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Vehicles: Purchase Price and Running Costs

Volume 824: debated on Monday 24 October 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government, further to the report by Fair Charge Driving Away from Fossil Fuels, published on 5 July, which found that if there were parity in purchase price and running cost, 100 per cent of drivers would choose electric rather than diesel or petrol cars, what steps they are taking to ensure that price parity is reached as soon as possible.

My Lords, while the upfront purchase price for electric vehicles remains higher than for their petrol or diesel equivalents, in many cases these vehicles are cheaper to own and run. Generous tax incentives are in place, which, alongside fuel and maintenance savings, reduce the total cost of ownership.

My Lords, the Fair Charge report highlighted the discrepancies in VAT for private and public EV charging. As energy prices rise, the discrepancy becomes even greater in real terms. There is a realistic danger that EVs will be seen as too expensive, although the Government, of course, get a greater income from tax as energy prices have risen. I realise it is difficult for the Minister to know what government policy is likely to be later this week, but will she undertake urgently to press whoever happens to be running the Treasury to reduce VAT on public charge points to 5%, in order to encourage EV take-up among all sections of society?

I am very happy to outline what government policy is. As the noble Baroness will know, and as is always the case when taxes are referred to, all taxes are kept under review. It should be stressed that the reduced VAT on domestic supply reduces bills for households by £5 billion a year. Most people do not charge their electric vehicles exclusively at public charge points. However, I accept that that discrepancy exists and, as I said, we keep taxes under review.

My Lords, does the Minister believe that the UK strategy on battery production is still viable, particularly given the recent media reports related to Britishvolt and the decision to move the production of electric Minis to China from Oxford? Does that show a loss of confidence in the strategy?

I do not think it is a loss of confidence in the strategy. The Government’s intention is that the UK remains at the forefront of EV manufacture, innovation and batteries; that is why we have the Faraday fund and the automotive transformation fund. All these elements are really important, but I accept that some companies will come into the market, and some will leave. There will be some flux, but at the moment, we are not concerned.

My Lords, that sounds like a very laissez-faire attitude. What discussions have the Government had with BMW about this very unfortunate decision?

As far as I am aware, the Department for Transport has not had any discussions with BMW about this very unfortunate decision. However, I will inquire with colleagues in BEIS as to whether they have. But, as I say, there are always changes within any particular manufacturing sector. None of us wants the Mini to be produced in China and it may well be that other models come back to the UK.

My Lords, I declare my interest as an owner of an electric Mini and a diesel car. The electric Mini is one of the best cars I have ever had. It costs nothing to run because I charge it from sunlight from my solar panels. What on earth are the Government doing by allowing this icon of British industry to be changed and moved to China?

Of course, a lot of the design and innovation that went into the Mini did come from the UK, but the Government are clearly not going to get involved in some decisions by private companies as to where they do their manufacturing. However, we can provide support to companies to make sure that they do manufacture in the UK and that is why we have the automotive transformation fund.

My Lords, can the Minister reassure the House that the end-life of EV batteries will not be landfill? Also, can she update the House on government support for research into the remanufacturing of EV batteries?

It is really important that we understand what happens to batteries throughout their lives. It is the case though that there are 20 million EVs on the world’s roads already and there is no evidence to suggest that their lifespans are any different from those of a petrol or a diesel vehicle. We expect that many EV batteries will have a guarantee of about eight years, or 100,000 miles. As for the end of their lifespan, it is very important that we focus on recycling. Of course, the Government are focused on that, and I will write to the noble Baroness with more information.

Is now not a good time for His Majesty’s Government to have a whole look? We have the strategy of 2030 ahead of us, when petrol cars are supposed to disappear, but at this point in time we have a situation where electric cars are hugely expensive; they are not available at a competitive price for ordinary families. Ordinary families living in tower blocks in my former constituency cannot recharge those cars, so is it not time that we had a look at the whole strategy openly and took a little time about it to ensure that we have a policy that is workable in the future, taking into consideration the point added by my noble friend on the Bench below?

The price of electric vehicles has fallen dramatically over recent years, and that was helped by the Government providing quite significant grants in the early years to ensure that the prices were lower. There are now 24 models that cost less than £32,000 new—

If I may finish—because I too would not buy a new car for £32,000—the second-hand market, in my view, is the key to getting widescale acceptance from, and affordable vehicles to, the consuming public. The second-hand market is getting stronger. The biggest suppliers to it are the fleets, and we are working with them to ensure that their models get to the second-hand market.

My Lords, the transition to electric vehicles is vital to the survival of our society as we know it; the impact of climate change is even worse in many other countries. The report sets out some sensible recommendations to help on the way. Which, if any, of the three or two-plus-two recommendations does the Minister reject, and why?

My Lords, do the Government have a strategy to deal with financial incentives being given by the Chinese Government to entice British firms to move to China, and if so, what is it?

I will have to refer to the relevant department, but it is of course the case that the UK Government also provide support to various companies to invest in the UK and to create jobs here. All countries will have their own strategies, but I will write to the noble Baroness with more information.

Will my noble friend agree to speak to her colleagues at Defra about the huge shortage of electric charging points on our inland waterways? There is a disproportionate amount of diesel and petrol boats, particularly on the Thames, which are heavily polluting—I declare an interest as an owner of an electric boat—but the reason that there are not more electric boats is simply the paucity of charging stations.

My noble friend raises a very important point. The Government are very focused on the decarbonisation of the maritime sector, whether that be inland or on sea, so I will certainly speak to Defra, but I will also write to my noble friend, because I think that there is more that I can say on inland waterways.

My Lords, is it not even more important to get people to stop using their cars as much as possible, whether they are electric, diesel or petrol, and go on the train? Is not that even more difficult, as I found this morning, when the 8.30 am and the 9.30 am trains from Edinburgh were cancelled because there were no staff available? The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, and the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, are stuck on a train. They were turfed off at Preston and had to catch another train. That is not reliable. What is the Minister doing to get reliability in our long-distance trains?

I absolutely agree with the noble Lord. There are some circumstances on our trains where the service is not very good at all. We are working very closely with some of those providers that are not providing the level of service that we want, because the Government’s goal is to provide choice. If people want to be able to use the trains, we have to have trains that actually work. We are very focused on that, and I am sure that the noble Lord will have seen comments from the Secretary of State for Transport regarding how we feel about the services being offered.