Ford has warned the UK government that any delay to the stated aim of banning sales of pure petrol and diesel engine new cars by 2030 would undermine its efforts to transition to electric vehicles. The company also said that its UK investment plans are predicated on the existing 2030 timeline – UK government stated policy since 2020.

The BBC has reported – in an apparent leak – that UK prime minister Rishi Sunak is considering a delay on the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035. The change would be part of a shift on a number of key climate change policies, but with the retention of the ultimate aim of the UK reaching ‘net zero’ (national greenhouse gas emissions) by 2050.

The net zero target was made legally binding by UK legislation in 2019. Pressure to ease the timeline on ending petrol and diesel car sales by 2030 (but with hybrids still permitted until 2035) comes in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis that has squeezed UK household budgets.

A general election is due in Britain in 2024, so any easing on timelines (the phasing out of domestic heating gas boilers is also in the mix) that may be perceived as coming with higher costs could be seen as a potential vote winner for the prime minister’s Conservative Party.   

In a statement, Ford said the 2030 deadline is a vital catalyst. It said the company faces “the biggest industry transformation in over a century and the UK 2030 target is a vital catalyst to accelerate Ford into a cleaner future.” 

The statement went on: “Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency.  A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three.  We need the policy focus trained on bolstering the EV market in the short term and supporting consumers while headwinds are strong: infrastructure remains immature, tariffs loom and cost-of-living is high.”

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Ford also pointed out that it has announced a global $50 billion commitment to electrification, launching nine electric vehicles by 2025. It said: “The range is supported by £430 million invested in Ford’s UK development and manufacturing facilities, with further funding planned for the 2030 timeframe.”

EV specialist and former Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer said in an X (Twitter) post that “many companies in the industry have invested here based on the 2030 deadline and will feel cheated by the potential change.”

His post added: “I hope we use the extra time to support infrastructure and EV roll out, enabling consumers and industry to get ready for a seismic shift in motoring – we are currently nowhere near.”

UK industry trade association the SMMT also warned of the consequences of confusion and uncertainty concerning future fossil fuel phase-out. Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: “The automotive industry has and continues to invest billions in new electric vehicles as the decarbonisation of road transport is essential if net zero is to be delivered.

“Government has played a key part in bringing some of that investment to the UK, and Britain can – and should – be a leader in zero emission mobility both as a manufacturer and market. To make this a reality, however, consumers must want to make the switch, which requires from Government a clear, consistent message, attractive incentives and charging infrastructure that gives confidence rather than anxiety. Confusion and uncertainty will only hold them back.”

In a statement, the prime minister Rishi Sunak appeared to lend credibility to the BBC leaks, suggesting a new ‘realism’ ahead and apparently criticising the approach of previous administrations. He said: “For too many years politicians in governments of all stripes have not been honest about costs and trade-offs. Instead they have taken the easy way out, saying we can have it all.

“This realism doesn’t mean losing our ambition or abandoning our commitments. Far from it. I am proud that Britain is leading the world on climate change.”

The debate over a potential watering down of the UK’s climate change policies is sure to continue.