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A tale of the UK vehicle market – Part 1

It has yet to be determined how the UK vehicle parc will look by 2030, so in the first of three in this series, a regular contributor to ATF Professional, Andrew Marsh, FIMI, Engineering Director at Ezi-Methods, considers a market much as it existed up to 2019.

 

A tale of the UK vehicle market – Part 1 p
Andrew Marsh

Established vehicle markets like the UK have taken decades to establish, and are served by a combination of dealers/distributors for new vehicles, a whole gaggle of used vehicle retailers and some from private sales too. The whole process, and all the services around the business, from tyres to major mechanical overhaul are built on the premise:

  • The owner/user has enough disposable income to not only purchase the vehicle, tax it and insure it but also run it too. This produces a stream of maintenance and repairs, to the extent we can predict the types of job by the season.
  • The vehicle uses a lot of common technology, even if the parts are unique, and some of the service operations are also manufacturer specific.
  • The owner/user was excited about their vehicle to prevent it from falling into disrepair. This ensured as a vehicle wore out or became un-economic to repair, it would be recycled and a replacement vehicle sought.

The vehicle sale steadily expanded until the 2000s, when they settled at about 2 million cars per year – and the parc grew slowly, meaning roughly every new vehicle matched an old one being recycled. This vast organisation ran smoothly, even as Government raided it again and again for tax, or meddled with other random factors, affordability, accessibility, and interest remained strong.

Enter Euro I to VII

There are emission laws for newly built vehicles and slightly more relaxed rules for vehicles after the initial sale. From the late 1990s, Europe, as a major emission rule maker, sought to improve road transport tailpipe emissions and so introduced technologies which had already been in use both in the USA as well as in Japan.

The difference was the plan – each stage would last for a few years before the new vehicle tailpipe emission limits became smaller.

The tipping point was a push by several governments, including the UK, towards diesel engines for cars, in order to reduce CO2. The EU rules pushed from Euro IV in the opposite direction by increasing combustion temperatures, which in turn generated more and more NOx. From 2004 there was no technology anywhere in the world for NOx tailpipe emission treatment, let alone particulate filters. From 2009 onwards, with the advent of Euro V, both technologies came to market in record time as fully tested and certified solutions.

Meanwhile, in the outside world, the exhaust gas treatment systems, especially for petrol internal combustion engines, became more and more complex. In addition, increasing numbers of customers – especially those taxed by CO2 emissions from their chosen vehicle (even though it was not a measured pollutant in the rules for new vehicles), who complained they could not get anywhere near the claimed ‘official’ fuel economy figures declared by both the vehicle manufacturer and EU member states.

Of course, what followed was a real low point: Some vehicle manufacturers had cheated to flatter test results, knowing the vehicle would not behave in the same way outside of a test lab. The EU did not impose the draconian penalties that the USA uses (non-compliance leads to immediate stop sale, correction at the cost of the manufacturer, customer compensation at the cost of the manufacturer and if not… destruction or removal of all affected vehicles plus compensation).  Europe preferred an agreeable cup of coffee to discuss matters…

Enter the new energy deal

For most of the 2000s, as internal combustion engines did achieve remarkable reductions in all major tailpipe pollutants, politicians dreamt of bigger things – A world free from the internal combustion engine.

The plan was set in motion (with the eventual agreement of vehicle manufacturers from 2009 onwards),  a view to introducing a range of solutions to reduce tailpipe emissions, such as hybrid drive, plug-in hybrid drive and even pure electric vehicles by 2019. Just as has happened with Governments pushing the public to buy diesel-powered vehicles (especially true in the UK), even as legislation was underway to make that choice more complex, by 2019, the very same governments had decided there was only one ‘electrification’ solution – battery electric vehicles.

Vehicle manufacturers were livid – the great rollout of 2019 had been all but destroyed by COVID-19, and a series of unforeseen semiconductor manufacturing issues compounded this. Undeterred, the great EU administrators and our MPs ploughed on regardless of ‘the vision’.

Some factors to consider:

  • The only manufacturing region unaffected by the semi-conductor mess was… China.
  • 70 per cent of all Li-Ion cells used in all devices worldwide come from… China.
  • Consumer demand has been boosted by furlough cash, as new vehicle production has receded to levels not seen for decades.
  • Rolling through now, the energy crisis, which in part, is due to the mechanisms used by Ofgem under instruction from the UK Government, as well as the almost criminal negligence of the power generation strategy by the very same Government.
  • The result – dramatic reduction in disposable income, with continued pressure in major cities to pay ever-higher tax (such as the TfL ULEZ charge) as well.

The motor vehicle is still a vital economic device to enable millions of people to carry out their daily routines in comfort as well as safety. Yet, thanks to repeated disconnection, the political class have reduced transport – especially personal transport – as a mere inconvenience to be taxed regardless of consequence.

The inability of policy creators to consider engineering-led information as part of an overall strategy clearly is shocking. For instance, Lord Deben, formerly John Selwyn Gummer MP, was key to pushing the idea pure electric vehicles were affordable.

This flew in the face of everything anyone knew about electric vehicles – so what was his assumption? A two-seat 400kg car called G-Wizz. Due to his political instinct to be as opaque as possible, it took some years for this error to surface. This error was the go-to justification for the ruinous policy to purge petrol and diesel internal combustion powertrains.

The big question: What happens next?

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Owain Griffiths

Owain Griffiths

Head of Circular Economy at Volvo Cars

Owain joined Volvo Cars in June 2021 to lead Circular Economy in the Global Sustainability Team. The company has committed to being a circular business by 2040 and has financial, recycled content and CO2 based targets for 2025, all of which Owain is working across the company to make happen. Owain previously worked for circular economy consultancy Oakdene Hollins where he advised businesses on evidence led circular economy implementation. 

Turning into a circular business and the importance of vehicle reuse and recycling.

The presentation will cover the work Volvo Cars is doing to achieve 2025 but mainly focus on the transformational work towards 2040 and the business and value chain changes being considered. Attention will be paid to the way vehicles are being dealt with at the end of life and the complexities of closing material and component loops. Opportunities and challenges which Volvo Cars is facing will be presented including engagement with 3rd parties and increasing pressure from stakeholders.

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The salvage and recycling operating environment is evolving rapidly, and e2e is anticipating, listening and responding to changing market needs.  Regulatory compliance, ESG, reclaimed parts, customer experience, EVs, new vehicle technologies, data and reputation risk are just some of many considerations linked to the procurement of salvage services.  e2e will drive further added value to clients and members through the adoption and application of emerging technologies, continuing to differentiate its proposition and position salvage services as a professional partnership. 

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