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Plug-in hybrid cars and vans must only play ‘niche role’ after 2030 to meet net zero

By / 8 months ago / UK News / No Comments

All car and van sales should be fully electric by 2032, including ensuring that plug-in hybrid (PHEV) cars and vans only play a “niche role” after 2030, according to the Government’s eco advisors.

The newly published – and much anticipated – Sixth Carbon Budget from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) sets out how to reach the Government’s net zero by 2050 goal and says that a major ramp-up in action is needed, including on surface transport.

While the Government set out its plan last month to stop sales of new wholly fossil fuel cars and vans by 2030 and allow hybrids to remain on sale until 2035, the CCC’s recommended ‘Balanced Pathway’ scenario – which takes into account what is feasible over time and what is necessary to get on track to net zero by 2050 – says that this should include ensuring that plug-in hybrids play no more than a niche role by 2030.

It also advises a ban on the sale of new diesel trucks and lorries by 2040 and calls for a high take-up of electric vehicles, resulting in the end of sales of new conventional cars, vans and plug-in hybrids by 2032. In fact, the number of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) will need to scale up rapidly in the 2020s from 5% of new sales today, reaching 100% by 2032 at the latest. By 2035, BEVs will need to make up 64% of all cars and 68% of all vans on the road. It estimates that there could be around 28 million EVs on the road, comprising 25 million BEVs and 3 million PHEVs.

The report says a 2032 phase-out is expected to deliver almost 90 MtCO2e lower cumulative emissions and £6bn additional cost-savings across the period from 2020-2050, compared to continuing to allow conventional vehicles including PHEVs to be sold until 2035. Moving the phase-out date forward to 2030 could deliver even larger cost savings.

Its scenarios also assume that PHEVs are phased out at the same time as conventional fossil fuel vehicles. It says, if this does not occur and PHEVs are instead allowed to be sold for longer, “there is a risk that this could lead to greater uptake of PHEVs and undermine the switchover to fully zero-emission options”. It adds that real-world emissions from PHEVs “are often only marginally lower than emissions from conventional vehicles”.

The report also says that high take-up of EVs will require significant roll-out of charge points; recharging and refuelling infrastructure will need to develop to meet the range of emerging needs. It adds: “Effective demand-side policy is also essential – we identify significant opportunities, and advantages, to reducing travel demand, but this will not happen without firm policies.”

Other measures featured in the report include expansion of low-carbon energy supplies, a reduction in demand for carbon-intensive activities and land and greenhouse gas removals.

The overriding message is that polluting emissions must fall by almost 80% by 2035, compared to 1990 levels – a big step-up in ambition. Just 18 months ago this was the UK’s 2050 goal.

The measures in the Sixth Carbon Budget have been welcomed by the Energy Saving Trust. Chief executive Mike Thornton said: “The vision outlined will mean a clean electricity grid within 15 years, reduced electricity costs, as well as all new cars and more than half of new heating systems being fossil-fuel free by the end of this decade. As part of this, it will be crucial to encourage people to change their habits and provide them with support and advice on more sustainable ways of living including travel and home energy efficiency.”

But the BVRLA has slammed the newly suggested targets – it had said earlier this year that a single date would be a mistake. Speaking at the time of the PM’s announcement last month of the new 2030 target, chief executive Gerry Keaney had said the 2035 extension for plug-in and full hybrids provided “an essential lifeline for those facing a greater zero-emission challenge” and would give additional breathing space.

Commenting on the CCC’s new recommendation, Keaney said: “We already have an ambitious target for phasing out the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars and vans and to change that now would cause confusion. The Government must regularly review progress against existing targets and should take steps to ensure that all road users and fleets have a realistic path to decarbonisation.

“Setting a date for the phasing out of diesel trucks and lorries is a positive step, but HGV operators need a zero-emission roadmap. Upgrading fleets and refuelling infrastructure to adopt hydrogen or battery electric technology will be very expensive and the Government will need to help operators absorb that cost burden. Many trucks travel huge distances, cross many borders and rely on public fuelling facilities, so UK policymakers will need to align their freight decarbonisation strategy with other countries.”

It’s not the first time that PHEVs have come under fire in recent weeks. Eco campaign group Transport & Environment (T&E) urged global governments to cut purchase subsidies and tax breaks for plug-in hybrids after real-world tests indicated much-higher emissions than advertised. But in their responses, both individual carmakers and the UK’s car industry trade body, the SMMT, said the internationally regulated WLTP and RDE tests had proved that plug-in hybrids deliver substantial emission reductions compared to pure petrol or diesel equivalents, and that PHEVs are generally seen as a stepping stone to going electric.

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. Natalie edits all the Fleet World websites and newsletters, and loves to hear about any latest industry news - or gossip.