UK charging lobby fires warning to PM

Charge UK is worried about government backsliding on the country’s ZEV mandate

UK charging lobby fires warning to PM
Rowing back on EV commitments could kick off a political storm

The saying is that one swallow does not make a summer. But, for embattled UK prime minister Rishi Sunak, it appears to one by-election win makes a whole policy platform.

In July, his Conservative party topped the polls in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency — the seat vacated by one of Sunak’s predecessors, the disgraced Boris Johnson — on a platform of opposition to the expansion of the ultra-low emissions zone (Ulez) championed by London mayor Sadiq Khan, of the leftist opposition Labour party. And Sunak seems to have decided that a tedious narrative of rolling back a ‘war on motorists’ can resolve his Conservative party’s persistent unpopularity relative to Labour and offer it a lifeline for a general election that must take place before early 2025.

UK press reports suggest that the zero emissions vehicles (ZEV) mandate — a scheme beginning in January that will initially require at least 22pc of an OEM’s new UK sales to be emissions-free vehicles, with the threshold rising each year and a £15,000 levy for every non-ZEV sold over the limit, unless spare allowances are bought from other companies under the threshold — is now in his government’s sights. Charge UK, a lobby group representing the country’s EV charging providers, has jumped the gun of any official policy announcement by sending Sunak a letter urging him to “stand firm” on the e-mobility revolution.

Its 23 members are committed to investing £6bn in new charging infrastructure up to 2030 in anticipation of rising BEV sales. “In little over a decade, the UK’s charging sector has grown from nothing to a multi-billion-pound industry and a globally renowned British export,” the letter says.

Investment crunch

“We have been able to invest and deploy at this scale and rate thanks to government commitment to the transition to EVs, but to go further and faster our sector now needs certainty in the form of a firm commitment to a strong ZEV mandate. Watering down the original ambitions of the ZEV mandate will mean billions of pounds of investment, thousands of new and green jobs and the supply of second hand EVs are put at risk,” it warns.

Both supply of new EVs and the development of a second-hand EV market — “vital”, according to Charge UK, to helping reduce the cost of driving for people across the country — “can only be realised with a clear ZEV mandate”.

“We strongly welcome your public commitment to 2030 as the start date for the gradual phase out of petrol and diesel cars,” the letter also states. This is something of a pointed comment, as there are strong rumours that Sunak is under pressure from an element of his backbenchers to postpone the ban of sale of new Ice cars in the UK until 2035.

Auto jobs risk

Trasport & Environment (T&E), a Brussels-based clean transport campaign group, has also weighed in with a warning t othe UK government. And as well as echoing Charge UK's warning about the risk to investment in charging infrastructure, it also cautions on the potential impact of what it calls a 'dither and delay' policy on building out the domestic battery supply chain crucial to futureproofing the UK's auto manufacturing sector.

"Any uncertainty around the UK’s transition to EVs will spook [gigafactory] investors, meaning the government will likely have to stump up more subsidies at a time when there is severe pressure on public finances," T&E warns. "The UK is sacrificing its long-term industrial and decarbonisation strategy to appease a few climate-sceptic MPs and parts of the media that are hostile to the transition."

"The [ZEV] mandate is designed to aid the industry to smoothly transition to electric vehicles at every stage of the process — manufacturing, charging infrastructure, battery production," says Richard Hebditch, T&E UK director. "The biggest threat to planned investment comes from 'dither and delay', undermining trust and confidence in the UK from those considering investing in the battery supply chain and charging infrastructure."

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