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The transition to EVs: Triumphs, challenges and what lies ahead

Author : Sophia Bell, Acting Group Editor, DPA

02 August 2022

Two years since the start of the pandemic, and the UK automotive sector is still reeling from its repercussions. So, how can the industry move forward with its electrification and sustainability goals when, economically, it is still trying to recover two years’ worth of lost ground?

Sophia Bell, Acting Group Editor
Sophia Bell, Acting Group Editor

According to a new report from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), in 2022, UK car production experienced its weakest first half since 2020 – worse than during the global financial crisis of 2009. Car production dropped by -19.2 percent in the first six months of the year, with 95,792 fewer vehicles built, compared with the same period in 2021. 
This is largely due to the ongoing shortages of key components such as semiconductors, as well supply chain issues exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine war.

Nonetheless, it’s not all bad news. Things have tentatively started to look up: production started to increase once more during May and June, rising by 5.6 percent in June. And, in contrast to the general trend, the production of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) has not been affected by the challenges plaguing general car production. Over the past six months, 32,282 BEVs have been produced, an increase of 6.5 percent. In fact, June was particularly promising, with SMMT reporting a record 44.2 percent growth in production. 

SMMT has also revealed that the UK automotive industry’s production carbon footprint fell by -11.2 percent in 2021, reaching its lowest-ever level since records began. 

In 2021, automotive production and the supply chain additionally emitted 81,095 fewer tonnes of carbon dioxide compared with 2020, a promising indicator of the UK’s progress towards net zero. SMMT’s latest Sustainability Report claims that, since the average UK car is nine years old, this reduction in emissions is equivalent to taking 225,000 of these cars off the road and replacing them with the latest models. 

So, despite general reduced production, environmental efficiency has increased, with a -6.1 percent reduction in water used per vehicle produced, and a -2.6 percent reduction in waste going to landfill year on year. Indeed, since the start of the millennium, the automotive industry has seen an impressive 96.2 percent decrease in waste destined for landfill per vehicle. And, since 2015, the industry has further ensured that 95 percent of a vehicle by weight goes through a takeback network to be re-used, recycled or recovered.

Commenting on these achievements, Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said, “With the automotive sector still trying to recover from the pandemic, while simultaneously transitioning to zero-emission vehicles, the improvements made in the sustainability of production this past year is a remarkable achievement. 

“The report shows the industry delivering on its commitments, with dramatic reductions in both the energy used to make vehicles, and the emissions they release when on the road. 

“The automotive sector is central to the UK’s carbon reduction ambitions and, with government support to improve UK competitiveness, we can ensure that transition continues to create well-paid, clean-tech jobs, while generating economic prosperity and growth in all regions of the UK.”

The lead-up to 2030 is a pivotal moment for the UK automotive industry. Whilst progress has certainly been made, there is still much to be done, and little time in which to do it. It is important that the industry continues – and accelerates – its commitment to sustainability, in spite of the onslaught of challenges it is currently facing. 

The transition to electric vehicles will, of course, be crucial in this. This is why we, at DPA, have put together a special, one-off newsletter dedicated to electric vehicles. It is designed to provide an in-depth insight into the UK’s current progress and success stories, and reveal what still needs to be done to reach those all-important 2030 net zero targets. Read it now for all the latest EV news, key analysis from industry experts, as well as an overview of the innovative technology set to accelerate production and adoption. 

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