The UK government has said that it will require all new cars and vans sold in Britain to be zero emission by 2040. The move echoes a similar move in France and is aimed at improving air quality in Britain’s cities and meeting the UK’s long-term CO2/climate change obligations.

The UK government move comes amid speculation that a scrappage scheme could be introduced to hasten the exit of older diesels from the UK’s vehicle fleet. However, government ministers are said to be wary of the high cost and effectiveness of scrappage schemes. Environment Secretary Michael Gove has said that the government prefers to see local authorities developing a range of measures to improve air quality in their areas.

The SMMT issued a cautious welcome to the UK government announcement and stressed that greater take-up of EVS requires further actions to meet consumer concerns over aspects of ownership of electric vehicles.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: “The UK government’s ambition for all new cars and vans to be zero emission by 2040 is already known. Industry is working with government to ensure that the right consumer incentives, policies, and infrastructure is in place to drive growth in the still very early market for ULEVs in the UK. However, much depends on the cost of these new technologies and how willing consumers are to adopt battery, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen cars.

“Currently demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles is growing but still at a very low level as consumer have concern over affordability, range and charging points. Outright bans risk undermining the current market for new cars and our sector which supports over 800,000 jobs across the UK so the industry instead wants a positive approach which gives consumers incentives to purchase these cars. We could undermine the UK’s successful automotive sector if we don’t allow enough time for the industry to adjust.”

The Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI ) in Britain – the professional body for automotive technicians – urged the UK government to ensure planned diesel scrappage scheme encompasses EU-4 and 5 vehicles and includes skills investment in plans for ban of sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

The IMI highlighted the skills gap that could seriously undermine these goals.  It Is also concerned that any diesel scrappage scheme may just be a ‘token gesture’.

Steve Nash, CEO of the IMI said that “more needs to be done to give motorists confidence that the support is there if they make the switch from diesel and petrol engines to electric and hybrid alternatives.”

The IMI found insurance costs for ultra-low emission vehicles can be up to 50% higher than for petrol or diesels equivalents and warns these won’t become more competitive until more people are qualified to work on them.

Currently only 1% of all technicians have been trained to work safely on the high-voltage technology, of which almost all of them work exclusively for manufacturers franchised dealers.

A recent research report from Dutch investment bank ING said that the European car market will be fully electric by 2035.