Diesel and petrol car ban could come as early as 2032

  • Just pure electric and hydrogen from as early as 2032
  • Hybrids and plug-in hybrids also in the firing line
  • Ban includes vans and pickups

The government's plan to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2035 could be brought forward to 2032, according to transport secretary Grant Shapps.

Originally, the government had said that any combustion-engined vehicle – including hybrids, plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), vans and pickups – would be forbidden in 2040, but this was moved to 2035 earlier in February 2020. Now it seems to be moving again.

Shapps has confirmed that the previous 2035 deadline may be changed to 2032, subject to a consultation into climate change.

A Department for Transport (DfT) spokesperson backed this up, saying: 'We are consulting on a range of possible dates to bring forward the end to the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans. The consultation proposal for this is 2035 – or earlier if a faster transition appears feasible – as well as including hybrids for the first time.'

This in particular cements the future of hybrids, whereas when the proposal was announced in July 2017, it was uncertain whether sales of vehicles with part-electric, part-combustion drivetrains would be allowed to continue. It was assumed by most that plug-in hybrids – which are usually capable of between 20-80 miles on battery power alone – would be spared the ban.

>> What is a hybrid car?

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Once the ban comes into effect, UK buyers will only be allowed to purchase new cars if they’re pure electric or hydrogen-powered.

Sales of electric vehicles (EVs) totalled just 4,939 in the UK in 2019 – compared to more than 34,000 diesel cars and more than 94,000 petrol cars. Hybrid and plug-in hybrid sales totalled 9,421. With only a handful of hydrogen cars on sale, and most of them available only in very limited trial schemes, their sales don’t even register at present.

2020 Hyundai Nexo

Sales of electric vehicles are on the up, with 2019’s figure being an impressive 220% higher than in 2018. But there’s still a long way to go before EVs are affordable and usable for all drivers – and before car manufacturers offer enough choice to please everybody.

Chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), Mike Hawes, has accused the government of ‘moving the goalposts’, and said the issue was extremely concerning.

'Manufacturers are fully invested in a zero emissions future. However, with current demand for this still-expensive technology just a fraction of sales, it’s clear that accelerating an already very challenging ambition will take more and industry investment. This is about market transformation.'

Hawes also called the UK’s electric charging network ‘woefully inadequate’, voicing a concern many drivers have about making the switch to electric.

What this means for you

The date is clearly a moveable feast, but it appears to be going one way, putting the pressure on car buyers as well as car manufacturers.

AA president Edmund King commented: 'Potentially shifting the ban three years earlier does not give a long time for drivers to gear up for the green revolution. We know drivers support measures to clean up air quality and reduce CO2 emissions but these already stretched targets, potentially being stretched further, might be considered mission impossible.'

Below is everything you need to know about the ban and how it could affect you.

Can I still drive my petrol or diesel car after the ban?

So far, yes. The ban is on the sale of new vehicles – not the continued use of older ones. This also means that used petrol or diesel cars will still be available.

Is the UK ready to go electric?

While a lot can happen in 15 years, reducing that buffer to 12 years underlines what a squeeze this could be.

The UK’s charging infrastructure still has hurdles to overcome, even if it has come on leaps and bounds. Hopefully, with continued investment from government, car manufacturers and charging providers, it will continue to expand and improve.

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For the majority of users, charging at home overnight will remain the best bet. The expansion of a network of rapid chargers, meanwhile, will accommodate those who don’t have somewhere to charge at home, or those undertaking long journeys.

We’re cautiously optimistic that this network will be massively improved by the time the ban comes into force. Even if that is in 2032.

What about commercial vehicles?

It looks as though this ban will extend to vans and pickup trucks weighing under 3.5 tonnes (3.5t or 3,500kg) as well as passenger cars. This will be particularly concerning for businesses.

A viable long-distance zero-emission light commercial vehicle (LCV) has not yet hit the market, with current electric vans suitable only for short journeys with modest payloads.

2020 Renault Twizy Cargo

Again, the ban is a way off yet, so we’ll have to live in hope that van manufacturers can provide a solution to this within the timeframe.

But when we spoke to senior management working in this area at Ford vans recently, they did not seem to think this was very feasible.

Ford's overall European chief, Stuart Rowley, has responded to the potential 2032 target by saying the company would do its best to meet the obligation, but that including plug-in hybrid vehicles in the proposal would undermine what car and van manufacturers are already trying to do to reduce emissions.

Is hydrogen a viable option?

At the moment? Not remotely. There are only a handful of hydrogen filling stations in the UK and the few vehicles that can use them aren’t on full public sale.

Hydrogen fuel pump

However, several manufacturers are investing heavily in hydrogen cars, and the infrastructure is sure to follow. It could well be a true alternative by 2035 - but we've been saying this sort of thing about hydrogen for decades.

Infrastructure - the lack of hydrgen fuelling stations, for example - is a severe obstacle here.

Does this mean I shouldn’t buy a hybrid or PHEV?

Not at all. These cars still make a lot of sense for today’s consumers, and there’s nothing to say you can’t still use it after the ban on new sales comes into force.

Hybrids and PHEVs in particular do sidestep a lot of current legislation on emissions, and they’re a good alternative to diesels for those wishing to drop their fuel bills.