The UK Government’s ambitions on transport decarbonization are likely at risk due to the influence of a minority group of automotive interests opposed to binding policy on an internal combustion engine (ICE) phase out. This is despite notable shifts in industry’s stance towards electric vehicles, both from more progressive-leaning players within the sector and also beyond the traditional automotive value chain.
The transport sector constitutes one-third of the UK’s total CO2 emissions. Under pressure to take action before hosting the global climate conference COP26 in 2021, the UK Government has committed to bringing forward the phase out of the sale of polluting conventional (ICE) cars and vans to 2030 and hybrids to 2035.
As highlighted by both the UK’s own independent advisor on climate change, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), and the former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Yvo de Boer, robust regulation and supporting measures are now required to deliver on these commitments.
The process for implementing such policy will likely result in robust lobbying efforts from various stakeholders with a variety of desired outcomes. For example, the publication of a delivery plan for the new phase out dates, a green paper on the UK’s post-EU regulatory framework, and further consultations on phase outs for ICE/hybrid vans and HGVs are all scheduled for 2021.
Since 2017, a split has emerged amongst the automotive industry on this issue, with a group of more progressive-leaning companies (Tesla, Nissan, Bentley (a subsidiary of Volkswagen), Volvo Cars (a subsidiary of Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, China) and Renault) breaking away from companies resistant to accelerated action on transport emissions (Jaguar Land Rover, Toyota, BMW and Honda). The automotive value chain’s leading UK lobbyist, the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), sided with the group of companies pushing against accelerated efforts to decarbonize road transport.
InfluenceMap’s analysis indicates that UK policymakers had greater exposure to automotive representatives opposing higher climate ambition between 2017-2020. Publicly available meeting records show that oppositional automotive lobbyists met with relevant government departments more than twice as many times as supportive automotive organizations (271 meetings to 125 meetings respectively.) This was, in part, due to active engagement by the SMMT, which had 81 meetings
This suggests a significant imbalance of industry representation on transportation decarbonization, favoring interests opposed to accelerated action occurred over this time. UK policymakers conceded in December 2020 that the push back from hybrid-focused industry players resulted in concessions to phase out targets.
The positioning of the UK’s largest carmaker by volume, Jaguar-Land Rover, is particularly significant. The company, which met with UK policymakers more than any other single automotive maker between 2017-2020, remained publicly non-committal on the prospect of a phase out. Despite this, Jaguar-Land Rover was highly negative in its response to the UK government’s consultation on the ending the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars and vans, stating that “Today, with the current trajectory of charging infrastructure development and consumer adoption, an end-of-sales date earlier than 2040 is not feasible.” However, as of February 2021, the company has announced that its Jaguar brand will be all electric from 2024, with Land Rover following by 2030, which may signal a shift in the company’s perspective on the phase outs.
Beyond the traditional automotive value chain, InfluenceMap has detected significant interest in accelerated policy action on transport emissions from the utilities, technology and consumer goods sectors. The SMMT’s opposition to the phase out appears to contrast with various industry groups, including the UK Electric Fleets Coalition, Energy UK and the Confederation of British Industry. EV specialist Tesla likewise expressed strong support for the 2030 ICE phase out date and met with the UK government 20 times between 2017-2020. The company was also seeking to expand its manufacturing base outside of the United States during this period.