EU exempts small carmakers from combustion ban

Good news – 2035 ruling won't apply to those registering fewer than 1,000 units a year

By Matt Bird / Friday, 17 February 2023 / Loading comments

Among various criticisms surrounding the EU’s decision to ban the sale of new internal combustion engines from 2035 was the likely impact on small manufacturers. To those makers like Caterham, Morgan, Ariel and BAC, it looked disastrous: not only was there the huge cost of creating electrified powertrains to contend with, demand had to be called into question as well. Would anyone want a lightweight, roofless, visceral sports car with a silent powertrain?

For the moment, it looks like those hurdles can be – if not forgotten about – then made less of a priority for a while, as the EU has decided that car makers registering fewer than 1,000 cars a year will be exempt from the no emissions ruling. It doesn’t get much mention in the broader confirmation statement about 2035, but it’s there alright in the post signing confirmation: ‘Manufacturers responsible for small production volumes in a calendar year (1,000 to 10,000 new cars or 1,000 to 22,000 new vans) may be granted a derogation until the end of 2035 (those registering fewer than 1 000 new vehicles per year continue to be exempt)’.

So insignificant that it’s bracketed, in fact (!) but obviously of huge importance to those manufacturers that the UK specialises in – and which continue to be admired abroad. The situation in the UK hasn’t been clarified yet, though confirmation from the Department for Transport that it will replicate the EU’s decision is expected soon. (Although who knows what might happen with this government.) Be that as it may, for the moment at least, there is no end in sight for new Ariel Atoms and Caterham Sevens featuring engines going on sale in the EU – and while supply issues are likely to become a speed bump at some point – that still feels like very good news. 

Of course, that is unlikely to mean that firms will abandon plans for a greener sort of sports car. There’s just maybe not quite the same urgency attached to them as before. Projects like the electric Caterham, BAC Mono powered by hydrogen and whatever might happen with a zero emissions Morgan will no doubt continue to progress. But at least none of the manufacturers concerned need to agonise about a future stop date. 

Asked for comment by Autocar, a Morgan spokesperson said: “Morgan remains committed to producing lightweight, handcrafted, fun-to-drive and bespoke sports cars, whether they’re powered by internal combustion or alternative propulsion methods. We know this is exactly what our customers want now and in the future.” Simon Saunders and Henry Siebert Saunders of Ariel said the decision was “very welcome”, giving the company “more flexibility as we move towards zero emissions.” The f-word is surely going to be key as we move towards a world less dependent on fossil fuels, as what works for one situation can’t always apply with the same effectiveness to another. Let’s hope policymakers in the UK follow suit.

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