/What the end of the engine could mean for Wales

What the end of the engine could mean for Wales



(Title Image: South Wales Argus)

The Issue

Personal transport is rapidly changing.

The UK Government recently announced it was going to phase out diesel and petrol engines by 2040 – following in the footsteps of a few other governments around Europe – while autonomous vehicles, taxi apps like Uber and increased use and development of electric vehicles marks a shift in how we could be getting around.

I’m going to have a more in-depth piece on this issue – particularly the phasing out of petrol and diesel engines and its possible impact on the Welsh economy and infrastructure – in the next State of Wales update, due on October 30th.

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes the speed of the revolution in transport technology requires a major re-think in public policy and design.
  • Believes transport manufacturers and their supply chains need to adapt or die as the combustion engine is phased out within the next 20 years because of (1) driverless vehicles – which will disrupt assumptions about private ownership of cars – and (2) electric vehicles which require charging points covering the whole of Wales.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to outline steps it is taking to align policies with the pace of change.

Key Points

Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central)
For (the motion): Infrastructure needs to change now.

  • A member of Natural Resources Wales’ board recently bought an electric car and has been frustrated he can’t get to all parts of Wales; pleased there’s a budget proposal for £2million towards electric charging points.
  • Electric vehicles provide an opportunity to disperse energy generation around the country, not at big single sites like nuclear power stations.
  • Can Wales build vehicles from our existing automotive supply chain?

Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West)
For: It’s exciting technology and close to widespread use.

  • Electric vehicles are starting to surpass 300 miles in range and can accelerate in a manner that rivals supercars.
  • Energy supply planning needs to start now.
  • Driverless vehicles provide new opportunities for people with limited mobility.

Shadow Minister for the Environment, David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central)
For: We need better planning for future transport needs.

  • Electric vehicles are vital to address air pollution and the lack of infrastructure is frustrating.
  • The public sector needs to take the lead (i.e. encouraging taxis to switch to electric); the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act is the ideal way to co-ordinate policy.

Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley)
For: Charging has to be practical and accessible.

  • Charging points need to be rapid charging (80% charge in 30 mins); electric vehicles aren’t feasible if people are stopping for 3/4 hours to recharge.
  • The strength of our automotive sector makes Wales the ideal place for a centre of excellence for low carbon vehicles.

Gareth Bennett AM (UKIP, South Wales Central)
Mixed views: Practical problems need to be overcome first.

  • Not sure driverless cars will be a positive development because of confusion over driving licence requirements, pedestrian safety, possibly more road congestion and reduced use of public transport.
  • Even with rapid charging points, it’s still much faster to fill a tank of petrol; battery disposal is environmentally damaging and exploitative (most work is done in central Africa) too.

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn)
For: Technology is out-pacing policy.

  • There are few incentives to accelerate the use of electric vehicles; government policy isn’t anywhere near catching up with technological progress (i.e. changing planning rules to provide compulsory charging points with new homes).
  • NHS manager in his constituency tried to ensure district and school nurses used electric cars but NHS had a contract with a company that couldn’t provide the vehicles.

Eluned Morgan AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales)
For: Huge potential benefits; car ownership is changing.

  • It’s estimated autonomous and electric vehicles will result in a 90% reduction in road accidents, 40% reduction in congestion, 80% reduction in emissions and 50% reduction in parking spaces saved.
  • 59% of car industry bosses believe more than half of car owners will no longer want to own a car by 2025 (being replaced by autonomous taxis/rentals).

Welsh Government Response

Minister for Science & Skills, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West)

  • You cannot hold back the tide of technological progress, you have to embrace it or you get left behind – as the UK was when cars were first introduced.
  • A “number of manufacturers” are interested in coming to Wales to develop low-carbon technologies.
  • Autonomous vehicles require 5G mobile roadside technology and there’s a danger that if 5G is sold off by the UK Government, companies won’t invest in commercially unviable areas (i.e. most of Wales).
  • A decision on the Swansea tidal lagoon is vital to meet future energy needs, including that of electric vehicles.

Vote

The motion was approved unanimously.