View from the U.K.

How will the U.K.'s ban on internal-combustion vehicles impact classics?

by John Mayhead
6 May 2021 4 min read
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government has pulled forward its ban on internal-combustion vehicles to 2030. Photo by LEON NEAL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Many readers have asked us how environmental regulations will impact classic cars. We thought it’d be helpful to start by looking overseas at the U.K., which has generally been more aggressive than the United States in enacting green legislation and recently announced a ban on the sale of new internal-combustion vehicles starting in 2030. We will be examining this topic more in the months ahead.

On November 18th, 2020 the U.K. Government unveiled its Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution policy paper. Amongst its discussion of investments in low-carbon hydrogen, new nuclear power stations and offshore windfarms was commitment to reducing motoring emissions by bringing forward the ban on the sale of traditional petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles to 2030—ten years earlier than originally planned. In doing so, the U.K. will become the first nation within the G7 to ban the sale of new internal combustion engine cars.

“The U.K. is going further and faster than any other major economy to decarbonize transport, harnessing the power of clean, green technology to end the U.K.’s contribution to climate change by 2050,” announced Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. “Bringing forward the phase-out date could create 40,000 extra jobs by 2030… and will see emissions reductions equivalent to taking more than 4 million cars off the road.”

The U.K. will become the first nation within the G7 to ban the sale of new internal combustion engine cars.

For some motorists this was a step too far. Facebook groups dedicated to the repeal of the ban were created, and a petition for the same was started on the government’s own website. The Daily Mail published articles warning that 1/3 of all motorists could not afford even the cheapest electric car and in a BBC interview, Mike Hawes from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said, “The challenge to the industry is absolutely massive… to bring in brand new technology in the space of a few years is an incredible challenge.”

As it happened, the petition fell short of the 10,000 signatures required for the Government to look at the problem again, but an analysis of where the signatories lived showed a distinct trend, typically coming from remote, rural areas such as the Lake District, North Wales, North Yorkshire and the Scottish Highlands. These are people for whom the car is not a luxury, but currently the only viable form of transport. These communities also tend to have lower levels of income than in large urban centers.

And there you have all the problems with the government’s targets in a nutshell. Creating an infrastructure for electric cars in a city is one thing, but building something that supports the use of EVs in remote rural areas that is also affordable to low-income families is an incredible challenge, especially given limitations of battery technology, at present. Take the Nissan Leaf as an example. Its full range is 168 miles, around a quarter of that of an equivalent diesel car. Then there’s the battery degradation: Nissan provides an eight-year warranty, but this only covers a loss of capacity below 9 bars (out of an initial 12). That would bring the range down to around 126 miles. Plus, lithium-ion batteries don’t cope so well with cold weather, not something that is ideal if you live up a mountain in Scotland or Wales.

Perhaps most important, when it comes to collector cars specifically, is to consider that the aim of this legislation is to bring down the regular use of petrol and diesel engines in cars. Collector cars are not regular.

But, as is often the case, things are rarely as black and white as portrayed in a social media post. The complexity of the task facing the government in implementing this policy is one of the main reasons why lovers of ICE cars should not worry that the petrol and diesel pumps will be switched off within the next decade. Plus, there will still be a lot of ICE vehicles on the road: not only will brand new hybrid cars still be for sale in the U.K. until 2035, but there will also be all of the foreign-registered goods vehicles. There will also be millions of cars still in private ownership. Yes, fuel and road taxes may increase to encourage a change to EVs, but the SMMT considers the average vehicle lifetime to be 13.9 years. That brings us near to 2050—rather far away.

Far enough, perhaps, for technology to allow gas-powered vehicles to be enjoyed without oil. Porsche recently announced a partnership with Siemens to develop climate-neutral alternative fuels (‘E-fuels’) that can be used in regular internal combustion engines. Their production facility will be in operation by 2022, and by 2024 they are expecting to create 55M litres of synthetic fuel and ten times that by 2026.

Perhaps most important, when it comes to collector cars specifically, is to consider that the aim of this legislation is to bring down the regular use of petrol and diesel engines in cars. Collector cars are not regular. Today there are around 32.5M cars on the road in the U.K., around 1.5 percent of which are considered classics. The average annual mileage of a ‘standard’ car is considered to be 10,000 compared with 2,214 for classics. So, in terms of miles covered, what we enthusiasts in our old cars account for around 0.35 percent of the total. The government seems to understand that the environmental impact of such vehicles is minimal and already affords them special treatment: Classics over 40 years old are presently exempt from road taxes in the U.K. And, to be perfectly clear: Nothing in the legislation targets vintage cars or even used cars. 

