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 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 electric 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 amount 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 said sayonara 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. Issues 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 – that needs to be 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 architecture in Britain is old, built for its times. When apartment blocks were built and roads were laid, the ease of creating access to power was not something factored in.
The problem with the “legacy” architectural designs we have in this country, is that they are built for touristic benefits and 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 that aren’t 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 is as easy as possible for drivers to charge from their homes.
A unified position which allows people without driveways to run cables along pavements to home chargers will 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 two-thousands saw free access to bus lanes and road-ferries, giving the infrastructure funding a kick-start. The infrastructure construction began in 2008, landing 10,000 EV cars on the road by implementing hybrid plug-in charging units, 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 jobs rather than seeing them sail off back to the far east, then 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 an a definite pledge to maintain all current grants. Issues with OLEV credit grants and the waiting 60-day repayment process causes disruption to SME businesses in order for them to anchor operational resources. In order for electrification to truly operate fast and efficiently, the government needs to stay firm on the 2040 commitment.