Interesting, no? Defra are prepared to think 20+ years out and GDS, our government’s lead technology organisation, can’t quite comprehend the world more than a few months out.
In my experience, it’s rare for such ground-breaking, multi-Parliament promises to be made. Realising this vision will involve working across the whole of government as well as with the private sector. The interesting thing about this vision is that it might just happen by itself, but it will be a lot quicker and easier if government is pushing rather than blocking.
Defra are, it seems, out in front of the rest of government by setting out this policy. There is, though, so much more to it than this. To make this work we need other parts of government to come alive and for them to spell out more of the “why” and “what’s it for”. Government has announced an outcome (no more petrol and diesel cars), along with a series of funding inputs, but we need more – and we need a lot of different people to play their part.
So here’s my attempt to fill in the gaps and say what the announcement should and could mean. This post will come in a few parts and this is part 1.
What’s It For
- Establish the UK in a leadership position on electric vehicles and, by extension, self-driving vehicles
- Begin a programme of road upgrades that will support self-driving cars through establishing standards and ensuring that all changes to roads comply
- Funnel R&D into electric and self driving.
- UK government spends £4.6bn on R&D each year – significant chunks of that can, and should, be diverted to emerging industries where we can move ahead
- Begin the restructuring of the UK manufacturing economy in support of electric and self-drive
- There will be fundamental changes in the entire supply chain
- Support the development of new national champions
- If it’s not about internal combustion, new players can, and will, emerge
- Pioneer new technology in eg fast charging
- Leverage the work on cars to provide new trains, agricultural vehicles and, eventually, planes
- Aim to become a major exporter of electric cars and related technology
- Begin planning for a restructuring of the tax base
- Start readiness planning for self-driving to be universal
- This could include restructuring the auto-insurance industry, taxi companies, driving instructors, road haulage ete
Current UK Car Sales
On average, 165,000 cars are bought each month
in the UK, across petrol, diesel and "alternative fuels. There is some recent uncertainty in these figures with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) seemingly getting its numbers wrong, but the average seems about right.
Whilst the numbers are moving up, they’re not moving up very fast, despite the incentives available
, including contributions of up to £4,500 against the purchase price and free road tax (saving another £200-300/year).
We produce around 135,000 cars/month in the UK
already, exporting roughly 100,000 of those. Assuming we focus on pure electric vehicles, we need to move from 1,000/month to 165,000/month over the next two decades. Most of the capacity is already there, albeit for internal combustion engine models, if we didn’t export any.
There will be re-tooling and re-skilling, re-balancing and re-thinking. Lots will need to come together. But it could. It will need leadership.
The Inflection Point
Sometime before 2040, this vision becomes self-fulfilling. The infrastructure will be in place, there will be wide choice of electric cars, incentives will be signposted as going away and the decision will suddenly move, for every buyer, from “why buy an electric car” to “why not buy one”. For a small number of people, that decision is already made – but if you live in the country, drive great distances, have a large car that needs lots of towing power or stowage space, you’re not there yet. But you will be and pretty soon I expect.
Significant change is coming, but it’s going to take a lot of work for it to happen and a lot of rethinking about how our economy works, how tax to do with cars is calculated and levied and how we balance the phasing in of new economic models as we try and phase out the old models.
We don’t have Tesla making cars here … but we do have McLaren and Aston Martin
We don’t have Google Maps … but we do have Improbable
We aren’t Australia or Chile, the world’s top lithium producers, but we might have lithium in Cornwall
that can be mined