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We want the UK to be a world leader in electric vehicle use and manufacture

Vehicles are charged outside of the newly opened GRIDSERVE, the UK's first Electric Forecourt, Essex, December 7 2020 | PA Images

4 min read

The UK has been at the forefront of making electric vehicles a reality. Now, as diesel and petrol cars are phased out, the government is investing in infrastructure and grants to drive up usage among the public

When you think of the UK, what comes to mind? Fish and Chips? Wimbledon? The Queen? Electric vehicles?

Maybe not that last one. And yet, the UK has played a major role in their development over the last 200 years.

Did you know that electric vehicles actually pre-date their petrol and diesel counterparts? The first full-sized electric vehicle in 1832 was in fact the creation of British inventor Robert Anderson. Although it’s unlikely you could call it a car by today’s standards, it certainly stood out among the horse-drawn carriages of the day.

Fast-forward nearly 150 years and in 1973, another breakthrough was made by a Brit when scientist M. Stanley Whittingham invented the world’s first rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.

Whittingham’s creation has been key to unlocking the mainstream adoption of electric vehicles and he was deservedly awarded the Nobel Prize last year for his work.

Today, we’re following in the footsteps of Anderson and Whittingham and once again we’re leading the way when it comes to electric vehicles.

Last month, we announced an end to the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans in the UK by 2030, putting us on course to be the fastest G7 country to decarbonise these vehicles.

Not only are we taking this step to end the UK’s contribution to climate change by 2050, but we are also doing it to benefit our everyday lives. The new phase out date will improve air quality in our towns and cities and support economic growth too, creating thousands of jobs in the process.

Demand for zero emission vehicles has never been higher. Nearly 60,000 vehicles with a plug were registered in Q3 this year, an impressive 162% increase on the previous year. With low running costs, falling vehicle prices and a growing national network of charging infrastructure, we believe even more motorists will make the switch happily.

As host of COP26, the UK is also leading the way on a global scale as we look to transition to a greener future. We chaired the first ever global Zero-Emission Vehicle Transition Council this month because we know that by working with international partners, governments, industry, businesses and civil society, we can make the transition to zero emission vehicles easier, cheaper and faster for all.

The work we are putting in today will put us at the forefront of the global zero-emission vehicle revolution for many years to come.

But we know this revolution cannot come without the cost of vehicles continuing to fall and that’s why we’re extending the plug-in grants we offer to drivers. With money committed at Budget 2020, this brings a total of £582m for cars, vans, taxis and motorcycles up to 2022/2023.

This Government has already supported the installation of over 19,000 public chargepoints, including 3,500 rapid devices, in partnership with local authorities and private sector investment, making it one the largest networks in Europe.

We know there is more to do and that’s why we will invest £1.3bn in accelerating the roll out of charging infrastructure, targeting support for rapid chargepoints on motorways and major roads to erase any anxiety around long journeys.

On top of this, we’re also working with councils to install more on-street chargepoints near homes and workplaces to make charging as easy as refuelling a petrol or diesel car. You will also start to see zero-emission vehicles with eye-catching new green number plates on our roads - we’ve introduced these to make clean vehicles easier to identify and potentially increase the incentives for drivers that do make the switch.

We also know that we cannot achieve this revolution on our own. That’s why we’re supporting the automotive sector in making this transition. We are committing £500m of capital and R&D support through the Automotive Transformation Fund to put the UK at the cutting edge of the design, development, and manufacturing of zero emission vehicles.

So as we look towards our zero-emission future it’s worth noting how far we’ve come.

Speaking late last year, M. Stanley Whittingham said: “50 years ago when we started out, [the zero-emission vehicles we have today] would be science fiction. But now we’ve made it. So I think we’ve got to believe that we can do it. We must believe in the unbelievable. Then we can make it happen.”

Well, I’m proud to say that this Government does believe we can do it and we can make it happen.


Racheal Maclean is Conservative MP for Redditch and transport minister

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