In other words, even if improvements to batteries and charging infrastructure allow the electric car to become the dominant form of transportation in the U.K., for those classics that are left, there will be fuel to burn—it just might be more expensive and may even be synthetic.

John Mayhead is publisher of the U.K. Hagerty Price Guide.


  • David Holzman says:

    I’m in the US, not the UK, and I’m hoping to keep driving ICE for as long as I drive (hopefully well into the ’40s). My worry is that by that time gas stations will become scarce, as I love driving far from major roadways.

  • Ken Sousa says:

    As a California native I have already seen the bureaucrats restrict the use of my hand guns by making ammunition unavailable. I have often observed that the logical “activist” next step is to ban gasoline, making my vintage cars useless. Nice to have smart people who believe in “settled science” in control.

  • Ken Albers says:

    Germany developed synthetic fuel for it’s aircraft during WWII. The engines did not run well on it and my dad said it was easy to tell a German plane from an Allied plane from the sound of the engine. Technology being better, hopefully the result will be better also.

  • Jerry says:

    Even though collector cars are not targeted, its only a matter of time. As regulations increase while demand for gasoline falls, at some point, it will simply become unprofitable to make. Small scale specialty refiners will spring up to take care of the needs of small ICE engines like lawn mowers and generators, but the gas will be extremely expensive, and putting it into automobiles may be banned. At that time, collector cars will become art, relegated to museums snd collections, never to be driven. Luckily, this will probably not happen for another fifty years, which will thankfully be beyond my lifetime.

  • Bob says:

    In Canada here, EV they say is the wave of the future. I know all the auto makers in Canada and the US are investing in EV . I am 57 . I will hopefully see gasoline sold till I am dead , and I can enjoy my classics . A Tree hugger friend of mine would like ICEs banned tomorrow, so I can’t enjoy my hobby, but he can still do his, planting trees, and whining he’s not getting enough rain . We already have a Liberal carbon Tax here forced on us and Canada is carbon neutral . we still have enough trees to take care of the carbon we emit . which is about 1% on the world scale . Just one more Liberal tax grab . there is no EV ONLY powered vehicle in existence yet to get me from Ontario to Florida , without stopping many many times and waiting for the bloody thing to charge. No thank you

  • Brian says:

    My guess depending what party remains in power the longest will direct the slaughter of gas as we know it and force classic cars to be obsolete to drive making them the modern dinosaurs. It’s already hard to get leaded gas for the classics I own, but not impossible yet

  • Bostwick9 says:

    ‘ Porsche recently announced a partnership with Siemens to develop climate-neutral alternative fuels (‘E-fuels’) that can be used in regular internal combustion engines. Their production facility will be in operation by 2022, and by 2024 they are expecting to create 55M litres of synthetic fuel and ten times that by 2026.’
    THIS is exciting.
    I suppose the jokes about Lucas building electric cars have already started in the UK.

    There is one electric I would consider, that being the Chinese “Cool Cat” with an over 200 mile range and a price of around $16,000.
    Still I would love a 2012 Nissan Leaf…. with a gas engine in it and a manual transmission. Otherwise, a non starter because of the inferior range. But the looks…. nicely weird unlike the Prius which is weird to be weird and especially unattractive because of it [Those tail light lips. FFS make it stop].

    That being said, here in the US, the Olds and Valiant are going nowhere and I will retrofit them to take synthetic fuel if I have to, end of discussion.

    Who knows, it may have to be done to the ION. It may well still be in the driveway by 2030 as well.

    Great objective and reasonable article. Thanks.

  • Jack says:

    “The government seems to understand that the environmental impact of such vehicles is minimal and already affords them special treatment”
    I’m not sure the more rabid “Green” legislators here in the U. S. would have the same consideration for collector cars

  • Bostwick9 says:

    Ken, I lived in CA for decades. I was there when the head of the AQMD said the quiet part out loud in the early ’00s: “We have to force people out of their cars”. Force?! Come get some missy.
    I’m sure she was still planning on having access of course.

