UK might face electric car shortage in 2021 as big firms focus on EU sales

Electric car public charging

The UK could “run out” of electric cars next year as motor manufacturers prioritise the sale of vehicles in mainland Europe, according to research.

A study published yesterday said that a failure to introduce tough new carbon dioxide emissions targets would give motor manufacturers “no incentive” to sell green vehicles in Britain.

The research by Transport & Environment, the Brussels-based campaign group, said that without new regulations overall sales of electric cars in the UK could drop by as much as a fifth next year. It said that companies would be encouraged to sell a far higher share of vehicles in the European Union to avoid crippling fines.

The conclusions were made despite a recent rise in registrations of new battery-powered vehicles.

Latest industry figures show that 108,888 cars sold in Britain so far this year were pure electric or plug-in hybrid models — combustion engine cars with a battery for short journeys. They collectively make up almost 9 per cent of sales since the start of the year, compared with 2.5 per cent at the same point in 2019.

The increase has been mirrored across the European Union.

Yesterday’s study said the rise was partly down to new targets introduced by the EU that incentivise the sale of vehicles with low CO2 emissions.

The targets, which are being phased in before being implemented in full from next year, require manufacturers to sell cars with total average emissions of 95g of CO2 per kilometre. This is down from 122.4g last year. Companies can be heavily fined for failing to hit the targets. The measures apply to Britain during the Brexit transition period.

Ministers have pledged to replace the EU target with UK-specific regulations next year that are “at least as ambitious” as those drawn up in Brussels.

The British system, which was put out to public consultation over the summer, has yet to be formally implemented.

Transport & Environment said the measures proposed by the UK were actually “much weaker” than those outlined by the EU. This was mainly due to differences in the way the average weight of new cars was calculated combined with more generous counting of pure electric cars within the system, it said.

It said that the “cumulative effect” of the change will be that a fifth fewer electric vehicles could be sold in Britain next year than would be expected if the EU target had been maintained.

Sales could fall even further if the government’s new CO2 regulations are not introduced in the next few weeks, it was claimed. The report called for a decision on the new regulatory regime to be made by the end of the month, adding that the UK “could run out” of new electric cars without the rules.

There have already been reports of long waits for some electric car models. Research by EV Powered this year showed that motorists faced delays of at least six months for some sought-after cars.

The Transport & Environment study said: “Supplies of electric vehicles to the UK are likely to dry up. If the regulation is not passed by parliament there will be no regulatory incentive to sell [electric vehicles] in the UK at all.

“Typically a regulation of this type requires two months to be passed through parliament, so if the regulation is not tabled by the end of October it will not apply on the January 1, 2021 and supplies of [electric vehicles] to the UK are likely to stall.”