The decision to phase out the internal combustion engine heralds a new era of low-emission technologies with major implications for the auto industry, society and the environment.
“We can’t carry on with diesel and petrol cars,” U.K. environment secretary Michael Gove told the BBC on Wednesday. “There is no alternative to embracing new technology.”
Almost 2.7 million new cars were registered in the U.K. in 2016, making it the second biggest market in Europe after Germany.
Meeting the 2040 deadline will be a heavy lift. British demand for electric and fuel cell cars, as well as plug-in hybrids, grew 40% in 2015, but they only accounted for less than 3% of the market.
Still, experts say sales of clean cars are likely to continue on their dramatic upward trajectory.
“Ending diesel and petrol car sales by 2040 is a step in the right direction but given that electric cars are coming anyway this is probably pretty irrelevant. It’s a bit like saying we’re banning the sale of steam engines by 2040,” said David Bailey, a professor of industrial strategy at Aston Business School.
The car industry says that demand for electric vehicles will only reach a tipping point once they’re cheaper to own than conventional vehicles.
“Much depends on the cost of these new technologies and how willing consumers are to adopt battery, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen cars,” said Mike Hawes, CEO of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. “Consumers have concerns over affordability, range and charging points.”
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