  • Phil Z says:

    Part of the infrastructure for EVs will not only be a better proliferation of charging stations, but the requirement for much faster charging – something closer to what it takes to fill a gas tank. How can EVs be practical for longer distance traveling if you have to stop every 300 miles for a few hours to re-charge? Of course, I may be designated as the “ugly American” with my love of roadtrips and 5 ICE collector cars. But I doubt if we’re alone in the world (having enjoyed driving in the UK – true motorists). Not sure where Boris and Co. see all those jobs coming from but it will certainly impact the tourism industry. Just sayin’

  • OldFordMan says:

    All this while the World “leaders” and elites JET around the world needlessly except to get their photos and stories out for the populations to “see ME”.
    What do they think their planes and limos run on, compressed air?
    I am hoping “they” all sign up for the rocket rides into space. And stay there.

  • J Beck says:

    What people forget (or choose not to realize) if the production of the lithium batteries needed for EV cars causes as much pollution, just different, as ICE cars do. And right now China controls most of the worlds lithium

  • hyperv6 says:

    This whole thing needs understood before we can defend ICE vintage cars.

    #1 EV over the next 20 years will easily work for most new car buyers as range gets longer and charge times drop. . #2 the cost of new EV will be cheaper as ICE gets more expensive. Development cost are just getting worse.

    We need to stop using a Leaf to compare the future in 20 years. The EV progress is getting much farther and faster than expected. Also there is more than enough electric, just grid issues that need addresses EV cars or not.

    I have warned none of us are going to stop the move to EV as no matter who is in office the mfgs are already making the move. For them it is economics and profits as these cars will become cheaper to build and sell. This will need less people to build them too and this will be more profits.

    If any thing we will see cheaper affordable cars but less jobs contrary to what some say.

    Anyways this leaves the classic market at risk We all need to be vigilant against laws that can ban our cars. Even worse the restriction of fuel that could prevent us from using the. Odds are they will just run up cost of fuel so we are limited on driving.

    While the EV market will work its self out we the collectors will be targeted. This will be done like boiling frogs as they will start at low temps then turn it up slowly on us.

    We as enthusiast need to stop the faux denial. The lies stated on the coming of EV hurt us more than help. The denial that is coming is only hurting us. When you see the number of mfgs commit to EV including recently Ferrari it is telling.

    The synthetic fuels are not to be used for daily drivers. It will be expensive and it is to replace oil based fuel once foundries shut down production.

    Now keep in mind these changes are going to take place over 20-50 years. The average driver will just make the transition with no care as the car is just transportation not a hobby or love.

    We as collectors need to act now as our numbers are greater now than they will be moving forward.

    But stop now the denial and start the fight for our hobby. It is now or never!

  • Rodney K Ward says:

    Anyone think of military vehicles including air planes. We will always have fossil fuel and internal combustion engines.

  • Tim Bowles says:

    I’m so sick of lefty liberals pushing green crap policies.

  • Mike Eastman says:

    What is going to happen when electric powered vehicles are no longer subsidized and road taxes are added to the the cost of ownership?

  • John says:

    Despite the machinations by the conspiracy pushers and the seemingly always aggrieved, I have no concerns about my ability to use ICE’s for the rest of my life if I so desire.

  • John D says:

    The level of ignorance and flag waving arrogance shouldn’t astound me and yet… It’s a generation that just needs to go away. I’m embarrassed. me, me, me, me…. “what about MY… (fill in the blank)… “THEY” are out to get ME!

    I have owned 176 cars, many of which are of the collector variety and as much as I love them I also recognize the impact the internal combustion engine has had. You have to be a complete tool to not recognize the direction this fuel burning lifestyle we have all grown up with has had. And yet there is always “that guy”.. you know the one. Mid 50’s – 70’s, overweight with a go-tee banging on about how the government is out to get them as they make grunting noises as they fall into their choice of domestic iron. Spare me. I want to enjoy my car collection just as much as anybody else but not at the expense of future generations.

  • Stefan Wiesen says:

    Remember the panic when leaded fuel was banned. The rumours of the death of the classic car are greatly exaggerated.

