The UK automotive sector is a valuable asset to the UK economy, generating £82bn and providing 832,000 jobs in the UK, said Matt Western MP, chair of the all party parliamentary motor group.
Writing the forward to a new report on Government plans to reach net zero carbon by 2050, which will be a huge challenge for society and industry in Britain, he said there is no silver bullet to kill the issue.
“It is a key sector and a global R&D focus point with £3.75bn invested in 2019, yet government ambitions for phasing out the sale of internal combustion engine vehicles at some point in the 2030s mean the next few months will be critical in determining its future.
“The Government has pledged that by 2050 the UK will be a ‘net zero’ emitter of CO2. Emissions have reduced since 1990 and the UK has done well so far in meeting its CO2 reduction targets. However, at present, the UK is set to fall behind by 2023.
He went on,“Now that coal-fired power stations have closed down and we have started to use much more natural gas and renewable energy, road transport is one of the biggest CO2 emitters. We need to reduce this, and quickly.”
“While a clear and achievable target for ending the sale of petrol and diesel cars is vital for the industry to prepare for a managed transition to a cleaner future, we should not be fooled into thinking this alone will solve the problem. We need to address the decarbonisation of both vehicle and fuel to have any real hope of meeting our CO2 reduction ambitions.”
The UK has made significant progress in reducing its carbon emissions, but more needs to be done, and road transportation is a key area where improvements are required if decarbonisation targets are to be met.
The number of Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEVs) is increasing, but there remain a number of significant barriers to uptake. These range from cost, to availability and practicality for the user.
As outlined in this report, the needs of the varying segments of the road transport sector vary depending on the attributes of that particular vehicle and its use. The type of powertrain is best matched to its usage cycle. We therefore need to consider the usage of the vehicle when assessing the correct powertrain solution for a given vehicle.
The analysis goes on to recommend six actions:
Decarbonise fuels not vehicles; adapt cleaner fuels for older vehicles; different vehicles need alternative technologies; publication of the whole-vehicle CO2 footprint; link renewable energy and transport decarbonisation and finally, allow industry to innovate with a range of solutions not impose only one.
It is therefore important to consider the principle that the cars define how much energy is used (fuel consumption), but it is the fuel that defines how much carbon is produced (carbon intensity).
Any policy changes should therefore focus on both aspects in a holistic Well to Wheel approach in assessing the emissions of a vehicle.
Making all new vehicles Zero Emissions at the tailpipe (FCEV/BEV) only works if the energy grid is zero emission, it also only addresses those new vehicles sold each year circa 2m per annum (2019), whereas introducing a low-carbon fuel impacts on all vehicles in the car parc, circa 40m.
The Government should adopt a technology neutral approach, allowing industry to continue to innovate. In doing so, the UK would be well placed to lead in the development and manufacture of these new technologies. We have a diverse automotive industry, centres of excellence in materials (NCC), the new battery research centre technology (UKBIC), a growing Hydrogen generation industry and one of the best supply chains around the globe.
However, government ambition needs to recognise the differing technology needs of the various vehicles on the market. We can research the best technology and build the best vehicles to be powered by this technology, but currently we have to import this technology from abroad. Given the fragility of supply networks halfway across the globe and the polluting effect of transporting components such as batteries, this is not a long-term solution for a UK automotive industry that wants to be a global leader.
The diversity of the UK automotive industry is also unique with a large number of small and niche manufacturers. These manufacturers often act as the route to market for new technology, so the UK has a distinct advantage.
There is a golden opportunity in a post-Brexit, post-corona virus world for the UK to become the global leader in state of the art zero emission technology, but we must find a way to support both the technology development and the industrial development that follows.