Ian Howells: Hybrids are the key to delivering the Government’s climate transport goals in the UK

13 Oct

Ian Howells is Honda Europe’s Senior Vice President. This is a sponsored post by Honda.

Honda has committed to achieving carbon neutrality globally by 2050, and we fully support the UK Government’s decarbonisation targets. In fact, throughout Europe, we have an ambitious target for 100 per cent of car sales to feature electrified powertrains (EV, plug-in hybrid, advanced hybrid) by 2022.

But, with our global experience and engineering expertise we know that delivering an affordable, decarbonised future cannot rely on just one technology.

A multi-pathway approach is required, in which a broad range of technologies are used to deliver CO2 reductions quickly and effectively, while ensuring that personal mobility remains affordable and accessible to all. This is vital to the Government’s levelling up agenda and underpinning the fundamental principle of personal choice.

Honda’s approach would see battery electric, advanced hybrid and – in time – hydrogen and decarbonised liquid fuels deployed to provide customers with the right vehicle, for the right use, at the right price.

For Honda, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) will play a key role in our proposed approach. BEVs provide a significant number of benefits to consumers, enabling zero emissions driving over short distances and within urban environments.

But BEVs are not a silver bullet. Challenges around affordability, infrastructure and technology limitations mean that the Government cannot rely solely on electric vehicles to completely replace internal combustion engines by 2035, if it does not also intend to restrict consumer choice.

An approach that relies only on expensive electric cars risks turning driving into a privilege only afforded to the wealthy, while pricing those who most need it out of personal mobility.

While prices are coming down, BEVs remain expensive in comparison to advanced hybrid and conventional cars. The UK’s own Advanced Propulsion Centre projects that cost parity between electric and petrol cars will not be reached by 2035 – and will take much longer for larger family cars or popular SUVs. The simple truth is that not everyone will be able to afford an electric car and outlawing advanced hybrid alternatives will price people out of essential mobility for work, school, caring and socialising.

Pursuing a battery electric only strategy will create a new inequality between those who have easy access to charging – and those in the Midlands and the North who do not.

Despite welcome additional investments from Government, the UK’s charging infrastructure is far from ready for a full transition to electric vehicles within 15 years. Public charging is unevenly spread across the country, with London, the South East and Scotland seeing the highest levels of public charging infrastructure, with the Midlands and the North much worse served. Wealthier drivers in the suburbs may be able to install off-street charging at home, but people with no access to off-street parking, such as those in tower blocks or dense urban areas, will struggle to find accessible and convenient ways to charge their car.

Current battery technology is nearing the limits of performance – and resource scarcity means there are not enough raw materials for a full shift to battery electric cars.

The current lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars today are reaching the limits of power and performance. These limits mean that EVs cannot be used to replace ICE vehicles in all cases. Whether towing caravans on the family holiday, pulling tradesperson’s equipment, or powering a sports car – battery electric cannot yet deliver the needed performance on its own.

Performance and power cannot simply be increased by installing bigger batteries, as these vehicles would incur weight and cost penalties. Furthermore, there are limits on global cobalt supply, with the European Commission estimating that by 2030, even with recycling, demand will far outstrip supply.

Honda’s advanced hybrid technology is at the heart of a multi-pathway approach that delivers significant emissions reductions, keeps mobility affordable and accessible – and still has scope for significant improvements. Signalling an end to this technology would be counter-productive.

Hybrid technology is far more affordable to a wide variety of consumers. Our new Jazz Hybrid starts from £19,000, which is much cheaper than a similarly sized BEV from other manufacturers – even when government support is taken into account. The price difference is much starker when looking at larger family-sized vehicles or the ever popular SUV category.

By combining compact, efficient, specially designed petrol engines with battery power, Honda’s advanced hybrid technology provides the power and performance that customers need to meet a wide range of needs, ensuring that customers feel confident in moving into low emissions mobility.

Our advanced hybrid products on the market now, are already making a contribution to CO2 reductions. Our new Jazz Hybrid emits 30 per cent less CO2 than its non-hybrid predecessor. In addition, there remains scope for significant ongoing emission reductions as advanced hybrid technology continues to evolve and move towards zero emission.

Decarbonised liquid fuels are an exciting way to further reduce transport emissions, alongside electrification.

The development of decarbonised liquid fuels – produced from renewable energy sources – have the potential to further reduce the CO2 performance of hybrid vehicles, and are a viable route to decarbonising the existing petrol and diesel fleet, again significantly bringing forward the reduction in carbon emissions.

As the Prime Minister said in his 2020 party conference speech – at some point the State must stand aside, and let the private sector take the lead. The role of Government is to set consistent and realistic targets and provide support, but it must let businesses innovate and invest, while enabling consumers to choose the technology that fits their needs.

The challenge of becoming carbon neutral by 2050 is huge. Honda has also embarked on that journey and will dedicate all its global resources to meeting this vital goal. The UK will be at the forefront as we deploy our technologies, and we support the Government’s ambitions of zero emissions mobility. But our global experience and engineering know-how make it clear that we can’t rely on one technology alone – a multi-pathway approach is required.

As ministers finalise their plans for mobility in a net-zero future, they must ensure that mobility remains accessible and affordable for all. They can achieve this by recognising the important role played by advanced hybrids and ensure these can remain part of the technology mix over the long term, as part of a multi pathway approach to our shared goal of clean, accessible and affordable personal mobility.

To find out more about Honda’s advanced hybrid technology, visit our UK website here.