Road to 2030: Can the UK really be a leader in electrification?
While we can't compete with larger economies like China on scale, the UK can and does punch above its weight
The upcoming 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars will transform UK motoring on a scale never seen before. This story is part of a wider analysis of the challenges faced by consumers, government and the automotive industry, what needs to happen, and how such drastic changes can be achieved over the next decade.
*Read the rest of this series here: Countdown to year zero - what needs to happen by 2030?*
This really depends on how you define ‘leader’. As noted, in pure scale terms the UK is unlikely to ever be close to the likes of China or even Germany in terms of pure electric car production. A record 108,000 EVs were sold in the UK last year. That compares with 1.3 million sold in China, the vast majority produced in that country. China also has a massive lead in battery production, accounting for around 75% of the global output.
Thanks to the popular Leaf produced at Nissan’s Sunderland plant, the UK actually starts in a relatively strong place: back in 2016, a fifth of all EVs sold in Europe were produced there. Of course, the market has changed dramatically since then, and firms such as BMW and Volkswagen are ramping up electric vehicle and powertrain production in Germany and elsewhere.
To attract future EV investment and production, the UK government and the SMMT have identified domestic battery production as a key area. The government is investing heavily in trying to develop battery gigafactories that will help ensure future EVs are built in the UK. At the moment, the UK has around 2GW of battery production at the Sunderland plant. The proposed Britishvolt factory in Blyth would increase that to 15GW. But the SMMT estimates that 60GW of battery production will be needed by 2030 in order to support the domestic production of one million EVs. By that date, the EU is forecast to produce 450GW of batteries annually.
Of course, battery production is a rapidly growing market, with Bloomberg NEF forecasting that the 316GW of batteries produced globally in 2019 is set to grow to 1211GW annually by 2025. So while Britain will never be able to match the absolute output of China, the US or similar countries, the growth potential creates a major opportunity.
And there’s potential for the UK to be a leader in electrification not through production but through technology, innovation and engineering skills. It’s similar skills that ensure the wider UK car industry remains a global player, despite a lack of truly domestic-owned manufacturers and a vastly reduced production footprint. But consider that Chinese-owned car firms specialising in EVs, including MG, Nio and Polestar, have established UK operations to capitalise on the industry expertise based in the UK. And while Tesla chose to locate its first European factory in Germany, it’s looking at establishing a technology centre here.
So there is a path for the UK to become a key player in the global electrification industry, but it’s a narrow one that will require substantial government investment and early commitment and action. While the target is based on environmental considerations, the 2030 ICE ban is intended as a key way of pushing towards that path while it’s still available.
**Countdown to year zero: what needs to happen by 2030**
**Official: Government to ban new petrol and diesel car sales in 2030**
**The UK's 2030 petrol and diesel ban: Autocar’s response**