Dave Simpson, co-founder of premium electric vehicle (EV) charge point firm Andersen, urges the UK government to get serious about electric mobility.
When the news broke that Honda was set to close its factory in Swindon at the cost of thousands of jobs, one word was on the lips of journalists, commentators and even the workers themselves – but for those many in the automotive industry, Brexit is the least of our concerns. Rather than spending hours arguing about import and export tariffs, just-in-time supply chains and lorry queues at Calais, the UK government needs to turn its attention to the other reason Honda is leaving: electric vehicles.
Even as the Brexit clock counts down, another deadline is not far behind. The environment secretary Michael Gove has committed to end the production of new petrol, diesel and hybrid vehicles by 2040. That target was welcomed by businesses like my own, which believes zero emissions motoring is the future of transport in this country; but like so many other progressive policies, the UK’s promise on EVs already appears to be hitting the skids.
With a glaring hole in the number of public chargers needed to support widespread EV adoption and cuts in cash grants for drivers who are considering making the switch, it’s no wonder Honda chose to move their new EV operation closer to home. If they had believed the UK was serious about electrification, would they have pulled out so soon?
The UK is by no means out of the race when it comes to the switch to EVs, but there are some serious issues which remain unresolved which only an integrated, multi-department governmental approach can solve. The most pressing of those is the infrastructure challenge present on our roads: currently there are around 1,500 charging points in the UK today, which needs to rise to around 20,000 by the end of next year. No small task when you consider the planning and civil engineering side of installing chargers on roads not built to accommodate them. Much of the UK’s architecture is old, built for its times; and when apartment blocks were built and roads were laid, the ease of creating access to power was not factored in.
The problem with the “legacy” architectural designs we have in this country is that they are retained in part for touristic benefits and are difficult to maintain. The power supply is weak, meaning roads will need to be dug up in order to retrofit EV chargers into the physical structures, like flats, houses and businesses, which were not designed to have them fitted. This will not only cause much disruption but will be costly, which leads to reluctances to commit to these construction plans.
This is why it’s imperative that local governments make it as easy as possible for drivers to charge their electric vehicles from their homes. A unified position allowing people without driveways to run cables along pavements to home chargers would lessen the burden on public chargers, making the switch to an EV feel as pain-free as buying a new car should be.
The UK government can learn from the electrification development in the Norwegian market. Norway is one of the leading countries in the world that owns the largest share of electric cars. Not only were they the early movers but they also early to the market – in the mid-nineties, the Norwegian government cut the annual registration tax and exempted all EVs from road tolls, meaning thousands of citizens saw free access to bus lanes and road-ferries and giving infrastructure funding a kick start. Infrastructure construction began in 2008, landing 10,000 EV cars on the road by implementing hybrid plug-in charging units; and now every second new car sold in Norway is electric.
If we’re serious about making the UK a global leader in an EV technology industry which will create and support British jobs and industry, this is one type of Norway model we should all be getting behind. The government is on a ticking time bomb. As we know, pledges have been put in place, but we need a definite pledge to maintain all current grants. Issues with OLEV credit grants and the waiting 60-day repayment process causes disruption to small and medium-sized businesses when they are trying to anchor operational resources. In order for vehicle electrification to truly operate fast and efficiently, the government needs to stay firm on its 2040 commitment.