At the end of last week, the parliamentary committee for business, energy and industrial strategy concluded, and announced, that the government should bring forward its proposed ban on the UK sale of new petrol and diesel-only cars and vans by eight years to 2032, to help the fight against global warming.

Ignoring for a moment that the end of 2018 is almost in sight, that’s about 14 years from now. Coincidentally – or perhaps not – 14 years is about what the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) currently estimates the average life of a car to be before it’s scrapped. To be precise, the SMMT reckons it’s 13.9 years, and while that figure dates back to calculations made in 2015, it’s the most recent statistic available.

If, and it really is only if, the government did bring forward its proposed 2040 ban to 2032, it would mean every new car sold in 2018 or before will be coming to, or have reached, the end of its useful life by the time the ban comes into force. That neatly paves the way for a wholesale electrification/hybridisation of our road traffic from that day forward. Well, that’s the theory.

What it also paves the way for is massive and increasing uncertainty in the years leading up to the ban on petrol and diesel sales, starting from, well, pretty much right now if that 14-year figure is to be taken into account. No one is saying that we won’t be able to use petrol and diesel-fuelled cars on UK roads after a ban on sales of new ones, but would you buy a new petrol or diesel car in 2019 knowing that 13 years later it would, in effect, be worthless? Perhaps you would, but would you buy one in 2024? Or 2029? Would anyone? 

Hybrid vehicles confirmed as exempt from 2040 petrol and diesel ban

Never mind the fact that plans for a nationwide charging infrastructure to support the switch to electric cars is about as clear as mud, the effect the sales ban could have on new car sales in the lead-up to it would be catastrophic. The SMMT has already said a 2040 date is ambitious, and chief executive Mike Hawes has politely described the even earlier proposal as “almost impossible”.

Without a clear strategy to address the looming and growing redundancy of new car stock in the run-up to a ban, the sales market would be thrown into turmoil and could possibly collapse through the floor. Would buyers of non-hybrid/non-electric vehicles in the meantime be placated with the promise of attractive scrappage incentives post-2032? Or post-2040? Or post-whenever it might happen? The government's recent cutting of grants to buy hybrids and EVs suggests not.