UK could become ‘an industrial irrelevance’ without EV investment warn industry experts

The UK risks becoming ‘an industrial irrelevance’ if it fails to capitalise on its position as world leader in battery research and EV manufacturing.


This is the stark conclusion of Euan McTurk, consultant battery electrochemist at Plug Life Consulting, who joins leading figures including Inobat chairman Dr Andy Palmer, Fiona Howarth, CEO, Octopus Electric Vehicles, and FairCharge founder Quentin Willson in a joint statement around perceived media criticism of EV costs, and the need for a domestic supply of EV batteries.

They believe clear and present policy, alongside private and public collaboration, is essential for a successful energy transition and maintaining the upward trajectory – and affordability - of EVs.

Dr Palmer said: “There’s a lot of push back at moment around EVs in the media, with a strong focus on affordability. Looking at the Moores Curve equation, mass production of batteries, and therefore EVs, will ultimately drive price points down. This is why we need domestic battery cell production. Another point… is the focus on bigger batteries. The reality is most people need smaller batteries, they don’t drive 300+ miles regularly, and this will likely become a trend as we continue to ramp up adoption. Smaller batteries mean lower costs and therefore improved affordability.”

Today’s (January 30, 2023) announcement follows the publication by SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) of UK car production figures in 2022. Their report showed that UK car production declined 9.8 per cent in 2022 to 775,014 units.

SMMT found also that UK factories produced a record 234,066 battery electric (BEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and hybrid (HEV) electric vehicles, with combined volumes up 4.5 per cent year-on-year to represent almost a third (30.2 per cent) of all car production. Total BEV production rose 4.8 per cent, with hybrid volumes up 4.3 per cent.

Despite the upturn, media outlets have seized on RAC data and stated that the cost of charging EVs using public charge points has risen by 42 per cent in four months.

McTurk said: “Some people have rightly pointed out the expense of public rapid charging, which is driven solely by the wholesale cost of electricity. This is in turn driven by the wholesale cost of gas, but this needn’t be the case. A simple reform of the electricity market, to decouple the cost of electricity from the cost of gas, would reduce electricity costs by tens upon tens of pence per unit, without requiring a single penny of taxpayer subsidy. The UK government could – and should – enact this highly logical win-win with the stroke of a pen.”

“While the media constantly obsesses on the costs of public charging, they forget to mention that 80 per cent of EV owners charge at home using low-rate night-time tariffs,” said Willson. “The reality is that for the vast majority of EV drivers home charging makes it significantly cheaper than fuelling a combustion car.”

Willson added that some of the traditional OEMs are pushing against the transition to EVs, arguing that it will hit their bottom line.

“What the government needs to do now is create a clear and present policy that ensures the UK has a thriving domestic battery cell and EV industry,” he said. “This isn’t just about clean air for all, it’s also about the industry and employment of the future. Why build out a domestic lithium refining business, with no battery manufacturers to feed into?”

According to SMMT, industry is looking for a dedicated framework to position the UK as one of the world’s most competitive locations for advanced automotive manufacturing. This framework must address soaring energy costs and the threat of increasing global protectionism, provide fiscal measures to encourage investment in zero emission technologies and equip the UK’s workforce with the right skills to deliver these vehicles.

McTurk said:Some naysayers appear to be using the demise of Britishvolt to try to hamper proactive policy, forgetting that any failure to switch British industry to EVs will result in massive imports of EVs built overseas, zero exports of British-built vehicles and the UK being an industrial irrelevance.

“The UK government needs to at least match the US’ highly successful Inflation Reduction Act – which is directly responsible for a wave of new battery and EV gigafactories planned in the US – to prove their seriousness about, and commitment to, the task in hand, and provide the certainty required to attract private capital to make the UK a green tech industrial powerhouse.”