UKERC response to the Road to Zero strategy

09 Jul 2018

The Government’s Road to Zero Strategy, published today, continues to take a technology-neutral approach to meeting the UK’s climate and air quality ambitions. It reiterates the intention to end the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040. While this is welcome it implies that petrol and diesel hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) will be available for sale beyond 2040.  

The Strategy outlines the Government’s commitment to pursue an approach, as we leave the European Union, which is at least as ambitious as the current arrangements for vehicle emissions regulation. Whilst the Strategy focuses on vehicles already on the road, and considers electric vehicle (EV) and hybrid uptake, infrastructure development and freight transportation, it does not address attempts to reduce demand for travel or encourage shifts to more sustainable modes of transport.


Are consumers on board? The short answer is: not yet. The ‘enthusiasts’ have taken to EVs, but we have concerns that the current policy environment and mixed messaging on conventional fuels (especially diesel) will fail to convince even the ‘early adopters’ and ‘early majority’ to switch to zero (essentially battery EVs and hydrogen fuel cell EVs) emission vehicles. We would welcome a clear and longer-term strategy on how to avoid the ‘valley of death’ for emerging technologies. This is largely missing.

We would like to see a strategy that incentivises manufacturers to change or ramp up production of the range of makes and models of cars and vans needed to suit most tastes and preferences. While hinted at in the Clean Growth Strategy of 2017 this remains a key stumbling block in EV uptake and we cannot see the strategy to deliver on a credible plan.


The plans to increase home, workplace and on-street charge points are welcome, in order to overcome one of the stumbling blocks facing consumers who want to buy an electric car. But this seems ‘too little’ to accelerate the transition to zero road transport emission future as other key stumbling blocks (consumer preferences, vehicle supply) remain. Also, it remains unclear as to where and how the infrastructure is going to be delivered. If it is mandatory in new homes, what about all the existing ones and the huge percentage of homes that really cannot have a charger?

2040 and 2030 targets

The government sees a role for conventional, mainstream hybrid technology in its strategy, with petrol and diesel hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) allowed to be sold beyond 2040. HEV are more efficient than their conventional counterparts, but they still rely on petrol and diesel as their main fuel sources and run on battery power only a small fraction of the time.

We are concerned that the stated “ambition” for “at least 50%” of new car sales to be “ultra low emission by 2030” is effectively watering down the formerly proposed 2040 target. If the fleet takes 14 years to renew and 50% of cars in 2030 were therefore not ultra-low emissions vehicles (ULEV), the strategy is effectively saying the 2040 target is gone. The Strategy also states that the mission is “for all new cars and vans to be effectively zero emission by 2040”; it is not entirely clear what the aspiration for all new cars and vans to be ‘effectively zero’ emission by 2040 actually means. Is a plug-in hybrid EV rated at a relatively low 30 gCO2/km ‘effectively zero’ or ‘ultra low emission’?

Why not faster and further?

Recent UKERC research has shown that cars and vans cost UK society and the NHS £5.9 billion a year, with 90% linked to diesel vehicles. Petrol vehicles ‘cost’ five times less and EVs 20 times less than the diesel equivalent. Therefore, a faster and more ambitious transition to clean, low carbon transport away from diesel could have significant benefits.

If every new car in 2019 were electric it would save more than £325 million in health costs in the first year. Swapping one in four car journeys in urban areas for walking or cycling could save over £1.1 billion in health damage costs per year. Switching one million cars from diesel to electric would save more than £360 million per year in health costs from local air pollution.

In summary

Overall the strategy fails to match the urgency of the situation as a target year of 2040 will allow many generations of conventional petrol and diesel cars to enter the market – and used well beyond 2040. Other countries and cities are going for much earlier targets, including Scotland (2032) and Norway (2025). Many cities (London and the ‘UK100’), some fossil fuel industry and vehicle manufacturing, including Shell, Virgin and, of course, the main EV manufacturers, would like to see the target moved forward to 2030.

In the Road to Zero Strategy we see a lack of clear transitional arrangements for both consumers and industry. A more comprehensive and sustained set of incentives (purchase taxes or ‘feebates’, fuel duty to account for air pollution costs), coupled with home/fast on-street charging infrastructure, as well as a much wider range of makes and models available, is needed to avoid the ‘valley of death’ over the next 5-10 years.

We find that the Road to Zero Strategy misses a number of key opportunities to decarbonise and clean up road transport; it does not include measures or policies that reduce the demand for travel, nor does it propose ways to shift existing travel to more sustainable modes of transport.