Rishi Sunak is reportedly set to delay the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars that was due to come into force in 2030.
The prime minister is under fire from environmental campaigners and politicians after it emerged he was getting ready to weaken several key net zero measures.
Among these is the ban on the sale of conventionally fuelled new cars being pushed back to 2035.
The 2030 date had seen an uptake in electric vehicle (EV) purchases, with recent figures suggesting there were an estimated 477,000 on UK roads.
Figures also show that more EVs were sold in 2021 than over the previous five years combined.
Apart from the fact that electric cars are kinder to the planet and cheaper to run, the reason for this seismic shift in car buying habits was because a big change was coming in 2030 – but this is now expected five years later than previously announced.
When will petrol cars be banned?
Currently, the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned in the UK from 2030 - 10 years ahead of the original 2040 target.
However, Sunak is expected to put this date back by five years to 2035.
Fossil-fuel cars are being outlawed in a bid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality. This is an important step on the road to becoming a carbon-neutral society.
Greenpeace claims that polluting cars and vans are responsible for around one-fifth of all carbon emissions in the UK. Official government figures estimate that between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths a year are attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution.
What has the government said?
In November 2020, the government announced the end of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars – and vans - in the UK by 2030.
Sales of many new hybrid cars will also be affected after 2030, although this has yet to be fully clarified.
Between 2030 and 2035, new hybrid cars and vans can be sold if they have the capability to drive a "significant distance" with zero emissions (e.g. plug-in hybrids which have varied pure electric ranges of between 30 and 70 miles).
There is currently no confirmation of any minimum electric range requirement after 2030 and the government said this will be “defined through consultation”.
From 2035, it's expected that all new cars and vans should be "fully zero emission at the tailpipe". In other words, 100% electric.
Watch: Tories 'committed' to net zero amid delay on petrol plan
Can I drive my petrol and diesel car after 2030?
Yes, you will still be able to drive your conventional cars after 2030.
From the current 2030 date (ahead of Sunak's announcement), it is only the sale of new cars that will be banned – and cars bought before this date can still be driven.
However, there may come a point in the future when the use of ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) cars will be limited.
They may also become uneconomic and impracticable to run through a mixture of high taxes, soaring fuel costs, scarcity of filling stations and ultra low emission zones.
Will motorcycles be banned after 2030 too?
In July 2022, the government announced a new public consultation "to accelerate the transition to zero emission travel" by phasing out the sale of new fossil-fuelled motorbikes and mopeds by 2035, or even earlier for vehicles such as 50cc scooters and learner-friendly motorcycles.
The government says "electric motorbikes and mopeds will soon become the norm on UK roads". According to the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA), electric motorbikes accounted for 6% of total UK registrations in June 2022 - a 37.1% growth in the year to date.
How have car makers responded?
It's fair to say that some manufacturers greeted the announcements to bring forward the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040 to 2035, then 2030, with dismay.
Others, such as Volvo and Bentley are ahead of the curve, already committed to ending (ICE) Internal Combustion Engine sales by 2030.
For instance, Volvo reckons all-electric cars will account for 50% of its global sales by 2025, with the rest hybrids. Then, by 2030, every car it sells will be fully electric.
Bentley's Beyond100 strategy commits it to only offering 100% electric and plug-in hybrids vehicles by 2026 - switching the entire range to full electrification by 2030.
The car industry's response was generally supportive, but it's also realistic about the challenges ahead.
"We share government’s ambition for leadership in decarbonising road transport and are committed to the journey," said Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
"Manufacturers have invested billions to deliver vehicles that are already helping thousands of drivers switch to zero, but this new deadline, fast-tracked by a decade, sets an immense challenge.
"Success will depend on reassuring consumers that they can afford these new technologies, that they will deliver their mobility needs and, critically, that they can recharge as easily as they refuel. For that, we look to others to step up and match our commitment."
The RAC's head of roads policy, Nicholas Lyes, said: "The country’s public charging network will need to grow exponentially to cater for the surge in EVs on the road."
AA president Edmund King pointed out that the barriers to EV ownership are the initial cost and availability, perceived range anxiety and charging infrastructure. Tackle these issues and "the electric revolution could flourish", he said.