19 Nov Rugby legend Martin Offiah on the electric vehicle revolution
t some point the future becomes the present and the things which seemed far off and fantastic become the new normal. This is where Britain is trying to get to with electric vehicles.
To help push Britons toward their electric future, Boris Johnson is poised to set a target of 2030 to end the sale of petrol and diesel-consuming vehicles. The government is also rumoured to be banning the sale of hybrid vehicles, albeit by the later deadline of 2035.
These are welcome developments, but they are only half measures. For one, the ban on the sale of internal combustion engines only applies to sales of new cars. As a result, there is a strong likelihood that unless challenges with electric vehicle infrastructure are addressed, many Britons, especially those on lower incomes, will simply shift to buying second-hand motors. In other words, the real problem is that the widespread adoption of electric vehicles doesn’t depend on the widespread sale of electric vehicles; it depends on the widespread distribution of electric vehicle charging infrastructure. People will not make the switch to electric vehicles without knowing the infrastructure is in place to support them.
Fortunately, Britain is in a good place to lead the development and roll-out of electric vehicles and charge-points. Properly supported, the industry will become a core component of the United Kingdom’s green recovery and a key door opener for Global Britain. More importantly, that support would unlock a host of good jobs across the country.
But we must act soon. The electric mobility industry is currently dominated by big businesses from Europe, the United States and China and these businesses provide much of the infrastructure being deployed here in the UK. The current dynamic means a huge amount of electric vehicle investment is now leaving our country. Not that it’s a fair fight, mind you; these big international beasts enjoy strong support from their home governments.
Despite this fierce competition from abroad, the UK. has done extremely well in developing innovative start-ups in so-called e-mobility and is now recognized as leading the world as an innovation hub for this sector. This success is due, in large part, to the work of organizations like Innovate UK, the Office for Low Emission Vehicles and our world-leading research universities. The task now is to scale these start-ups into much larger businesses, potentially some that could even be grown into ‘unicorns’.
With all of the government money flying around in response to the coronavirus, it would be easy to simply add another begging bowl to the queue. Fortunately, there are other ways in which the government can help get the ball out wide to those of us who can run with it.
A good place to start would be prioritizing the many leading British companies in the e-mobility sector when contracting for government infrastructure. One of the bottlenecks for electric vehicle adoption is the lack of convenient charging provision. Most people want to charge at home or at work, where it’s convenient. So why not go further in mandating electric vehicle charging infrastructure for all new builds? And why stop at residential housing? Let’s get hospitals, schools, and other government buildings built to green specs too.
While we’re at it, calling out the short-term market buying tactics of some of the larger international players and selecting organizations that support U.K manufacturing would be my call. Prioritizing this infrastructure that is also sustainable would give British industry a solid foundation on which to make the pitch to lead and eventually dominate the market, both at home and abroad. It would also help Britain meet its climate commitments under the U.N.’s Paris Agreement and meet the objectives of the new Green Jobs Taskforce, which aims to support the creation of two million green jobs across the country.
So yes, moving the phasing out of petrol-based vehicles forward from 2035 to 2030 will help focus attention in the UK, but it needs to be paired with greater preference for and support of UK start-ups and businesses. This is how we will build the new normal.
Martin Offiah is an Ambassador for Connected Kerb – www.connectedkerb.com – and a member of the Rugby League Hall of Fame.