Big auto lobby allegedly influenced UK Government to undermine electric car rules

Companies such as Toyota, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) and Nissan were reportedly involved in lobbying to delay the UK's fossil fuel car ban

Many of the world’s biggest car manufacturers were involved in lobbying the UK Government to weaken and undermine the take-up of electric cars in Britain, including the landmark decision to push the ban on fossil fuel cars by 5 years to 2035.

According to the latest report by the Guardian, which has seen documents from auto companies who were arguing for as well as against the zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate, a regulation which obliges them to focus more and ultimately increase the sale of electric cars against petrol or diesel ones, lest face heavy fines.

In September, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak sent shockwaves in the EV industry by announcing the postponing of the ban that would stop the sale of of all fossil fuel-run cars in 2030 — overturning a decision made by then-PM Boris Johnson in 2020, along with a host of other reversals on many green policies.

> “No industrial strategy”: EV makers worried after Rishi Sunak pushes ban on fossil fuel cars to 2035

However, the government decided to stick with the ZEV mandate, forcing companies to sell at least 22 per cent zero-emission cars. By 2030, they would be obligated to sell 80 per cent of ZEVs.

Mini Plant, Oxford
Mini Plant, Oxford

Now, it has been revealed that companies such as Toyota, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) and Nissan were among the companies to ask for delays in enforcement of the ZEV mandate, courtesy of Tom Riley, the author of the Fast Charge, an industry newsletter, who shared the responses to the government consultation with Guardian.

Despite the document being heavily redacted upon the car manufacturers’ request, their arguments against one of the UK’s key policies to reduce its carbon emissions were revealed, owing to the “uneven progress in the race between manufacturers to shift to electric cars”.

> UK Government fails to meet target of at least six rapid EV chargers on all motorways by 2023

The report also reveals the panic and turmoil in the parts of the car industry because they could lose out on profits as they were not transitioning quickly enough. Their primary argument for delaying the mandate was that “the rules came too late for them to change production plans to increase electric vehicle sales”.

UK – Nissan Leaf plant, Sunderland

And surprisingly, it included companies which have made significant strides in EV development and production.

Toyota, the world’s top car seller in 2022 and a leading figure in the rapid evolution of electric car batteries to solid-state, said it was “extremely concerned” by the UK targets up to 2027, which would be “challenging for manufacturers like Toyota” and could cause financial and brand damage.

> Toyota to launch solid-state battery EV with 1,200 km range

As of now, Toyota has hedged its bets heavily on hybrid vehicles, such as the Prius and the bz4x which combine a petrol engine with a battery, and thus argued for a delay to fossil fuel bans to protect its Derbyshire hybrid car factory.

Jaguar Land Rover, meanwhile, has the most UK car factories but is only now launching its second electric car, a Range Rover, five years after its first, the I-Pace. The manufacturer said it was “far from certain” that carmakers could hit the targets, and that “targets in the early years are set at unachievable levels”.

The company had promised in June last year that it was going to build a £4 billion EV battery gigafactory in the UK, which some industry experts believed could be the most important investment in the UK automotive since Nissan arrived in the 1980s.

Additionally, Vauxhall maker Stellantis and Japan’s Nissan, manufacturer of the first production electric car, Nissan Leaf, also backed delays in different forms.

In what now seems like a telltale, in May last year, Stellantis, which owns Vauxhall, Peugeot, Citroen and Fiat, had warned it would be unable to keep its commitment to make electric vehicles in Britain unless the UK makes changes.

On the flip side though, there were other manufacturers such as the American giants Ford and Tesla, which strongly backed the UK’s EV rules and regulations.

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Tesla declared that the rules were “not sufficient to drive more than organic market evolution” and said, “targets that look a stretch today may quickly be surpassed”. Ford claimed it “believes that the suggested trajectory can be met by many manufacturers across the UK market, and will ensure that those that are lagging accelerate their development appropriately, with the option of trading certificates to make up any shortfalls”.

Germany’s Volkswagen, the world’s second-largest carmaker, said the targets were “ambitious but seem to be generally feasible”.

> UK’s approach to electric cars “flawed” and “inept”, says former Aston Martin boss

In the past, the UK’s approach to electric cars has been called into question by notable figures in the EV industry, including Andy Palmer, former CEO of Aston Martin and also known as the Godfather of EVs for his impressive efforts in launching the Nissan Leaf as the company’s Chief Operating Officer.

Palmer had criticised Downing Street’s direction of its electric cars policy that could jeopardise the British automotive industry, calling it “flawed” and “inept”, adding that parties were “letting politics get in the way of our kids’ future health”.

He said: “My view was that electric vehicles were always an opportunity for the likes of the UK to step forward and regenerate its car industry, but in the current climate it’s quite the opposite. We have no industrial strategy. We have no plan on how we’re going to create jobs as a result of this complete retooling of the car industry.

“We’re letting politics get in the way of our kids’ future health. I don’t think that’s the role of any responsible government. They are supposed to think in the long term, not use it as a political football for the next election, and that’s where we find the industry now.”

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