‘Painfully slow’ grid holding up UK electric car shift, says trade body

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The UK’s shift to electric cars is being held up by the “painfully slow” connection of new vehicle chargers to power grids, the UK’s car industry trade body has warned.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said charging companies were being frustrated by the lack of “affordable and fair and timely” connections, which was slowing charger installations and ultimately putting consumers off buying EVs.

“I do have sympathy with the charging providers because they’re faced with delays to grid connections, not just for cars, but for depots for vans and buses and trucks,” he said. “The whole ecosystem seems painfully slow.”

The government has previously identified problems with grid connections as one of the critical issues holding up charging infrastructure but ministers rejected a call by the SMMT to set mandatory targets for rollouts. 

His comments came as the trade body released figures showing that more than a third of the cars made in the UK in the first six months of this year were hybrid or battery-electric — a record.

Total car production rose by 12 per cent to 450,000 compared with the first half of 2022 but remains a third lower than before the coronavirus pandemic following the closure of Honda’s Swindon plant and the scaling- back of output by some manufacturers such as Jaguar.

From next year, carmakers will face fines of £15,000 per car unless zero-emission vehicles account for 22 per cent of total sales. The government plans to phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel models by the end of the decade, but will allow some hybrids to be sold until 2035.

Hawes warned that recent mixed signalling over the commitment to various green policies, including the ban on combustion engines, was sending the “wrong message” when the UK was trying to attract international battery investment and convince consumers to buy electric models.

The controversy over plans to expand London’s low emission zone by the city’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan, which led to the unexpected victory for the ruling Conservative party in a by-election in the capital last week, has forced both main political parties to question their environmental commitments ahead of next year’s general election.

“It’s unhelpful for the consumer, unhelpful for investors, and the industry, having made those investments and strategy decisions, can’t row back on them,” Hawes said. 

Separately, a cross-party committee of MPs has criticised the government’s roadbuilding strategy, including the “risky” assumption that the take-up of electric vehicles will be swift enough to decarbonise the sector. 

A report from the House of Commons transport select committee said the investment in roads “could impact” the government’s 2050 net zero emissions target, especially as there were no accompanying steps to lower traffic levels.

It found that all scenarios modelled by the transport department projected an increase in traffic on all so-called strategic roads, which make up the 4,300 miles of motorways and A-roads.

“There is a great risk that uptake of cleaner vehicles will not be fast enough to mitigate that increase. The government’s determination to accommodate demand for new roads through investment without also considering steps to manage that demand is a risky strategy,” the report found. 

Iain Stewart, chair of the committee, said the government should “model and report on options for managing future congestion levels rather than only enabling its growth”.

The report also recommended that future investment in roads should focus on maintenance and renewal of the strategic road network, rather than new projects.

The Department for Transport said: “We remain fully committed to maintaining and improving roads across the country. The Road Investment Strategy is transforming our road network and helping grow the economy.”

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