In confirming the plans, the government said it “will continue to work with all sectors of industry to accelerate the rollout of zero-emissions vehicles – helping to deliver new green jobs in the UK”.

“The prime minister will use the speech [at the COP26 summit] to call for international efforts to reach net zero as early as possible through investment in cleaner, greener technology, preservation of our natural habitat and measures to improve resilience to climate change impact.”

In 2018 the government announced plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040 onwards as part of the Road to Zero Strategy, but it said that ultra-low-emissions vehicles – including hybrids and plug-in hybrids – emitting less than 75g/km of CO2 would still be allowed.

However, the new plan will ban the sale of any vehicle that is not zero emissions. Based on current technology, that would allow only electric or hydrogen vehicles to be sold. 

The plan is subject to consultation, with the government suggesting that it could be brought forward from 2035 “if a faster transition was possible”. Some government advisers have called for the ban to be introduced by 2030 at the latest.

A total of 37,850 battery-electric vehicles were sold in the UK last year. While that number was a 144% increase on 2018, it still represented just 1.6% of the total UK car market. By comparison, 1,498,640 petrol-engined cars were sold (64.8% of the total market) and 583,488 diesels (25.2%). 

The number of electric vehicles sold is poised to expand massively in coming years, as a flood of new mainstream vehicles reaches the market, the technology reduces in cost and charging infrastructure is massively improved – and it is likely that the bulk of vehicles sold will be fully electric long before 2035.

Despite that, the move to ban hybrid and plug-in hybrid sales will be a blow to car firms that have invested heavily in the technology. Electrified vehicles have been considered an important stepping stone to reducing fleet emissions in line with ever-tougher European Union CO2 targets – which call for cars sold in 2035 to emit 37.5% less CO2 than those in 2021 – while EV technology is developing. 

The government has launched a series of policies to promote the uptake of EVs, and sales of plug-in hybrids fell sharply last year after the removal of grants for buyers of them.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “This government’s £1.5bn strategy to make owning an electric vehicle as easy as possible is working; last year a fully electric car was sold every 15 minutes.

“We want to go further than ever before. That’s why we are bringing forward our already ambitious target to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to tackle climate change and reduce emissions.”

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