The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) recently released its 22nd Sustainability Report in the UK. It explains how the past two decades have seen the UK automotive sector maintain its position as one of the country’s most important economic assets. While this has been largely due to the combustion engine vehicles, times are changing and plug-in electric vehicles now play an important and growing role.
Turnover in the automotive sector is up 25.7 percent since 1999, to £60.2 billion last year, with a more than three-fold increase in R&D spending over the same period. However, the past year has seen the industry hit hard by the pandemic with automotive sector turnover down by 24.6 percent.
Automotive brands are now investing billions into the development and production of new zero-emission models. In 2020 electric vehicles accounted for more than one in 10 registrations, with a 90 percent increase in the number of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) alone.
Today, there are over 130 plug-in car models available in the UK, with an increasing number of these made in Britain. Last year UK production of battery electric vehicles (BEVs), plug-hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) rose to 18.8 percent of all cars made. This is up from 14.8 percent in 2019, with BEVs increasing to a 4.5 percent share, up from 3.4 percent
Another big plus is that vehicles are also being made more sustainably using 14.2 percent less energy and 36.8 percent less water used on average per vehicle than at the turn of the millennium. The total combined waste to landfill is down 98.7 percent and CO2 equivalents per vehicle produced fell by 36.5 percent.
Despite this progress, the report highlights the scale of the challenge ahead. Commitments by car makers should result in an expected 300 plug-in models for buyers to choose from by 2025. This is more than double the current availability.
If the electric revolution is to work for all, however, similar fast progress needs to be made in other areas, most notably in the provision of charging infrastructure. Ambitious mandated targets need to be set for the charging industry that match the automotive sector’s ambition and rapidly increasing needs of today’s businesses and consumers.
In the year the UK hosts the UN COP26 climate conference, the latest Sustainability Report outlines the approach taken by many major automotive manufacturers to deliver society’s climate change ambitions.
As part of the global Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), manufacturers have committed to specific targets for emission reduction both in terms of vehicle production and use.
These are aligned to climate science to meet the goals agreed at COP21 by limiting global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C. Many signatories to the report have pledged to reach net zero by 2050, with many expecting to achieve this well in advance.
In addition to environmental achievements, social change is also high on the automotive agenda. Despite the challenging market conditions, companies continue to invest in employee development, training, and apprenticeships.
New jobs create more opportunities to increase the sector’s diversity, so it better reflects the communities from which it recruits and the market into which it sells products and services.
Although the pandemic negatively impacted jobs across the industry, one in eight people working for the report’s signatories are now female. This is the highest proportion since the SMMT reviewed gender. All parties remain committed to progress across all business areas to create a more diverse workforce to drive this transformation.
With production lines closed for much of 2020, many companies used the spare capacity to repurpose production lines to produce essential PPE and for ventilator manufacturing to support the NHS. OEMs alone donated 130,000 PPE items to medical workers and care homes.
As part of ongoing support to local communities and wider society, report signatories made almost nine million pounds in cash donations and more than 83,000 hours of employees’ time was spent helping local causes.
Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: “As the latest Sustainability Report shows, economic and market growth stalled with many factories shuttered and retail closed.
“Yet the pandemic also proved the importance of the sector as it turned its capabilities to PPE and ventilator manufacture and assured the nation’s mobility through the continued servicing and repair of vehicles.
“Despite the adversity, the industry’s commitment and investment in zero emission vehicles remained undiminished, delivering the best-ever single year of fleet average carbon reduction.”