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Road to the future

Last week, Birmingham hosted an exciting world first: the Zero Emission Vehicle Summit. Officially opened with a speech from Theresa May, our Prime Minister declared an intention to “put the UK at the forefront of the design and manufacturing of zero-emission vehicles”, announcing that the country is already taking “significant strides forward” in this area and pledging £106m in research and development funding for low carbon and green vehicle technologies.

18th September 2018    |     Peter Rolton: Chairman

The Road to Zero Strategy, released earlier this year, was described in her speech as “the most comprehensive plan globally – mapping out in detail how we will reach our target for all new cars and vans to be effectively zero emission by 2040 – and for every car and van to be zero emission by 2050” and with an additional £500m of investment also pledged by key industries in the sector[1], everything sounded really rather good.

Then Dr Ralf Speth, CEO of the UK’s largest automotive manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), took the floor.

The continuing uncertainty around the Brexit deal has left manufacturers and their international supply chain partners facing an unpredictable future. Dr Speth highlighted the fact that JLR depends on “seamless logistics”, with just-in-time operations relying on free-flowing supplies without delay. A Brexit without the promise of secure, reliable trade arrangements could cause real problems, as "just one part missing could mean stopping production at a cost of £60m a day. That is a huge risk."[2] He also stated that a “hard” Brexit could cost JLR £1.2bn, with a lack of clarity potentially putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk if the wrong decisions are made[3].

With concerns also including the worrying idea that cars manufactured in the UK may not be “valid for sale” in the EU without the approval of an EU member state authority, the call for a common rule book when it comes to trade and stability is growing in urgency.

In addition to manufacturing challenges, the work to balance the energy supply and demand of electric vehicles (EVs) is becoming increasingly complex. Range anxiety needs to be addressed before EV ownership becomes mainstream and could be tackled with a network of fast chargers, which would need to be in place by the early 2020s in order to meet the predicted demand and avoid restricting EV uptake in the UK. The cost of delivering this has been suggested as circa £10m for the installation of 200 rapid charging points across the country[4], which seems a small price to pay to assist in the uptake of EVs - particularly if we compare it to the £9.3bn cost of HS2.

Bold statements and big pledges were made by many at this ground-breaking summit and its true - good steps forward have been made with funding pledged and detailed government strategies for progress established in this sector. As we move towards a low carbon economy there are undoubtedly great opportunities out there for forward-thinking UK businesses that take the pursuit of reducing emissions and overall energy efficiency seriously – especially as we find ourselves at the beginning of the EV revolution.

However, positioning the UK as leader in green transport and delivering the associated major nationwide development doesn’t come cheaply. We’ve yet to see a robust and widespread solution that will meet our future needs and the uncertainty caused by Brexit continues to be a persistent problem. We must face up to the widespread challenges being created by this exciting but complex transport revolution.

Without an holistic approach addressing the combined challenges that infrastructure, energy and transport bring, the ambitious targets set will not be met and many opportunities for industries across the UK will inevitably be missed. If the UK is to realise its bold low carbon ambitions, it is imperative that policymakers collaborate effectively with developers and the energy industry to overcome the challenges of the brave new world we’re creating.





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