Automotive giant Ford is investing £355m into its Merseyside factory and is leading the backlash against Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s plans to weaken the UK’s net zero commitments. Tony McDonough reports
Carmaker Ford says its commitment to invest in electric vehicles in the UK could be at risk if the Government rows back on its net zero commitments.
In a televised address on Wednesday afternoon, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced he was pushing the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars – currently set to come into force in 2030 – back to 2035.
Mr Sunak also said heat pumps for homes need to be made cheaper without imposing high costs on hard-pressed families. He added that people will have more time to make the transition to heat pumps, and households will only have to make the switch when they’re changing their boiler anyway, and not until 2035.
An exemption will be introduced for some households, he says. He also announced the boiler upgrade scheme will be increased by 50% to £7,500.
“I am confident we can adopt a more pragmatic and realistic approach to net zero which eases the burden on British people,” Mr Sunak said.
Pushing back the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars has caused alarm across the automotive sector. It contributes £67bn in turnover every year in the UK and employs around 780,000 people in manufacturing and across the wider supply chain.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said earlier this week that electric vehicles were on track to achieve an 18% market share by the end of 2023. But it added a lack of incentives and charging points was holding back sales.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday morning, SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “The view of the industry is we’re on track for ending fossil fuel vehicles. It’s not for turning back and the UK should be leading it both as a market and as a manufacturer.”
Lisa Brankin, chair of Ford UK, offered the strongest warning yet from the industry saying that any diluting of the Government’s net zero commitments could put investments at risk.
Ford is investing £355m into its factory at Halewood in Merseyside. The plant, which has for years made transmissions for petrol and diesel vehicles, is being converted to make e-drive systems for electric cars.
Ms Brankin said on Wednesday: “Three years ago, the Government announced the UK’s transition to electric new car and van sales from 2030. The auto industry is investing to meet that challenge.
“Ford has announced a global $50bn commitment to electrification, launching nine electric vehicles by 2025.
“The range is supported by £430m invested in Ford’s UK development and manufacturing facilities, with further funding planned for the 2030 timeframe.
This is the biggest industry transformation in over a century and the UK 2030 target is a vital catalyst to accelerate forward into a cleaner future.
“Our business needs three things from the UK Government: ambition, commitment and consistency. Relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three.
“We need the policy focus trained on bolstering the EV market in the short term and supporting consumers while headwinds are strong, infrastructure remains immature, tariffs, loom, and cost of living is high.”
Liverpool city region is now a hotspot for electric vehicle transformation. Also in Halewood is Jaguar Land Rover’s car assembly plant which employs more than 3,500 people. It is to benefit from JLR’s £15bn investment into electric vehicles.
It has secured hundreds of millions of pounds of support to build a multi-billion pound EV battery factory in Somerset.
And across the Mersey at Ellesmere Port, European automotive giant Stellantis has started producing electric vans at the former Vauxhall Astra factory. This is thanks to a £130m investment.