Concerns raised over supply of EVs to the UK
29 July 2019
Author: Sean Keywood
The UK must make sure it doesn't miss out on electric car availability, according to speakers at a motor industry summit. Sean Keywood reports.
Uncertainty among carmakers could cause limitations in the UK's supply of electric vehicles (EVs), industry experts have warned.
The move towards electrification was among the hot topics at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) International Automotive Summit 2019.
Speakers said demand for EVs from UK drivers was strong, but with reports of long lead times and a restricted supply of the vehicles, they acknowledged manufacturers had reasons to consider sending stock elsewhere.
Auto Trader commercial director Ian Plummer said: "I think it is without doubt many brands are facing a challenging situation over the supply of EVs.
"The exchange rate and Brexit don't help manufacturer uncertainty about which market to put those vehicles in today.
"Hopefully we can get greater certainty to bring those cars to the UK market, because customers want them."
Octopus Electric Vehicles chief executive Fiona Howarth agreed that the UK faced global competition for EVs, citing research by Bloomberg that said China was set to maintain a big lead over other countries in electrification.
She said: "When you have got incentives in other countries [like China], you are going to see batteries and EVs going to those countries, and then there are much fewer for the rest of us."
Another question mark over EV supply has been around the availability of batteries, and when questioned about this, BYD Europe managing director Isbrand Ho acknowledged strong competition for resources.
"When I was at Motorola, at times we couldn't ship phones because we couldn't get batteries," he said.
"I think we will see that become more and more important in automotive. It is going to be a little bit of a dogfight in terms of who gets the batteries."
Despite this, Ho said that supplies of lithium for EV batteries should be sufficient to meet demand for the time being.
He said: "The available capacity today will carry us past 2050, but there are new mines being discovered right now.
"How sustainable it is beyond 2050, well I don't have a crystal ball. I would question if lithium will continue to be the battery mineral of choice beyond 2050, as there are new methods being developed.
"Whether lithium will be the primary source by 2050 is a question mark."
From a car manufacturer's point of view, Volkswagen Group UK managing director Alex Smith said there was no doubting firms' commitment to electrification.
"If we project forward, looking at emissions targets in EU through 2030, it is difficult to see any other way of achieving it than a substantial EV mix," he said.
"We have a commitment to be carbon zero by 2050. Ten years for fleet renewal means 2040, and a platform lasts 16 years, so you are talking about finishing of development of internal combustion engine (ICE) platforms and technology today.
"If we are looking for 2050 carbon neutrality then already today we are making a decision about ceasing investment in ICE platforms."
Another concern often raised about EVs is whether the electricity grid would be able to cope with the demand, but UK Committee on Climate Change chief executive Chris Stark said that while this would be a challenge, it was achievable.
He said: "To get to net zero would mean a doubling of the size of the electricity system in the UK. That is possible over the next 30 years but it needs investment and to be well planned."
VW's Smith added: "Lots of stakeholders are involved, but I think more can be done in assessing the demand and planning how they're going to roll out."
Despite the hype around EVs, SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes was also keen to stress at the summit that diesel fuel still had a future, despite being much-maligned of late.
He said: "It will be around for a number of years yet, and for many drivers it is still the right choice - those doing high mileage or lot of towing, for instance.
"Clearly if you are living and only driving in the centre of an urban area then there are other alternatives which are probably better and more cost-effective for you, but many drivers do a different mix of driving and diesel still offers that."
Bosch vice president for corporate strategy Raphael Micha added that he hoped the battle to save diesel's reputation was not lost yet.
He said: '"It's typical in the public debate that people have strong beliefs, like diesel is bad and battery is good, but you know how much carbon emissions is produced by producing a battery, and you know how many batteries you can produce, so it's not that easy when you realise that.
"It may be that in some segments diesel will prevail for some time, but there are strong arguments that diesel will not prevail for a very long time in a lot of markets."