Ministers warned of electric car policy fiasco

The millionth new plug-in car sold in Britain rolled out of a showroom last month but sales of electric vehicles appear to be slowing as total registrations remain stalled at historically low levels.

A senior figure at the Japanese carmaker Honda has warned that the government risks creating a “chaotic fiasco” with delays to its policy for boosting electric car use this decade.

A mandate on how many electric models car manufacturers must sell each year was a key pledge under the net-zero strategy introduced by Boris Johnson when he was prime minister.

The step was regarded as vital to deliver the government’s ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2030 to meet its climate-change objectives. However, details of the zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) mandate have not been finalised because of political delays.

The scheme is due to start next year, but carmakers still have no clarity, and private anger is beginning to spill over into the public domain.

Patrick Keating, who runs European government affairs at Honda, said the “political inertia” was “very frustrating”. He said on LinkedIn: “The delays risk the ZEV mandate roll-out becoming a chaotic fiasco.” A Honda spokesman said: “Honda is fully supportive of the government’s transport decarbonisation agenda.”

Fully electric cars accounted for 16.6 per cent of all car sales in the UK last year, a record. Given the rapid growth in electric car sales in recent years, a government briefing last year said carmakers could expect the mandate to be set at between 20 and 30 per cent next year.

Matt Finch, UK policy manager at the campaign group Transport & Environment, said: “The ZEV mandate could and should be a world-leading piece of legislation. But the policy’s constant delays suggest that it, and therefore the climate crisis, just isn’t a priority for the Sunak administration.”

There are conflicting accounts as to why the policy has stalled. Some blame Mark Harper, the transport secretary; sources close to him say he is keen to push the policy forward.

However, it is understood that Rishi Sunak is planning a “big net-zero moment” next month, which may include the proposals on the electric car mandate. The government has considered tweaks to the scheme to provide flexibility in its first two years.

The big car brands expect to produce 842,200 cars this year, a rise of almost 10 per cent, driven by greater electric vehicle production, increased consumer demand and the rise in flexible electric car schemes. More than 40 per cent of cars built in the UK last month were electric, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

However, analysis today predicts that if sales of new electric cars are based on targets being proposed by the government for its mandate, rather than track the industry’s “high” sales projections, there would be 2.1 million fewer second-hand electric cars available by 2033. Collectively that would cost drivers £9 billion as they miss out on cheaper running costs from going electric, the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit think tank said.

The Department for Transport said: “We’re working closely with industry on the path to all new cars being zero-emission by 2035, and a final consultation on the mandate will be published shortly.”