18 September 2023
UK Automotive Industry

Jesse Norman, Minister of State for Decarbonisation and Technology, responds to a debate on the UK automotive industry.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Jesse Norman)

What an excellent debate it has been! I have been very interested to follow the contributions that have been made—very welcome they are too. You may recall, Madam Deputy Speaker, that this debate follows an urgent question that was tabled by the Labour party some months ago regarding the state of the automotive sector, at which Labour Members were mortified to discover that vast numbers of investments were already under way. It is unfortunate that the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) talks about being let down. If this country, this economy and this industry are feeling let down, why is it that there has been this astonishing succession of investments? That speaks not to people feeling let down, but to confidence and investment in the future.

We celebrate BMW Group’s announcement that it will invest £600 million in the production of two all-new electric Mini models, supporting the full transition to electric vehicle production by 2030. We welcome that, as do both Members of Parliament for Oxford, the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) and the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds). We are very pleased to have their support, as well as that of Members across this House. We welcome the fantastic investment that Stellantis has made in Ellesmere Port, as has the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), although he could not avoid being gloomy about that aspect of the tremendous investment that is taking place. That makes the plant the first all-EV facility in the UK, and one of the first in Europe.

As we heard the determination to be gloomy from the other side of the House, we were noticing at the same time the £4 billion-worth of new gigafactory investment from Tata Group; Nissan and Envision’s announcement a couple of years ago of £1 billion to create an EV manufacturing hub in Sunderland; the £227 million invested in Halewood; Bentley committing £2.5 billion to make the transition to zero-emission vehicles at its Crewe plant; and JLR’s investment of £15 billion over five years into its industrial footprint towards electrification. If everything is as disastrous as the Opposition suggest, how can there be this constant succession of new private-sector investments? That is the question. The truth of the matter is that over the past two years, the UK’s automotive sector has been boosted by over £6 billion-worth of business investment that will drive the transition to zero-emission vehicles, with funding for manufacturing and crucial components as well. That investment reflects confidence.

We know that that transition is important. Cars and vans account for a huge proportion of domestic UK transport emissions, and it is therefore important to address that. Over £2 billion has been spent to support the transition, and the Government are continuing to invest. There are now more than 1.2 million plug-in vehicles in the UK—a 45% increase over the past year. Again, that does not speak to decline; it speaks to rapid growth and acceleration. Some 58% of those vehicles are battery electric vehicles; in August 2023, 20% of new cars in the UK were battery electric vehicles, so again, that is a sign of confidence and growth, and rightly so. That puts the UK’s automotive industry at the forefront of new low-carbon technology, creating thousands of new jobs and providing certainty among manufacturers and infrastructure investors. Some 65% of vehicle manufacturers in the UK car market have already committed to making the transition to zero-emission cars by 2030, and all major manufacturers have committed to selling 100% zero-emission vehicles by 2035.

Several Members have raised the question of EV infra- structure and charging roll-out. It is understood on all sides of this House that the roll-out of electric vehicles needs to be supported by a robust and widespread public charging network, and that network continues to grow. To date, the Government and the industry have supported the installation of over 48,000 publicly available charging devices—again, an increase of 43% over the past year—which includes nearly 9,000 rapid devices. My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) rightly highlighted service areas, and I was delighted to hear his excellent description of the very rapid scale-up of the motorway service area at junction 1 of the M6; that was a very interesting and important intervention. He will know that over 96% of service areas in England now have charging available, and there are hundreds of chargers across the motorway service area network. Of course, a lot of that comes through private investment. The Chancellor recently opened the UK’s largest electric vehicle infrastructure charging site to date in Birmingham, which includes 180 charging devices.

My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Saqib Bhatti) and the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) both raised the question of standards, and rightly so. As they will know, the Government are investing £381 million through the local electric vehicle infrastructure fund to deliver tens of thousands of local charge points, and the rapid charging fund will do the same thing to future-proof electrical capacity at strategic locations. Alongside that, we have laid consumer regulations that will ensure that pricing information and payment methods are simplified, that charge points are reliable and that public charge point data is freely available, addressing many of the issues that have rightly been raised about standards, interconnection and transparency. The Government worked with the national disability charity Motability and the British Standards Institution in order to develop those standards, which has made an important difference to their quality.

We must not think just about cars, or even just about cars and vans, but about heavy goods vehicles as well. It is well understood that the UK is seeking to make a transition to zero emission in this area as well, as part of our wider ambition. To support that, there is an HGV and infrastructure demonstrators project that will showcase zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric HGV technology at scale in UK fleets, and the Government have already tested such vehicles. Those demonstrators build on the £20 million investment made in 2021-22. In a slightly different context, I was absolutely delighted to welcome the first JCB hydrogen digger, a magnificent piece of kit that is emblematic of the innovation we have seen in the sector.

It is also important for me to mention, because we have touched on it, the work we are doing in the area of connected and automated mobility. Some £600 million of joint public and private investment has been placed in that sector since 2015.

John Redwood 

At the moment, if a new EV is added to the charging system, it will be a gas power station that has to fire it up, so it is not a net zero product. When will we be in a position to have enough renewable power so that, if an electric car is added, it will be recharged with renewable power?

Jesse Norman 

An economist of my right hon. Friend’s distinction will know that it is futile to predict the activity of private markets, because they so often move faster than we would imagine. A classic example of that is the way in which electrification has moved up the range and weight curves over the past few years. It is certainly true that at the moment, electric vehicles rely on fossil fuels for part of their charge, meaning that they are less green than they will be when those fossil fuels are removed from our electrical charging system. Nevertheless, those vehicles remain significantly lower-emission over their life cycle than equivalent petrol and diesel vehicles, including the production and disposal of batteries.

Capacity-building projects for important areas of our connected and autonomous vehicle supply chain are already starting to take place. This country remains one of the first to explore the business case for connected and autonomous mobility as a mass-transit solution. Connected and autonomous mobility will be the future; it will be an electric future, a zero-emission future, and one that is powered by the investments and leadership being provided now, with the private sector, by this Government.