Low-Carbon Vehicles: Driving the UK’s Transport Revolution

In this report we provide an overview of the many alternative types of engine technology currently being developed and outline a number of recommendations to break consumers' fossil fuel habits.

Technological advances in Western society over the last 100 years have led to an exponential increase in energy use, mostly by burning fossil fuels which are an affordable, convenient, readily accessible source of power with a high specific energy density.

The downside is that this has led to increasing levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere: currently just under 390 parts per million. Scientists believe that levels must be limited to 450ppm to keep the planet habitable with an average temperature rise of less than 2ºC, but with global economic growth and industrialisation continuing to rise, urgent action has to be taken now to reduce future CO2 emissions.

The transport sector is responsible for 24% of all CO2 emissions in the UK with the overwhelming majority produced by road vehicles. For the UK to achieve its 80% national reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, the transport sector will need to find radical ways to reduce its emission levels over the next 40 years.

Key recommendations

Joined-up Thinking

  1. We believe that with transport emissions actually increasing with the size of the fleet and increased mileage, the current EU targets for average fleet emissions (95g/km by 2020) fall well short of what is actually required. It considers that a maximum of 30g/km by 2050 is both necessary and achievable.
  2. The government should introduce a policy framework linking the increased use of low-carbon vehicle technologies with an increased generation of electricity from renewable sources. Powering electric cars from fossil fuel power stations will only move the problem from one sector to another. Any increase in LCV numbers should be matched by revisions in the renewable energy targets.
  3. The government should continue to develop incentives for the consumer to adopt low-carbon vehicles. In addition, we believe that a long-term education campaign of LCV technology should be undertaken to inform the public of the range, value and feasibility of these technologies.
  4. The government should set targets and a policy framework, in line with EU regulation, for an electric car charging network throughout the UK, including battery replacement stations. A standardisation of batteries would enable this network to have a viable, long-term future.

Industry Development and Funding

  1. All UK-based automotive manufacturers should take full advantage of the EIB £1.3 billion loan scheme for the development of future LCV technologies.
  2. The government should lead the nation by example as it is a major purchaser of vehicles. It should adopt a policy of purchasing low-carbon vehicles where there are clear emission gains. Its purchasing power will help stimulate demand for these technologies and encourage further research and development.
  3. The government should look to toughen the new £2,000 car scrappage scheme to apply only to the purchase of new vehicles with emissions below the fleet average targets. Furthermore, the government’s proposed £5,000 subsidies for electric or hybrid cars should be brought forward to 2010 to help stimulate the green motoring revolution.


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