Written evidence from Mr Kieran Smith (ELV0032)

I am the manager of a Car & Van Rental company, Practical, based in Bury St Edmunds. I am also a car enthusiast so have an interest in the market and changes that will be enacted.

The main obstacle to the proposed phase out date is the question if the infrastructure will be ready for a much larger number of electric cars. The concern is partially that if the National Grid could handle this many cars being charged at once and if there are enough charging stations to go around for everyone. The likely short term, quick fix to providing enough energy is to build more or ramp up the existing power stations, which mostly run on fossil fuels. One of the common criticisms with BEVs is that they are still being (mostly) fuelled by fossil fuels, only that the emissions are no longer from the tail pipe but from the energy generated to drive them. The way around this is to improve the National Grid so that the extra energy is made from renewable sources, but this takes longer to enact than to swap to a new car.

In my experience of managing car rentals, we have never had a request for an EV vehicle. We have had customers who own BEVs who are expecting and happy to take an ICE powered car or van. For car rentals, a plug-in vehicle (including a PHEV) would be inconvenient. Everybody can fill up at a petrol station but not everyone is able to charge a car at a power point. I think that this shows two barriers to EV conversion. Firstly, there are not enough charging points around to satisfy the demand that will be expected soon and secondly, there is not much consumer confidence in the charging network. Those that are around, are often owned by different companies which all have a different process and require different accounts/cards/etc to use their services. Petrol stations obviously are operated by different companies, but the method in which they work is standardised to the point where anyone can buy their product. Charging stations should work in the same way. As the system is currently, it would be like only being able to fill up at Shell stations unless you create an account with BP before being allowed to fill up there. This would be enough to put off new adopters. Coming back to the first point, the availability of charging stations varies hugely between regions. For example, there are no fast chargers located in Bury St Edmunds, but three different ones down the road in Newmarket (all different companies incidentally). All BEV owners I have spoken to have a charger at home, which avoids these two issues described. The issue it creates though is that the vehicle is essentially on a ‘tether’ from where the owner knows it can be charged, at home. This is especially apparent in rural areas such as East Anglia and would be even more of an issue in remote areas such as central Wales and Northern Scotland, where EVs are essentially unviable. Providing grants for chargers to be installed at home and having all new homes to be built with one are very good, important steps, but to be a workable replacement for an ICE car the charging infrastructure must be as good as the currently ICE one.

The other main barrier to EV ownership is cost. Even as cars become more expensive and the choices for inexpensive cars become fewer, all EVs command a higher price point then their equivalent ICE cars. As an example, an ICE Peugeot 2008 starts from £24k, whereas the equivalent EV starts at £36.5k. Even with any dealer contributions towards the EV and the lower running costs, this is still a significant difference in cost. So, we can only expect that if the only option is BEV, the average new car will be much more expensive than it has been previously, or now. There has been a trend emerging of EV sales slowing down compared to what they were. I and industry experts believe this is due to the ‘Early Adopters’ have now mostly received their EVs and the pool of consumers willing to commit currently is getting smaller and smaller, therefore leading to fewer sales. According to Autocar, for 2023 the market share for BEVs sits at 16.1%, compared to 14.4% last year, which is a much smaller rise because 2021 BEV market share was 7.2%. To keep the momentum going towards BEVs or even PHEVs, the public must be able to see the benefit. However, with the cost barrier and lack of ‘faith’ in the charging network, this uptake will continue to slow unless there is a good incentive to make the swap over.


Following from this, what people (including myself) are concerned about is what form this incentive will take to make ICE cars less desirable. We feel the most likely path will be to artificially price ICE cars, both new and used, out of the market. This is not the correct method. Firstly, it unfairly penalises those who cannot afford a new car. If we take the recent ULEZ expansion as an example, a person who has a non-compliant car every weekday will need to pay £62.50 per week to commute, or £250 per month. One argument would be that a newer, compliant car, cost be a monthly payment of about this much. But this completely ignores that the individual even has a spare £250 per month for a car they don’t want to have to buy. They are essentially trapped and will be out of pocket either way. Moreso as generally speaking the vehicles most affected by ULEZ and presumably any hypothetical policy are older and owned due to the financial situation of the person. If a similar policy was expanded nationwide, then the economic consequences would be disastrous. This hasn’t considered the effect of a large increase in demand for newer cars, driving those prices up and the effect of a large supply of non-complaint cars, therefore making them worth much less. As we have seen before, the government may offer a scrappage scheme, like what is being offered to those affected by the ULEZ expansion, to help those afford a newer, compliant car. But the whole aim is to reduce our carbon emissions as a nation and this method would not necessarily achieve this, mostly for those people or cars who drive infrequently. For a relatively inefficient car that is driven only around 5000 miles per year, it could take up to ten years to ‘pay off’ the carbon debt by building a new, zero tail pipe emission car, from scratch. Also, we must consider that a lot of the cars that are being legislated out now are the ones that were bought because of the last nationwide scrappage scheme. A policy which only really resulted in a large amount of perfectly roadworthy vehicles to be scrapped long before their end of life and destroying the truly cheap second-hand car market. In this instance, the most eco friendly and cost-effective way is actually for consumers to keep what they have. Instead, vehicles of heavy use should be incentivised to swap over. Namely, cars of high use and commercial.


Regarding the imposed deadline of 2030, there are some areas that need to be clarified. We have seen the EU have made allowances for E-Fuels; will the UK take the same approach? This would still fit the criteria for zero emission vehicles and would allow car makers, especially low volume, or specialist ones, to keep producing. These cars are generally used infrequently, and their environmental impact is minimal.


To conclude, consumers must be incentivised to swap over to BEV vehicles as they present a clear benefit to them and not because their current method has been made artificially unviable. It does not help the consumer and in some situations does not benefit the environment either. The date should be a goal, not a deadline, because if the products and the infrastructure is better, then consumers will swap naturally over to it. The government needs to enact measures to provide these benefits, such as a comprehensive charging network. There should be reviews into where exceptions make sense and that a ‘one size fits all’ policy is not the best method.