• Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a plan to ban sales of gasoline- and diesel-powered passenger cars in the U.K. beginning in 2035.
  • That’s five years earlier than a previous commitment by the U.K., and it also adds even hybrid vehicles to the banned list, leaving only full electric cars as an option.
  • There were 2.3 million passenger cars sold in the U.K. in 2019—and only 37,850 of them were electric vehicles.

    Britain has never used the expression “gearhead” for those with a passion for cars, preferring—in reference to the U.K.’s name for gasoline—”petrolhead” instead. But that term isn’t going to be applicable to the nation’s car enthusiasts for much longer. The British government has announced plans to bring forward an outright ban on the sale of all gasoline- and diesel-powered passenger cars—even hybrids—just 15 years from now.

    Like several European countries, the U.K. had already committed to phase out the sale of gasoline and diesel by 2040. But the new plan would bring that date forward by five years and would also add hybrids to the banned list. It was announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the launch of the COP 26 conference on climate change in Glasgow, Scotland. If put into law, it will set the U.K. on track to be the first large nation to officially end the era of internal combustion. The previous 2040 target would have allowed the continued sale of plug-in hybrids, but the new proposal to exclude those, if adopted, would take Britain far beyond the restrictions planned by other countries.

    The move is part of the U.K. government’s target to become a net-zero carbon emitter by 2050. Predictably, not everybody is happy with the idea. The country’s auto industry trade body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, has questioned whether it is possible to install sufficient charging infrastructure in time. Its boss, Mike Hawes, accused the country’s government—in another fine British expression—of “having moved the goalposts.” Although far smaller than the U.S, the U.K.’s car market is still one of the largest in Europe, with 2.3 million passenger vehicles registered last year. According to official statistics, just 37,850 of those were full EVs.

    Infrastructure Will Be a Challenge

    There’s also the small matter of where so many electric vehicles will be able to recharge. According to website Zapmap, the UK has 10,800 EV charging locations and 30,400 individual chargers, but coverage remains poor in many areas. There are 36 million cars and light commercial vehicles (vans and trucks) in the U.K., with an average age of 7.7 years. So, even without further restrictions on the use of existing internal combustion, the country would need to build sufficient infrastructure to support that number of EVs by around 2040.

    Critics, of which there are many, have also contrasted Johnson’s enthusiasm to ban cars with Britain’s lack of leadership in other areas of CO2 emissions. Britain loves air travel, and the combined number of passenger flights from London’s airports is the largest of any city in the world. The country also lags far behind European countries when it comes to electric trains; just 40 percent of Britain’s passenger rail network is electrified, compared with 55 percent in France and 60 percent in Germany.

    Another complicating factor could be the U.K.’s recent departure from the European Union, which brings the possibility of tariffs on car imports between the U.K. and the rest of Europe. The only EV volume models currently being produced in the U.K. are the new Mini Electric and the Nissan Leaf. The U.K.’s luxury-car makers also build some of the most powerful and indulgent internal-combustion cars in the world, being home to McLaren (all V-8), Rolls-Royce (all V-12), and Aston Martin (a mixture of both). Bentley is has just launched a plug-in-hybrid version of the Bentayga, but if these plans are adopted, even that doesn’t go far enough. And last week, Aston announced it will suspend development of its pure electric Lagonda range until after 2025.

    Some smaller European countries have already set even more aggressive targets, with Norway banning conventional cars in 2025 and Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, Iceland and the Netherlands aiming for 2030. Oh, and Scotland—determined as ever to be slightly ahead of the rest of the U.K.—wants to ban conventional car sales in 2032.



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