Only electrified cars and vans will be sold in the UK from 2040, the Government has announced in a plan published by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra). This includes hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles that have some electrical propulsion, but means cars with only conventional petrol and diesel engines will go off sale.
The news signals the start of a long-term crackdown on air pollution, which the government says is linked to around 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK.
Two months after the Government's announcement, Scotland's first minister, Nicola Stugeon, stated an ambition for Scotland to ban diesel and petro-engined cars from 2032, eight years before the rest of the UK. However, there are no details of how this would be done so far.
What does the petrol and diesel car ban mean for me?
Previous governments have been criticised by clean air campaigners for failing to do enough to reduce pollution levels. This latest announcement is part of a £2.7bn investment programme to address that criticism.
The car industry has already been set tough emissions targets in the coming months and years, and every car manufacturer is developing electrified systems to reduce pollution, ranging from mild hybrid 48V systems that can reduce fuel consumption by 10% through to hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric vehicles.
Although car buyers will only be able to choose from fully electrific or hybrid vehicles in 2040, that switch was expected to happen as a result of existing environmental legislation. There is no suggestion at present that owners of diesel, petrol and hybrid vehicles will be subject to any punitive action. However, buyers of higher-polluting cars will likely be hit by increasingly high charges, including on the VED road tax rate. It is also possible that the Government will introduce a scrappage scheme to encourage owners of older, more polluting diesels to trade them in for newer, cleaner models.
In addition, drivers in the most polluted areas will face a range of changes designed to alleviate the problem. A £255m implementation fund is being made available to local councils to help them reduce pollution on specific stretches of road. However, rather than implementing wholesale bans on cars, councils are being encouraged to come up with a range of creative solutions to suit their local area.
This is in line with new proposals for tackling air quality published by the Government in May, with plans including creating more low emissions zones (which limit the cars that can enter certain areas), rephasing traffic lights and removing speed bumps to help ease the flow of cars through polluted areas.
The latest paper states that restrictions may only need to be implemented during certain hours and that they can be removed altogether once the emission level of a particular stretch of road falls within the set guidelines – as long as it's not predicted to rise above the permitted limit in the future.
Earlier this year, France’s government announced similar restrictions on higher-emission vehicles entering Paris at peak times.
How many electric cars are sold in the UK today?
Electric car sales in the UK are at record levels, but still only account for around 1% of all new car sales. Projections from electric car charging firm Chargemaster suggest that one million plug-in hybrid or electric cars will be on our roads by 2022, at which point they will account for 10% of all sales, and that by 2027 registrations of such vehicles will account for around 30% of new car sales.
The car industry response
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders – which represents the views of the motor industry – chief executive, Mike Hawes, has cautioned that the automotive sector could be "undermined" if the industry was not given enough time to adapt to the new policy.
He said: "Much depends on the cost of these new technologies and how willing consumers are to adopt battery, plug in hybrid and hydrogen cars.
"Currently, demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles is growing but still at a very low level as consumers have concern over affordability, range and charging points.
"Outright bans risk undermining the current market for new cars and our sector, which supports over 800,000 jobs across the UK, so the industry instead wants a positive approach which gives consumers incentives to purchase these cars."
Other electric car issues the government must overcome
The government has pledged to invest nearly £100m into improving the UK's electric vehicle charging infrastructure and funding the plug-in car and van grant schemes.
Providing enough public charging points will be a challenge; today, there are around 12,000 public charging points, compared with 8500 petrol stations. However, fuel stations have numerous pumps and a full refill takes only a few minutes. Although many electric car owners have charging points at home, this is only possible if they have a driveway close to their house.
There are also issues around generating the electricity to power the cars that must be overcome; creating it via fossil fuel burning power stations still results in substantial air pollution.
How will this affect used cars?
The headline announcement about a ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040 probably won't, in the short term. However, this announcement is a part of a larger air quality strategy from the Government, which elsewhere expresses support for the levying of fees on older vehicles, especially diesels.
It's likely that this will have an effect on the values of older diesel cars as more towns and cities introduce such charges, in the vein of London's T-Charge and Ultra Low-Emissions Zone (ULEZ). Diesel car values are already starting to slip relative to their petrol counterparts in some areas of the market, and this trend is likely to continue as more and more owners realise that choosing a diesel car might lead to significant extra charges if they use them to commute.
Buying a petrol-powered car instead would seem to be the most logical option. But thanks to the ubiquity of used diesels, they're vastly fewer and further between; in some classes, you'll struggle to find even one example of a petrol version for sale, let alone a few to choose from. If buyers do start to go for petrol over diesel, that could push petrol models' values up while diesels' drop off, which will make it even harder to make the switch.
Our advice, therefore, must be to think hard when choosing your next used car about whether you really need a diesel version. Indeed, it always has been, but now more than ever, it's important to sit down and do the sums, taking into account your mileage, the cost of the fuel, the cost of the charges you might face, and the risk of diesel models dropping in value. For the highest-mileage drivers, diesel will still make the most sense. But if you don't do enough miles to justify the extra cost those new charges might add to your motoring outgoings, putting your money into a petrol might soon become a safer bet.
The top 10 electric cars on sale today
Electric cars have been on sale in the UK since the turn of the decade and many manufacturers are now launching second-generation versions of the cars, which are both cheaper to buy and run and which have larger batteries to allow for more range in-between charges. Charging technology improvements also allow for much faster charge times.
Advances in battery technology between now and 2040 are also expected to be substantial, especially with car manufacturers now focused on that goal. As such, the cost of electric vehicles is expected to come down to the level of today’s cars in relative terms, charge times are expected to drop dramatically and the range and usability of electric cars will greatly increase.
Here are our favourite electric cars currently on sale, and we've also named the ones to avoid.
10. Volkswagen e-Up
The regular Volkswagen Up is one of our favourite city cars and this electric version is just as practical and good to drive. It feels almost entirely uncompromised by its conversion to electric power. It's just that, unfortunately, it costs twice as much as the petrol models.
9. Nissan Leaf
One of the more affordable electric models on sale, the Leaf is about the same size as a Vauxhall Astra and similarly easy to drive. There are two battery options to choose from: a 24kWh that allows a theoretical range between charges of 124 miles and a 30kWh that extends this to 155 miles. The latter is only available on the more expensive trim levels, though.
8. Toyota Mirai
The Mirai is a hydrogen-fuelled car, which means that you'll need to fill it up with hydrogen at specially chosen filling stations, of which there are currently very few. It's powered by a single 152bhp electric motor and can travel for up to 400 miles between refills. We found it to be quiet and well-controlled but, at around £66,000, it's certainly pricey. And with limited volumes coming to the UK, it's likely to be a very rare sight.
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