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.”
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.
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.