  • Hermann J Schaller says:

    “I believe in the horse. The automobile is a temporary phenomenon.” – Wilhelm II, last emperor of Germany in 1905. Some people thought that the automobile would have been the death of the horse, but 100 years later, there were more horses in Germany for pleasure, than there were the pre-automotive working horses. Many comments above seem to me to fall in line with the unfortunate German Emperor, who thought that his cousin – George V of England – wouldn’t send to troops to help France in WW I against the Germans. Things are often not happening in ways many people have envisioned upfront. As much as I can buy currently recreational fuel for my classic car, I believe that there will be enough supply for gasoline to run our cars in the future. Unleaded gas was introduced in the 70s and phased out for normal vehicle production 25 years ago. Still we can get it for our classic cars in sufficient places. It costs a little more, but we don’t buy it for our daily commute to work or the run to the supermarket. If there will be enough demand, they will produce it. My mother used to say that we eat our food less hot than it was cooked. The same applies for the effects of change. It will be slow and solutions will be found. But we can be sure that change will come – remember the horse as the only possibility for individual transportation.

  • John Gunnell says:

    I am happy to see old-car collectors finally getting concerned about this problem. I have been talking about it here in Wisconsin for about two years and no one listens. Enthusiasts here have been more concerned about the State Patrol misinterpreting vehicle equipment laws. Well, that concern won’t matter if ICE cars are outlawed. We in the hobby have to start pushing very hard for an old-car exemption to any ban. I’m sure the Prez will be able to drive his big-block Vette no matter what bans are passed to hurt us “little guys.” It is also my view that the modern electric car trend will last about as long as the electric car trend lasted in the early 1900s. And then it will fail for the same reasons, the primary one being limitations on driving range. Electric cars can be used in a city, but are totally impractical for regular, everyday driving in rural areas. Here in Central Wisconsin, where the “average” drive is around 50 miles, electric cars would be a joke.

  • chrlsful says:

    Cali regs are very close to TSU (correct name?) in Germany. No car customizing, no rat rods, hot rods, rest0mods, etc. This is more of the same. My hope is they bring on the EVs! and do so quickly! I just wanna run my ol car’n tinker w/it as a hobby. When the EV is affordable I’ll baby my 50 y/o vehicle (get it down to the 2 – 5,000 mi/yr range) but can’t until they bring the costs down on the new ones~

  • Larry says:

    How travel trailers and RV’s. How will they get around? I can see an electric vehicle put a 34 foot trail around.

  • Andrew says:

    Something you plug in is an appliance not a car! These new Tesla appliances are as esthetically appealing as a toaster. That being said if they could get me 300-400 miles on a charge in something that looks like a 67 Shelby and can be recharged fully in under 5 minutes why not??

    The tree huggers though need to be realistic you need to have as many sources of energy available to you at all times so you are prepared for anything that comes your way. I understand in California They want to get rid of natural gas yet every year we hear of fires started from poorly maintained electric lines. Also don’t forget a good many of those Tesla charging stations do have either diesel or natural gas generators backing them up (Ironic don’t ya think!!!) so even they don’t have all the answers yet!

  • Darren Tarasoff says:

    Where I live in the province of Saskatchewan over 80% of the electricity generated is from fossil fuel, I don’t understand the advantage of going EV if we are using coal and natural gas to create electricity, fossil fuel is fossil fuel whether it is going into a generator to create electricity or fossil fuel going into my gas tank?

  • Craig Hall says:

    You reap what you sow. Auction prices will plummet.
    Accepting all orphaned classic cars and motorcycles right now – send them to my attention for a good home.
    God Bless VP Fuels in San Antonio!
    God Bless Texas! We’ll just succeed again. Come and Take It.

  • Darrell Ingold says:

    I read articles in journals and car magazines like Motor Trend telling us that electric cars are going to replace gasoline powered vehicles in the near future. Now, I’m not an expert, but I have to ask the question, “Really?” The two main components of electric battery packs are graphite and lithium. Everything I am reading about this points to the scarcity of these materials, especially graphite. Articles on the internet do not make it sound like we can source enough of these materials to meet global demand to produce roughly 50 million plus vehicles every year. The articles also discuss how bad the mining of these materials is for our environment. Are trading one pollution for another?

    And how are we going to charge all of these electric vehicles? The last time I checked, California was having rolling blackouts and here in NY we are struggling to meet current demands for energy. Can you see our grids crashing when we add this additional strain to our systems? To me this just doesn’t seem to be realistic but I guess only time will tell.

    I am also hoping that companies such as Prometheus Fuels take off with their carbon capture technology and that takes the target off of the ICE.

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