Car manufacturers could be forced to stop selling certain models in the UK as impending restrictions on carbon emissions clash with the impact of Brexit, the industry has said.
The European Union is phasing in a new average emission target for new cars of 95g of carbon dioxide per kilometre, with car makers that produce heavier vehicles getting a higher emission allowance than those whose products are lighter.
Manufacturers face steep fines for missing the target, which is designed to combat climate change.
Britain is adopting the new standard and the government plans to “pursue a future approach that is at least as ambitious as the current arrangements” after the end of the Brexit transition period, the Department for Transport (DfT) said.
This means that maintaining a low average emission level will become significantly more difficult because the fumes from vehicles sold in the UK will no longer be balanced with those sold in other EU countries.
Currently, the UK’s average emission figure for cars sits at 127.9g/km, meaning a one-quarter cut is necessary – a huge task for manufacturers, especially given Britons’ penchant for larger, heavier cars, which can include SUVs.
Mike Hawes, chief executive of industry lobby group the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), told The Independent: “New CO2 targets are extremely challenging and industry is investing vast sums to meet them, bringing to market ever cleaner vehicles of all types, including a rapidly growing range of zero emission capable models.
“While manufacturers can deliver the technology, however, they can’t determine the pace of uptake. We need a long-term government commitment to measures that give consumers confidence to invest in the latest technologies, including long term fiscal incentives and investment in infrastructure.”
And he told The Guardian: “It could be that you see a reduction in consumer choice through the removal of higher-emitting vehicles from not just the top end, but particular segments.”
The warning comes as The Independent reports that 70 per cent of people support a target of making the UK carbon-neutral by 2030 – 20 years earlier than the current plan – in what campaigners called a “major wake-up call” for Boris Johnson.
In response to the SMMT’s claims, Mel Evans, a climate campaigner from Greenpeace UK said: “Car makers are not obliged to aggressively market heavy, polluting cars
“They know that we are in a climate emergency and yet keep accelerating towards the cliff edge, because bigger, dirtier cars have higher profit margins. And because they use more petrol and diesel, the oil companies cash in as well.
“To address the climate crisis manufacturers need to U-turn on petrol and diesel, stop spending millions drumming up demand for their dirtiest cars, and focus on electric vehicles for a post-oil world.”
Friends of the Earth called for an end to sales of all petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030. However, campaigner Jenny Bates added that “supposedly ‘clean’ cars such as electric ones are only part of the solution as they still produce deadly fine particle air pollution from brake and tyre wear”.
She said: “It’s time the government prioritises clean, accessible public transport along with safe walking and cycling routes instead of the current fixation on building new roads which only increase traffic levels.”
An Extinction Rebellion spokesperson said ministers should work to build cities that “focus on transporting people, not vehicles”.
A DfT spokesperson said: “Our priority is to protect everyone from unsafe vehicles, including those that are damaging our environment, which is why we continue to work with industry to improve the emissions standards of all vehicles.
“We have set out bold plans for driving down CO2 emissions and committed in our Road to Zero strategy to pursue vehicle emissions regulation that is at least as ambitious as the current arrangements as we leave the EU.”