Friday, June 17, 2016

Electric and Ultra Low-emission Vehicles.

My speech this week on Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles in a 30 minute debate I secured in House of Commons. Tidied it up a bit, and left out the interventions. It was a bit too long. Anyway here it is.
I beg to move,
I am not in any way a petrol-head—I am not even a car enthusiast. The drivers behind my seeking this debate were my interest in climate change and meeting the targets to reduce carbon emissions set in the 2008 Climate Change Act, and the safety and training within the motor industry in relation to ultra-low emission vehicles.
The transformation of the motor industry in the UK (and across the world) is happening much quicker than we might have anticipated a few years ago. Last year, there was a more than 50% increase in the number of pure electric vehicles (EVs) sold in Britain - and about a 40% increase in total sales of Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEVs). We heard last week that by 2025 all new vehicles sold in Norway will be ULEVs. It is a change that will only accelerate. It is only five years since most motor companies decided to go down the ULEVs route. We know that Toyota started selling the Prius in the 1990s, but five years ago every car company in the world started to recognise that electric vehicles were going to be the future and decided to move quickly along the same road.
Additionally, we are seeing the development of driverless cars and trains. We are seeing a transformation in our transport systems of the the future. There are important associated issues. One being the massive investment needed in vehicle charging networks across the country—both electric charging points and hydrogen charging points. There must be huge investment. Raising awareness of issues associated with the expansion of ULEVs is my purpose today.
We need investment in training and developing technicians to support ULEVs. The main driver behind my initial interest in this subject was the climate change targets set in the 2008 Climate Change Act to meet the target of an 80% reduction in our 1990 carbon emissions by 2050. The stepping stones are the fourth and fifth carbon budget which currently look very challenging. We need transport to contribute to these. Power generation has made much good progress. Generally speaking, it will meet the targets set, but transport and heating simply have not moved as quickly as we would have wanted.
A new industry is developing. The motor industry is a big part of the British economy, and it will undergo major change over the next 20 years. My interest in climate change targets led me to accept an invitation to go to the BMW training centre at Reading to inform myself about this change. My visit was an eye-opener in several ways - and not just my drive in an i8, which I would recommend to anyone. It is a bit like being in a rocket—an amazing experience. The visit helped me to understand what is happening, particularly in the development and training of technicians.
The second eye-opener was the safety of working on electric cars. I had not realised that the batteries in electric cars are 600 V. Any mistake results in death or very serious injury. So training is crucial. Anyone who works on an electric car without experience and training puts themselves in great danger. Much work is needed to ensure that mechanics/technitions are properly trained. Of course, the main distributers already ensure that they have technitions who can work on such cars, but it will not be long before electric cars enter the second-hand car market and are taken to local garages and to people who do a bit of second-hand car repair. We have to do what we can to avoid accidents that will seriously damage the industry. Developing enough technicians is becoming increasingly difficult. The Institute of the Motor Industry tells me that its surveys show that more than 80% of small independent garages have huge difficulty recruiting technicians. I hope the Minister will comment on how we can increase the numbers, and the skills, of technicians available to work in this emerging industry across Britain?
We do not know exactly what the future of transport technology is. We should use the term “ultra-low emission vehicles,” rather than “electric vehicles,” because hydrogen fuel cell technology may well develop quicker. Things change incredibly quickly. It is only five years since the companies starting producing electric cars. In another five years, who knows? Hydrogen fuel cells might be the future, but that technology requires massive infrastructure investment, too. Unless people can charge their car at a reasonable distance from home, the industry will not take off. That is one of the issues the Government face. There has to be assessment of what the future will be, but ​having said that, we must be prepared for technology and invention taking us down a road that we had not wholly anticipated today.
There are three points that I wish to raise with the Government; I am keen to hear the Minister’s response to them. First, I am not a natural regulator, or a person who would naturally support new licensing regimes; I am naturally more inclined to the opposite. However, this is a massive industry - with massive opportunity. The IMI claims that by 2030 there will be a commercial and social benefit of £51 billion. I do not know how accurate that figure is, but clearly there is potentially a huge commercial benefit. There is potential for a huge export business. All those things will happen, but we must ensure the safety and availability of technicians. Developing that side of the industry is important. It is not just about having the ability to manufacture cars; we also need the technicians to support that industry, and at the moment we just do not have them. We have to develop a system to deal with the safety aspects, and probably to help the development of a professionalism in working with these low-emission vehicles. 
The Government may have to consider introducing a licensing system. One death working on an electric vehicle would be tragic any individual concerned and their family, but also tragic for an entire emerging industry. A report of a death from an electric car on the front page of the Daily Mail would inflict a massive blow on an industry that I believebwill be hugely important to the future economy of our country.
The second issue is whether the Government should financially support a training industry. Again, I am not a natural supporter of Government financial  intervention in commercial markets. However the Government already support the development of the electric car industry. We offer grant support for the purchase of new vehicles, to reduce the purchase price and to help develop the industry, so I do not see any reason why we ought not to consider supporting the training infrastructure that is absolutely vital if the industry is to develop successfully. That is another issue that I would quite like to hear the Minister comment on.
The third issue is about the IMI. I have been very grateful for its advice and support; it makes very strong arguments on this issue, which have have informed some of the comments that I have said this morning. I hope that the Minister would consider meeting the IMI to talk through the points that it makes very powerfully and persuasively. In my view, such a meeting would be very helpful, and I hope that the Minister is willing to agree to such a meeting.

We are developing a completely new technology. The aim is ​lower emissions. We are striving to reach vital decarbonisation targets.  Unless we achieve success in decarbonisation of transport, industry will not deliver what we need. However, I do believe that this is the route that we will go down. Practically, this is what is going to happen, and we need to take commercial advantage of the opportunity.

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