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Transitions in the automotive sector: challenges in delivering a low emission strategy

UK policy to ban sales of new petrol, diesel and hybrid vehicles by 2030 to support zero-carbon emissions targets, presents considerable challenges for people, businesses and places.

Multiple research projects, led by Coventry University’s Dr Jason Begley, Professor Nigel Berkeley, Dr Elizabeth Bos, Professor Nick Henry, Dr David Jarvis and Dr Andrew Jones, have resulted in policy solutions that have positively influenced behaviours regarding the adoption of electric vehicles.

Between 2014-2016, Begley, Berkeley, Jones and Jarvis evaluated the Defra funded Warwickshire Rural Electric Vehicle (WREV) trial, which involved an examination of the experience of business drivers across a variety of sectors. Findings from the trial showed a range of technological, infrastructural, and financial challenges preventing adoption remained. The research influenced the behaviour of 17 rural small businesses by providing potential solutions to overcome barriers to EV adoption.

This impact has endured, with seven organisations retaining an electric vehicle beyond the conclusion of the trial period. Another participating business subsequently adopted a hybrid vehicle, so almost half of triallists continue to utilise EV technologies in their vehicle fleets five years after the trial ended formally.

The findings informed the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s Select Committee’s 2018 investigation of the transition to electric vehicles and were used to frame a key argument in the Select Committee’s report relating to inadequacies in current charging networks, and in the government improving consumer experiences. What’s more, the research gained interest from US state governments in North Carolina, Montana, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Stakeholders from each state participated in a knowledge exchange visit to the UK in early 2020, making a special visit to Coventry to learn how they could implement the WREV evaluation in their own state jurisdictions.

As well as this research, Begley, Jarvis, Jones and Professor Stewart MacNeill explored The Urban Rural Connectivity in Non-Metropolitan Regions (URRUC) project which brought together public authorities and academics in four European territories. Findings revealed that non-metropolitan local government in England has neither the financial capability nor human capital to combat the zero-emissions mobility challenge. Moreover, it has limited influence in shaping transport and accessibility policies. Following this, recommendations were produced that targeted cost-effective solutions on the most deprived, isolated communities.

This research continues to have an impact, with Scarborough Borough Council actively using these recommendations in ongoing efforts to lobby regional and national bodies for transport related investment. The research has also informed Scarborough’s current approach to local transport challenges, providing them with a template for new service provision including the introduction of a new shuttle bus service.

As well as focussing on electric vehicles, Henry, Jarvis and Jones explored the deployment of new smart transport infrastructure through the evaluation of the Intelligent Variable Messaging Systems (iVMS) pilot project. This revealed governance and partnership working challenges to the realisation of smart city goals. Following this, Jones and Jarvis worked with Coventry City Council on the COVID-19 and Future Transport project to cocreate three ‘future scenarios’ for urban mobility for the post-Covid transport space. These scenarios have been used to shape Coventry City Council’s COVID-19 recovery work and future planning.

Beyond Coventry, this body of research is impacting transport planning and strategy development in other cities, including Wakefield and Cardiff, and through Coventry City Council’s involvement in ongoing INTERREG projects, it is also influencing thinking in EU cities, particularly in Rome.

Overall, the research has highlighted and produced solutions to the challenges to mass market electric vehicle adoption. Creating national and international impact, the research has successfully changed attitudes towards the adoption of electric vehicles among small businesses, and uniquely rural small businesses; and influenced strategic thinking and policy decisions around the challenges of adapting places to zero-emissions infrastructure.

To find out more about the research that formed this case study like the WREV trial project, click here. 

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