for fleets to make the shift, but that current infrastructure and product availability doesn’t give businesses a viable option for moving this date to 2030 – which is only three car replacement cycles away if you look at a four-year cycle.

ACFO has also expressed its concerns over any targets and their impact on fleet operations. Although the organisation is clear on the need to tackle poor air quality and the role that fleets have to play, Pryor said operators need access to vehicles based on whole-life costs and fitness for purpose. Wider choice and improved battery technology, and a standardised charging process, plus specific considerations for vans would all be important.

Chairman John Pryor comments: “There is no legislation – it is only a plan – to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans. And, as ACFO has consistently said over many years in relation to numerous matters, legislation should not run ahead of technology.

“Businesses can only switch away from petrol and diesel cars and vans if they are 100% confident in alternatives available. Today, that is far from the case,” he said.

And ICFM director, Peter Eldridge, added that Government needed to provide clear long-term policy for all fuel types, and incentives to encourage change: “Fleet operators are not averse to change, but they will not expose themselves or their businesses to risks. Plug-in vehicles must be attractive to mainstream fleet operations in terms of technology and cost and currently there remains too many unknowns across a sector that remains embryonic in terms of sales.”

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for 16 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. As Business Editor, Natalie ensures the group websites and newsletters are updated with the latest news.