A ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans should be brought forward to 2032 to drive the take-up of electric vehicles, MPs have said.
Ministers must also “get a grip” and tackle a lack of charging points, which is one of the main barriers to people buying electric cars, the parliamentary Business Committee warned.
The Government has outlined a goal for an end to sales of new “conventional” petrol and diesel cars by 2040 as part of efforts to clean up transport which causes air pollution and is the worst sector for carbon emissions in the UK.
By 2040, all new cars and vans should be “effectively zero-emission”, ministers have said.
But the committee warned that the Government’s targets are “vague and unambitious”, and the lack of clarity on which vehicles will and will not be sold in 2040 is “unacceptable” for an industry trying to make investments.
A range of cars are beginning to replace conventional vehicles from electric models powered by a battery charged from the grid to hybrids with an engine and a small battery which charges from braking but cannot be plugged in.
The 2040 target puts the UK behind a range of countries including Norway, which is aiming for an end to combustion engine cars in 2025, and India, China, the Netherlands and Ireland with a 2030 goal and Scotland with a target of 2032.
A clear UK target is needed for new cars and vans to be “truly zero-emission” – and it should be brought forward to 2032 to make the UK a world leader, not left in the passenger seat on electric vehicle (EV) development, the MPs said.
The committee criticised the Government for leaving delivery of a national charging network to local authorities and private companies, and called for regulations to provide an extensive, reliable and standardised public system.
Committee chairwoman Rachel Reeves said: “The Government cannot simply will the ends and leave local government, or private companies, to deliver the means.
“The Government needs to get a grip and lead on co-ordinating the financial support and technical know-how necessary for local authorities to promote this infrastructure and help ensure that electric cars are an attractive option for consumers.”
Rapid charge points in remote and rural areas should be subsidised by the Government, the MPs said.
Ministers also come under fire in the report for the recently announced “sudden and substantial cuts” to grants for plug-in vehicles, and the committee calls for current levels of support to be maintained.
With grants and tax incentives on electric cars mostly only available to wealthier drivers, more creative support should be explored so all motorists can benefit from EVs, such as car clubs and the second-hand market.
And the Government should take more steps to encourage manufacturers to locate new EV facilities in the UK and re-purpose old combustion engine production lines for making electric vehicles instead of closing them down.
Ms Reeves said: “Electric vehicles are increasingly popular, and present exciting opportunities for the UK to develop an internationally competitive EV industry and reduce our carbon emissions.
“But, for all the rhetoric of the UK becoming a world leader in EVs, the reality is that the Government’s deeds do not match the ambitions of their words.”
She added that “the UK Government’s targets on zero-emissions vehicles are unambitious and vague, giving little clarity or incentive to industry or the consumer to invest in electric cars”.
RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “We understand the rationale behind wanting to bring forward the end of the sale of conventionally fuelled vehicles to 2032, but this would have to be matched with bold and decisive action from the Government that actually makes hitting the new date possible.
“There are still significant barriers that are putting drivers off alternatively fuelled vehicles – these include the upfront cost, access to charging infrastructure, and ease and time to charge a vehicle.”
But industry body Energy UK’s chief executive Lawrence Slade said: “We firmly support the Committee’s call for greater ambition and believe that an accelerated timetable for the rollout of Electric Vehicles (EVs) is both desirable and feasible.
“Given the widespread benefits EVs and other low carbon transport will bring for customers, our environment, the economy and future energy system, there is every reason to press ahead and cement the UK’s position as a global leader in low carbon transport without delay – and that’s why we have already called for the Government to commit to a more ambitious timetable for the phase out of diesel and petrol vehicles.”
A Government spokesman said: “Our Road to Zero Strategy outlined our ambition for the UK to be the best place in the world to build and own an electric vehicle.
“As part of this, we want between 50% and 70% of new car sales to be ultra low emission by 2030, and for all new cars and vans to be effectively zero emission by 2040.
“And we also outlined measures to bring forward a major uplift in electric vehicle charging infrastructure, paving the way for the widespread adoption of ultra-low emission vehicles.”