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PM's soundbites alone won't get us to 2030/35 EV aim

Professor Jim Saker

Sir Winston Churchill is highly regarded as a wartime leader and in no way do I wish to denigrate his historic standing – but if the truth were known he was a disaster
as a strategist.

What he had was an ability to speak in public in a desperate situation. President Kennedy, in granting him honorary US citizenship in 1963, stated: “He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.”

Churchill’s soundbites resonated with the British public and provided a basis for understanding the threat that the UK faced during the Second World War. It did not provide the basis of the strategy, it created a vision that people could buy into.

At the time of writing three challenges face the UK car industry: the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit and the 2030/35 ban on the internal combustion engine.

The Brexit debate was dominated by soundbites including ‘claiming back our borders’ while the Vote Leave red bus proclaimed an extra £350million a week would be spent on the NHS. Although this was later denied by the politicians, ironically the pandemic has forced their hand on the NHS spending.

Liam Fox’s claim that a free trade agreement with the EU should be ‘one of the easiest in human history’ rang hollow given the protracted negotiations. 

The COVID-19 soundbites including ‘hands-face-space’ have been coupled by ever-changing guidelines over masks, tiers and social mixing.

The opening and closing of shops, determining whether something is essential or non-essential and whether travel is permitted or not seem to be a pick and mix approach to strategy.

One of the fears is the 2030/35 objective for cutting emissions is going to be conducted in the same way. A sweeping statement, followed by the decision that the future is electric, presents immense challenges.

The last time a Government started to tell the industry what powertrain should use was Tony Blair’s promotion of diesel which as we know led to major problems.

In last month’s AM, Mark Lavery of Cambria Automobiles said: “What you have is a metropolitan elite who’ve come up with a political soundbite to make us look green.”

I totally agree. It would be wrong for the OEMs to just concentrate on electric and ignore the role that hybrid, hydrogen and synthetic fuels will potentially play in the UK’s drive towards a ‘net zero’ future.

The future of the planet is too important to be dictated by political soundbites; the evaluation of the environmental credentials of a powertrain based on batteries should be based on scientific evidence not short-term political expediency.

I know ‘following the science’ has become a hackneyed phrase in the pandemic, but when it comes to the 2030/35 objective it should be underpinning the strategy.

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