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Road to nowhere?

Govt must come clean over diesel and hybrids
Tony Burke Unite assistant general secretary, Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

Drip feeding the media on plans to ban internal combustion engines (ICE) by 2040 is no way to tackle an issue that will affect thousands of Unite members in the UKs automotive manufacturers, the auto supply chain, the industries customers and members of the public.


Last week instead of getting round to publishing its thinking on the future of the UK car industry the government leaked a report to the media which said it will ban the sale of new cars that can travel less than 50 miles on electricity from 2040 – including hybrid engines


‘Road To Zero’ (the name of the government’s plan – not a Bob Hope and Bing Crosby film – although it feels like it!) has been allegedly circulating in Westminster for weeks but so far it has not been published to the industry and unions.


Internal wrangles  

Rumours are that it is due to be published ‘imminently’ but last week’s leak smacks of uncertainty, internal wrangles and politicians trying take the sting out of unrealistic targets which the government, it is suspected, is using to try to burnish its ‘green credentials’.


Equally as worrying is – as car industry expert Professor David Bailey of Aston Business School says, “The government’s policy stance is all the more concerning as hybrid engines will be the mainstream technology over the next 10 to 15 years until full electrification arrives en masse from the mid-2020s. The government’s shambolic stance risks killing this key hybrid technology before it gets going.”


Last year Michael Gove, the secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs, waded into the debate saying the government would ban all diesel and petrol cars in the UK by 2040 as part of a £2.7bn strategy designed to cut pollution.


There was no warning of the statement which caused ructions in the auto industry and has contributed to the diesel car market going into steep decline.


Gove was not clear on any strategy, on which electric models – other than 100 per cent electric models, would be exempt from the ban, which led to massive criticism from the industry.


Gove at it again  

It seems that Gove may be at it again with the announcement on hybrids – but as one well annoyed senior industry figure told me, “What makes it worse it has got nothing to do with him”.


Unite has been clear that we accept that there will be a move to electric vehicles over the next few years – we have published our well-received strategy on the move to electric vehicles setting out the massive infrastructure investment that will be needed and the need for a strategic plan for a just transition. Download the Electric Vehicles, Autonomous Technology and Future Mobility report.


The report is based on the success of our automotive industry and the fact that the UK car industry meets the toughest legal requirements and produces the cleanest diesel and petrol engines in the world at Fords Dagenham and Bridgend; BMW at Hamms Hall in the West Midlands and at Toyota’s hybrid plant on Deeside.


Massive investment needed

The problem is that the government has not put forward any plan for the massive investment needed not just in production of electric vehicles – which only accounts for 5.2 per cent of all new car sales in the first four months of 2018, which is a very slow uptake of new zero-emissions models.


Unite has highlighted there is a need for an industry plan for the massive investment needed in charging points across the country, the need for the national grid to be able to deal with a growth in home charging, the production of and recycling of batteries and a policy on support and investment to make sure that auto manufacturers produce the vehicles and infrastructure technology here in the UK.


Some companies have told Unite and our members that they want to move forward but they need confidence and a plan – but the government seems content to make sound bite media announcements of little substance and detail.


All we have had so far is rumours of unrealistic targets, not based on facts or details, coupled with misleading statements, which dent consumer confidence and damage jobs.


As Mike Hawes CEO of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said last week, “If the government wants the UK to be a global leader in zero-emission transport, it must provide a world-class package of incentives and support to make this a credible policy.


“This includes ensuring we have the right infrastructure in place with sufficient charging points and energy supply.”


Most important issue

The move to EVs along with Brexit is the most important issue facing the UKs automotive industry. It is an issue, which Unite has been at the forefront of.


Not only have we produced a forward thinking strategy, Len McCluskey and myself along with other Unite officials met with senior German and UK BMW managers along with their top their union officials from Germany and the UK recently to discuss how we tackle the move to EVs and how we work towards producing a just transition.


Our automotive national sector committee, consisting of some of our senior industry shop stewards and convenors is also working on a detailed plan to deal with CO2 emissions – but we need to see the government’s policy.


We have also made it clear to the government we have open to discuss our views at any time, in an effort to protect the industry, defend and create decent jobs, discuss what new skills are needed and how we win the production of EVs and the infrastructure here in the UK.


Unite believes that is the only and proper way to get a just transition – not by leaks to the media, unrealistic targets and publicity stunts which not only damage consumer confidence but undermine the industry and the workforce.


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