UK confirms zero-emission car timetable despite shift on target for hybrids

By Alistair Smout and Sachin Ravikumar

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain announced on Thursday it was sticking to a previous timetable to phase out cars that burn fossil fuels by 2035, limiting the impact of last week’s five-year delay to a requirement that petrol and diesel cars have hybrid engines.

The announcement means that last week’s policy change will not cause as much disruption to the industry as some manufacturers had feared when it was announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in a major speech.

Only 20 percent of vehicles produced between 2030 and 2035 will be able to burn petrol or diesel at all, so Sunak’s move to lift the requirement that they be hybrids will now affect only a small part of the fleet.

“Our mandate provides certainty for manufacturers, benefits drivers by providing more options and helps grow the economy,” transport minister Mark Harper said.

Sunak’s announcement that he was moving the 2030 ban on non-hybrid fossil-fuel models to 2035 was greeted with dismay by many in the industry who said it created uncertainty and could lead to supply chain disruptions.

But the government timetable unveiled on Thursday showed there will be no change in the previous schedule for increasing the share of vehicles that produce no emissions at all.

Under the so-called zero emission vehicles (ZEV) mandate, which will now be retained, 22% of carmakers’ sales next year must be electric, rising in increments to 80% electric in 2030 – and eventually reaching 100% in 2035.

Industry experts had said keeping the previous ZEV would mean Sunak’s changes on hybrids were likely to end up having only a marginal impact on car production.

“Ford has backed plans for a UK zero-emission vehicle mandate because it provides a strong investment signal to infrastructure providers to accelerate installation of new charge points,” Ford’s UK chair Lisa Brankin said in a statement.

Clarity on the targets was welcomed across the auto industry.

“With less than 100 days to go, manufacturers finally have clarity on what they are required to sell next year and up to 2030,” Mike Hawes, CEO of car industry group the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said in a statement.

“It is worth noting the mandate means the UK still retains the most ambitious transition timeline of any major market but without any private consumer incentives.”

Campaigners have said the government was sending mixed signals by instructing manufacturers to ramp up zero-emission vehicle production while also giving consumers more time to transition away from petrol and diesel cars.

The government also stuck to its previous target of 70% electric van sales by 2030 and 100% by 2035, although it softened some targets for the next three years.

“The Government is sending mixed messages in a crucial policy area,” said Ian Plummer, commercial director at UK online car marketplace Auto Trader. “The key now will be to support consumers in making the switch.”

(Reporting by Alistair Smout, Sachin Ravikumar and Nick CareyEditing by William James and Peter Graff)