Combustion deckchairs rearranged | PH Footnote

You'll still be able to buy a new petrol or diesel car till 2035, says PM. Assuming you can find one…

By PH Staff / Wednesday, 20 September 2023 / Loading comments

Having spent months interminably testing the political water and then leaking like a sieve, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak finally confirmed in a speech given on Wednesday afternoon that the UK’s proposed (so-called) ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will be pushed back to 2035. Cue much huffing and puffing and teeth gnashing from anyone with skin in the game, and quite a bit from those with none. This despite the fact that the original 2030 timetable – announced at the comedic high point of Boris Johnson’s time in Narnia – stood about as much chance of becoming plausible reality as a footbridge made of compost. 

The reasons for it being rolled back are well-rehearsed on PH (the preposterous expense of doing so that must be passed on to everyone; the nation’s flagrant unpreparedness for universal electrification; a well-founded reluctance among the general public to have transition forced upon it; the industrial requirement for carbon-intensive imports etc) but for the most part, they are merely the epitaph on a grave that was already pre-dug. Back in 2020, the 2030 deadline was plucked from the ether with all the nailed-on certainty of a man guessing his weight in cashew nuts. Tellingly, it looked good on a press release. Boastful, even, as it assigned the UK world-leading status. But that was the sum total of all it did. 

To stand any chance of succeeding, even in a decade-long timeframe, the policy would’ve required a gargantuan let’s-pull-together effort and the extensive buy-in not only of the general public but also a globalised car industry. None of this transpired. Certainly, any manufacturer that wants to be in the business of building more than 1,000 cars a year is well on the way to some form of wholesale electrification – but the speed and substance of that transition is chiefly defined by the ever-tightening strictures of forthcoming emission legislation and the 2035 combustion engine deadline recently written into EU law. Not the ramblings of the UK government. 

Consequently, while the Prime Minister’s reversal is being treated in some corners as the final nail in the coffin of the climate emergency – or yet another outrageous, vote-chasing flip-flop – really, it is neither. It is simply an acknowledgement that the notion of a separate deadline for a market of the UK’s size was, at best, ill-conceived and poorly executed, and at worst, trumped-up navel-gazing. At the same time, it does not signal any kind of real reprieve for fossil-fuel-based combustion, because a) you were always going to be able to buy petrol-electric hybrid cars till 2035 anyway b) manufacturers will continue to wind up production that the industry considers loss-making in the long run, and c) the engine as we know it is heading either for novelty value or mind-bending, ultra low-volume expense. Probably both. Save for a significant advancement in synthetic fuel, it seems nothing can save us from that now. 

  • EU approves 2035 phaseout – but e-fuels exempt
  • E-fuel prices of less than $2 per litre ‘possible’

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