Evolution is a slow process, and once in a while it takes a swift kick to hurry it along. That's exactly what's happening in the petrol and diesel-only road vehicles world right now. A UK government ban coming into full force in 2040 means that fossil fuels are going the way of the dinosaur.
This industry-wide extinction event is a key part of the government's £3 billion clean air strategy, and it's putting innovation in the spotlight for more than just car manufacturers. The ban applies to all new cars and vans produced after the 2040 cut-off date, but its effects are going to be felt long before that deadline hits. In fact, the transition from traditional fuels to electric cars is likely to happen as early as 2020. Vehicles with hybrid or plug-in hybrid drivetrains won't be affected, but any other exemptions are likely to be limited and temporary, although there is still conflicting information circulating around this point at present. At the same time, people are going to be encouraged to use public transport more, along with a push toward boosting the number of cyclists we're seeing.
Of course, it's going to take a lot of work and some innovative thinking to get us to the future the ban seems to promise. The AA, for example, is already warning that we'll see a 50% rise in peak demand placed on the National Grid. Current estimates predict we'll need either 10 new nuclear power plants or 10,000 wind turbines to take the strain. We could also find ourselves relying more on imported energy, which would put a dent in the UK's “energy security”.
As for the vehicles themselves, we're still a way off from a really practical, affordable electric car for everyday use. The cheaper models tend to suffer from low mileage and long recharge times. At the higher end, cars like the Tesla S Model charge faster and go farther, but at over 7.5 times the asking price. Similarly, Volkswagen's electric “e-Up” is twice the price of its top-of-range “High up” petrol model. Toyota seems to be on the verge of a breakthrough, though, with an affordable, efficient battery that we could be seeing in vehicles by 2020.
Of course, it's not just the automotive industry that's going to have to change. Charging points are going to need to be a lot easier to find across the entire country, roads might need to be altered and public transport retro-fitted. There's also a question hanging over the fate of existing conventional vehicles, with no government scrappage scheme in place and little incentive for diesel-powered vehicle owners to make the leap to electric at all.
It's worth noting that some people are arguing that even this pace of change is too slow. Greenpeace and other groups believe that 23 years is too long to wait for the all-electric future, and more research needs to be put into bio-fuel technologies. They also believe that diesel cars should be banned as early as 2025.
There's naturally some concern over the future of the UK automotive industry itself. With everyone still waiting for the other Brexit boot to drop, the ban throws a lot of new, unknown variables into an already uncertain situation. However, despite voicing some worries over the future, BMW has already announced that the first electric Mini will be UK-manufactured – or at least assembled. The components themselves will be made in Germany and shipped to the UK for construction in Oxford. Meanwhile, Ford has innovated a “recharge while you drive” system for storing energy usually lost through braking. Developments like this are a strong sign that car manufacturers are doing the kind of R&D work it'll take to give the petrol-free future a chance to succeed.
Overturning a long-established technology was never a smooth road, but the route to 2040 is being already mapped out by the sharpest innovators in the industry. If you're involved in car manufacture or the infrastructure around road transport, there's never been a more critical time to make your innovations pay off. Talk to RIFT about R&D Tax Credits. Our tax and technical experts have the tools and experience to make sure you never miss out on the UK's biggest incentive scheme.