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UPDATED: Decarbonise fuel, not vehicles, says automotive industry report

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The Government should focus on decarbonising the fuel, not the vehicle, a new report into the future of Britain’s automotive industry has said.

The ban of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 “wasn’t helpful”, said the Decarbonising Road Transport: There is no Silver Bullet report, commissioned by companies including Honda, Aston Martin, Bosch and McLaren.

It encouraged manufacturers to follow the lead of Polestar and Volkswagen in being more transparent about the emissions generated during the production of each model, after research found the manufacture of EVs generates 63% more CO2 than its petrol or diesel equivalent.

The report said a Polestar 2 would need to run for around 49,000 miles before its carbon footprint became smaller than that of a diesel Volvo XC40.

However, this figure – and much of the interpretation in included in the press release – has been disputed, with analyst Michael Liebrich saying this figure is actually nearer 16,000 miles.

Dr Uwe Gackstattar, president of Bosch Powertrain Solutions, called on the Government to leave engineers to come up with the solutions.

Andy Palmer, former CEO of Aston Martin, said it was vital to understand there were many routes to net zero.

He added: “You can demand zero CO2 from the tailpipe, but a lot of CO2 is then produced in manufacturing.

“And while synthetic fuels are not CO2-free at the tailpipe, they can be at production and expulsion. There are lots of solutions and it’s important we make that distinction.”

The report said making all new vehicles zero emissions at the tailpipe works only if the energy grid is zero emission and addresses only those new vehicles sold each year, which is around two million.

Introducing renewable fuels impacts on all vehicles in the legacy car parc – around 40 million – 10% of which are more than 20 years old.

Report recommendations

The report made six recommendations:

  1. The focus should be on the decarbonisation of the fuel, not the vehicle in order to meet the country’s climate change ambitions.
  2. The decarbonisation of the legacy fleet is as much of a problem as new vehicles. We need to address both.
  3. We need to recognise the differing technology needs of different vehicle types.
  4. Encourage greater transparency from automotive OEMs on the whole vehicle CO2 footprint of their products
  5. Ensure a clear link between renewable energy generation and transport decarbonisation
  6. Taking a technology neutral approach to decarbonisation. Allows industry to continue to innovate, offering customers a range of solutions to meet their needs.

The report points out battery electric vehicles face a number of challenges, but “play an integral role in the decarbonisation of road transport”. It added: “They are becoming increasingly viable for a growing number of people.”

Andy Eastlake, managing director of the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, which provided some specific information to report author Clarendon Communications, said: “We need to do more than just electrify the fleet.

“We are still selling diesel and petrol cars, the engines of which could play out until 2050, so we have to look at decarbonising fuel.”

In a later statement, LowCVP said the recent media interpretation of the report does not in any way reflect the organisation’s position.

“Lifecycle analysis (sourced from Polestar in the report) has not been properly contextualised in several media reports,” it said.

“These highlight a single snapshot to suggest only modest emissions benefits arising from EV adoption.

“As stated in the report, energy grids in UK and elsewhere are rapidly decarbonising and EV battery and associated production processes are also improving so the lifecycle impacts of electric vehicles are on a sharply improving trajectory.

“LowCVP has been a lead proponent of efforts to incorporate the full life-cycle analysis of road transport CO2 emissions and other sustainability factors into policy decisions and will continue to do so.

“However, this is a complex area and analysis of life-cycle impacts should be seen as a key part of the process towards achieving zero emissions transport and not – as in this case – as a misleading tool to undermine progress.”

‘Driving an EV is better for climate’

Fiona Howarth, CEO of Octopus Electric Vehicles, added: “Studies have consistently shown that EVs emit significantly less lifetime emissions than internal combustion engine cars. 

"In 95% of the world, driving an EV is better for the climate than a petrol car and in countries like Sweden and France, where most electricity is low carbon, emissions are around 70% lower – a massive environmental benefit. 

"Unlike their fossil fuel counterparts, EVs also get cleaner as we decarbonise our energy grids.”

“If we’re serious about tackling the climate emergency, there is no question that we should all aim to walk, cycle and take public transport where possible, but if you’re going to drive make it electric.”

Fleet News is asking fleet decision-makers for their views on the diesel and petrol, new car and van ban from 2030.

The quick-fire multiple-choice survey will take no longer than three minutes to complete and will give Fleet News a valuable snapshot of the industry’s mood following the Government’s landmark decision.


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