A strong voice in support of electric vehicles


The UK Electric Fleet Coalition aims to provide a strong and positive message to government that some of the biggest companies in the UK are prepared and eager to make the transition to electric vehicles, but they need that ambition matched by the government. The Climate Group's James Court, explains further
Transport is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK and roadside air pollution causes thousands of premature deaths every year. A rapid transformation of the UK’s vehicle stock from internal combustion engine (ICE) to electric is a vital part of the solution for net-zero emissions and clean air. Indeed, recently, the Committee on Climate Change recommended 2032 as the date needed for an ICE Phase Out. This is the ambition and leadership that is needed, yet some are uncomfortable with this scale of change.
Consider that in 2010, the UK government predicted the installation of over 2,500 megawatts (MW) of solar by 2020, with a price range of between 136-250 £/megawatt-hours (MWh). As of last year, there are over 13,000MW of Solar PV panels installed, and the cost is now between 30-50 £MWh, one of the cheapest forms of power generation available.
I don’t say this to embarrass or discredit government predictions, but to highlight how quickly, and dramatically, technology can confound expectations. Businesses too can underplay their own ability. In 1943 the President of IBM predicted that "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers".
It may be that we look back at today’s policy conversations about whether we should ban Internal Combustion Engines by 2035 or 2030 as obvious in hindsight, but progress must start with ambition and leadership.
This is why international non-profit The Climate Group has launched The UK Electric Fleet Coalition with partners BT and Openreach. It demonstrates the ambition that BT, the second largest UK fleet, has in the future of clean transport. And they are not alone.
With nearly 80 members, The Climate Group’s EV100 initiative has brought together a global group of companies whose commitments to fleet electrification will see over 4.5 million vehicles switch to electric by 2030. These businesses have also made commitments to company-wide EV charging roll-out for staff and customers that will see charge points deployed at over 3,000 company locations. In the UK, this includes 28 corporate fleet commitments (~66,000 vehicles), five leasing company commitments (~427,000 vehicles) and 25 customer charging commitments (~500 locations).

These commitments clearly demonstrate that the business community is already committed to the clean transport agenda. EV100 companies are playing a crucial role in building market demand that enables investments, as well as bringing staff and customers along for the transition. But more can and must be done to accelerate the switch to clean transport.

A joint vision for the future

The UK Electric Fleet Coalition brings together the voices of UK-focused EV100 members and other businesses aligned with their vision of going electric by 2030. Its formation comes at a crucial time. In 2020, the UK government were set to make policy proposals over the ICE phase out ban, and to host the UN COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow. COP26 would have been the largest international climate conference to date, putting the UK in the global spotlight. Hosting COP26 requires the UK to take a leadership role to convince international governments to agree to ambitious commitments, building on the success of the historic Paris Agreement in 2015.
Of course, since these plans were formed, the world has been changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The government’s ICE phase out consultation is still planned for the end of July, and COP has now been moved to 2021. These both remain hugely important moments, and an extra year preparing for COP will hopefully ensure the conference will be more, not less, ambitious.
Despite these unprecedented issues, the rationale behind the transition to EVs still stands. We need cleaner air, we need to reduce our carbon emissions, and we need to rethink how our infrastructure is designed to improve our lives and our environment.
There is never a bad time to start doing things better, but the calls for the global response to ‘build back better’ are more compelling than ever, and they put into acute focus what the UK’s proposals on green recovery will be.
We believe that the UK EV Fleet Coalition will be a significant voice in these conversations. Fleet owners and operators are arguably the biggest influencers in the motor economy, driving both demand for new vehicles, as well as feeding into the second-hand market once vehicle leases expire.
The arguments for the UK government to be ambitious in this area are strong. Away from the environmental and health impacts, EVs present a huge manufacturing and employment opportunity. Much of the UK’s car making strength does not lie in traditional engine production, but in the wider supply side and assembly, areas that are compatible with an electric future. According to a Faraday study, as much as 89% of job and value in the UK automotive sector are directly transferrable to, or already invested in, EV production, and stronger EV policy could boost overall UK automotive employment from 170,000 today to 220,000 by 2040.  
The policies we need to see are not solely reliant on Treasury money either, although we hope there will be positive news in the coming month on further financial support for EVs.

Acknowledging barriers
There are of course many existing barriers for companies wishing to make the transition right now. There are issues of supply, both in terms of waiting time, but also in customer choice, especially in the areas of electric vans and other commercial vehicles.
There are uncertainties over tax breaks for EV users, as well as the existing cost gap between EVs and ICEs (although this is narrowing quickly), and there are significant issues over the charging network and the wider grid infrastructure, coupled with a balkanised regulatory and planning environment across different local authorities and devolved legislative bodies.
Yet none of these are problems are impenetrable. Indeed, there are lots of low hanging fruit that could release investment and allow businesses to make the transition much sooner. The biggest single signal government could give would be to announce an ambitious ICE phase-out date. We are confident that if the policy landscape is supportive, 2030 is a very achievable date.
The UK Electric Fleet Coalition aims to provide a strong and positive message to government that some of the biggest companies in the UK are prepared and eager to make the transition to EVs, but they need that ambition matched by the government. We will be announcing the first round of supporters, as well as policy details, in the coming weeks.
If you would like to hear more about the Coalition, please contact jcourt@theclimategroup.org  

James Court, is Consultant to the UK Electric Fleet Coalition at The Climate Group