The EU is struggling for combustion engines – and Boris Johnson of all people is becoming the electric model


In Great Britain, the topic of internal combustion engines as a drive for passenger cars has largely been resolved. “We had to bet on a horse. And we really believe in battery power,” said Matt Windle, CEO of sports car manufacturer Lotus.

From 2023, the company will exclusively produce electric vehicles. This applies to both the sports cars produced in Norwich, England, and the SUVs that will roll off the assembly line in Wuhan, China, from the end of the year. Since 2017, Lotus has been majority owned by Zhejiang Geely Holding.

Ford also says goodbye to the production of petrol and diesel engines at its production sites in Great Britain. “We need clarity on the technology. For passenger cars it is clear that we are gradually phasing out internal combustion engines,” said Tim Slatter, Ford’s chief executive officer in the UK.

“The industry is behind the change, everyone is on this path,” emphasized Mike Hawes, Managing Director of the industry association Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), at the annual SMMT car summit. According to Hawes, no one on the island is counting on simplifications or adjustments anymore.

While the EU Commission continues to haggle over the future of internal combustion engines, Great Britain set itself an ambitious timetable for phasing out the technology early on in order to significantly reduce emissions from private transport. In November 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stipulated that from 2030 no new cars could be sold that were only powered by an internal combustion engine.

From 2035, hybrids will also no longer be permitted. Five years later, trucks must also run emission-free. In its recently negotiated compromise, however, the Commission intends to allow internal combustion engines in the future as well, provided they work with synthetic fuels and do not emit any emissions.

“Consumer demand is key,” Windle said. Lotus have seen a significant shift in recent months. Electric vehicles are increasingly in demand, especially in Great Britain, also in the sports car segment. 92,512 new battery-powered cars were sold on the island in the first five months of the year, up 71 percent year-on-year.

“Britain has a significant opportunity here,” said Slatter. Investments are now largely geared towards the electrification of passenger transport, and the environment is excellent. In research and development and at universities, Great Britain has also been concentrating more and more on electromobility for several years.

However, providers are concerned about the expansion of the charging infrastructure. Especially in rural areas, the offer must be significantly expanded. But even those who live in an apartment and have no parking space for their vehicle often have difficulties charging the battery. Here the manufacturers expect support and incentives from the government.

Professional skills are also crucial for producing electric vehicles and driving research and development. “As an industry, we have to make the transition from combustion engines to electric motors, which are completely different. We need to think about what skills we need in 2030 and 2050, prepare our workforce for them and let no one fall by the wayside,” said Eman Martin-Vignerte, policy officer at UK supplier Bosch.

Ford has already begun preparing entire teams for the specifics of electric vehicles, Slatter said. He emphasized that a state comprehensive training plan is also crucial. “There will not be a second opportunity for us to position ourselves as a leader in electric powertrains.”

In a recent analysis, the SMMT estimated that up to 22,000 jobs could be directly at stake as a result of the conversion. Today, 182,000 people are directly employed in the automotive industry, plus around 600,000 in upstream and downstream industries.

But the association is confident that there are numerous alternatives to the reduction. Almost half could be absorbed by new jobs created by electric vehicles. “Since this is based on a conservative estimate, it could be significantly more,” says the report on the industry’s competitiveness with confidence.

Confidence in the new drive technology still applies primarily to passenger transport. “The truck market is very different,” admitted Laurence Drake, UK managing director of Dutch manufacturer DAF. In delivery traffic within urban areas with smaller vans, the switch to electric drives is possible and in preparation.

However, manufacturers are still experimenting with different solutions for long-distance transport, from batteries to fuel cells to hydrogen drives. “We’re still looking for the best solution for engines for commercial vehicles,” admitted Antonio Leitao of engine manufacturer Cummins. Ford also continues to work with combustion engines for vans and trucks, according to Slatter.

In general, the industry in the UK is much more concerned about other issues than the ongoing shift to reducing emissions and the switch to electric drives. “We have the highest energy costs in Europe,” said Hawes. In the current year, energy bills for manufacturers in the country will increase by 50 per cent or £90 million. It is becoming increasingly difficult to remain competitive.

Even Brexit is far from over. Hawes emphasized that the working groups responsible for working out the details of the foreign trade agreement with the EU for the industry have not yet met once. The uncertainties surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol, parts of which the government wants to override by law, are also a burden.

Many experts consider the process to be contrary to international law. “Investors will take notice,” Hawes warned.

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