Car industry chief blasts ministers over electric car blunders

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Car industry chief blasts ministers over electric car blunders

The head of Britain’s car industry body has compared Britain’s strategy for the sector unfavourably with the slow-witted sidekick to TV’s Blackadder.‘

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The head of Britain’s car industry body has compared Britain’s strategy for the sector unfavourably with the slow-witted sidekick to TV’s Blackadder.

‘Whatever you thought about Baldrick, at least he had a plan,’ said Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

‘That is what our UK industry needs – a proper plan.’

The character of Baldrick, played by Tony Robinson over four series of the BBC sitcom, was best known for his catchphrase ‘I have a cunning plan’ before setting out a hopeless idea.

Hawes also made reference to Rowan Atkinson, who played the titular role of Blackadder in the same series, and who recently said he felt ‘duped’ after becoming an early convert to electric cars. ‘I hope we can all prove him wrong,’ he said.

Hapless: The character of Baldrick, played by Tony Robinson over four series of the BBC sitcom Blackadder, was best known for his catchphrase 'I have a cunning plan'

Hapless: The character of Baldrick, played by Tony Robinson over four series of the BBC sitcom Blackadder, was best known for his catchphrase 'I have a cunning plan'

Hapless: The character of Baldrick, played by Tony Robinson over four series of the BBC sitcom Blackadder, was best known for his catchphrase ‘I have a cunning plan’

The SMMT wants to see faster roll-out of car charging points as well as car tax reform to incentivise motorists to make the switch, plus greater incentives for investment and a level playing field on energy prices, which are much higher in the UK than in Europe.

‘We’re not asking for handouts, we’re asking for ambition,’ Hawes said, adding that the car industry was ‘as vital to the nation’s manufacturing future as the NHS is to the nation’s health’.

Hawes added: ‘We have the innovation, the people, the creativity – we just need the Government – whichever Government – to work with us and for us. We just need that plan, and one more cunning than Baldrick’s.’

Hawes’ reference to Baldrick in a speech to an industry audience in London drew laughs yesterday but aimed to make a serious point to the Government about a key industry which employs 800,000 people.

Britain’s car makers are grappling with challenges including soaring energy costs, supply chain strains and transition to electric vehicles.

The SMMT is proposing a strategy for a tenfold increase in the value of electric vehicle making, to £106billion by 2030.

But it faces a ‘cliff edge’ at the end of this year when the delayed implementation of post-Brexit ‘rules of origin’ come into force.

The free trade arrangement between Britain and the European Union is based on the idea that goods sold from one side to the other mainly have their origin in that country.

But because so much of the value of electric vehicles resides in their batteries – made elsewhere – those rules are suspended until the start of 2024.

Car makers on both sides of the Channel have been lobbying for the rules to be pushed back until 2027 and the parent company of Britain’s Vauxhall warned recently that without an agreement it may have to move production out of the UK.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has urged the EU to heed the calls and Hawes yesterday hinted that it was the Europeans who were dragging their feet.

‘To be honest, it’s with Brussels,’ he told reporters. ‘We’ve had discussions with Government – they’re fully supportive.

‘They recognise the negative impact on cross-border trade going in both directions.

‘But things seem to happen incredibly slowly.’ If there is no change and tariffs are imposed it will hurt manufacturers and have an environmental impact, he warned – as the tariffs will be added to prices, making them less attractive to consumers.

He said: ‘We can’t afford to have a last-minute, 31 December agreement because business needs to plan.’

The industry has also identified the roll-out of UK charging infrastructure as holding back the take-up of electric vehicles, as petrol and diesel cars are phased out over coming years.

Hawes said the pace had been increasing but needed to go faster, calling for the removal of outdated planning rules.

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