LETTERS – Don’t crash the car industry

The government must take back control and support the automotive sector if plans announced on Tuesday, February 4 to phase out diesel, petrol and hybrid vehicles by 2035 are to be successful, Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union, has warned.

Unite said that without an integrated industrial strategy to deliver joined up, government led intervention on a range of fronts, the transition from combustion engines to electric vehicles will not be possible in the time-frame and worse will only harm the UK’s jewel in the crown automotive sector alongside the jobs and communities it supports.

Neither big fleet nor private customers will commit to purchasing electric vehicles until confident that the infrastructure to support them is in place and economies of scale reduce the current extortionate purchase costs, the union said.

Unite warned that without direct government support and intervention, the recent announcement is little more than a sound bite, only serving to further depress the industry, drive investment from UK shores and undermine efforts to encourage the trade-in of older more polluting vehicles.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “The challenges of the climate emergency are all around us. We understand and support the drive to clean up our air and to do so as quickly as the technology will allow.

Indeed, Unite supported Labour’s Green Deal proposals for the automotive sector that had an even more ambitious transition target of 2030. But what it also had, and what the latest announcement lacks, was a clear, government led, interventionist industrial strategy to ensure a just transition and to deliver real change on the ground.

To support such a transition to electric vehicles, government must replace its ‘take back control’ rhetoric and put in place practical detailed actions to deliver a national charging network, invest in 15-minute fast charge facilities on motorways and service stations and standardise plug-in and charging regimes.

But more than this, to maintain the UK’s world class vehicle manufacturing sector, government must lead the way in investment in UK battery manufacturing, giga-factories, power-train, and transmission production, and ensure component manufacture comes back to UK, reducing the carbon footprint of extended global supply chains and supporting good jobs, skills and apprenticeships in our regions.

Unite understands the challenges we face and supports our companies looking to invest in full electric vehicle production, both battery and hydrogen. But we also recognise the role of hybrid technologies in this transition.

The government’s inclusion of hybrid vehicles in its 2035 ban could do enormous damage to the sector. We ask that this be reviewed with the industry and union to find an acceptable and achievable pathway to de-carbonising the sector.

We also recognise the tremendous challenges to transitioning away from diesel for our bus, coach and commercial fleets over such a short time-frame and urge government to join us in developing a workable plan to achieve real progress here.

The stark choice for government is to support our automotive sector now, so it is ready to meet the challenges ahead or watch it drain away as global corporations with options choose to invest overseas and import to meet UK demand. The latter does nothing to address the global challenges of climate change while the former can position us as world leaders for the coming 50 years and beyond.

Sound bite announcements like this are simply not good enough. We need to move beyond the rhetoric and truly take back control of our economy, use public procurement to pump prime production and reduce vehicle costs, roll out infrastructure and remove older dirtier cars from our roads.

We challenge the government to step up to the plate and work with both industry and unions to ensure any transition is managed in a just way, without crashing the car industry in the process and while committing to a interventionist industrial strategy that is key to making a 2035 phase out a success for UK Plc, consumers, our planet and a public already gagging for fresh air.

Rodney Sadd
Union delegate for South Holland & The Deepings CLP

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