Calls grow for Chancellor to move UK electric vehicle adoption into the fast lane, as charging infrastructure investment takes a step forward
Dyson has confirmed it is to locate its first electric car factory in Singapore, dashing hopes the UK-based technology company would focus its initial automotive manufacturing operations in its home market.
In a development that sparked immediate criticism of company founder James Dyson over his failure to back up his high profile support for Brexit with additional investment in the UK, the FT reported Singapore had been selected over the UK and China as the site for the company's first electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing plant.
The company had announced earlier this year it is to invest £200m in expanding its Wiltshire R&D facility to accommodate additional EV testing capabilities. However, the decision to opt for Singapore for its first manufacturing facility was reportedly shaped by a desire to remain close to the company's existing vacuum cleaner manufacturing sites and fast-growing Asian EV markets.
The company is said to be planning a £2bn investment in its EV project, with £1bn focused on new battery technology and another £1bn earmarked for the development and construction of the vehicle. However, it remains undecided as to whether the company will use its own batteries in its initial EV models or buy-in the technology.
Dyson rejected suggestions the decision was informed by uncertainty over the UK's Brexit plans, which have prompted a number of auto firms to warn they could face massive disruption if the UK and EU fail to secure an effective Brexit deal.
However, the FT noted that Singapore has trade agreements with China, the largest EV market in the world, and Japan, and a pending free trade deal with the EU.
In an email to staff this morning Dyson chief executive Jim Rowan stressed the new factory was likely to be followed by additional manufacturing plants. "Our existing footprint and team in Singapore, combined with the nation's significant advanced manufacturing expertise, made it a frontrunner," he added.
However, the move will still be seen as a blow to the UK government's plans to establish the country as a world leader in EV technologies.
The decision comes just days after both the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and the BEIS Select Committee of MPs issued fresh warnings the government's plans to cut transport emissions and drive the adoption of EVs are not ambitious or co-ordinated enough.
And the move comes on the same day as a cross-party group of 42 Parliamentarians countersigned a letter from the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Neil Parish MP, calling on Chancellor Philip Hammond to use next week's Budget to stimulate the uptake of electric vehicles.
Separately, the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), the AA, the RAC, and a host of green groups, including ClientEarth and Green Alliance, wrote to Hammond earlier this week to call for new tax incentives to encourage the adoption of EVs.
Specifically the letters urge the Chancellor to bring forward the company car tax reduction to two per cent in April 2019, rather than maintaining the current plan to increase it to 16 per cent in 2019/20, before falling to two per cent in 2020/21.
"We are urging the Chancellor to bring forward a planned reduction in Company Car Tax by just one year," said Parish. "Patchwork tax policy is not helping drive consumer behaviour and should be replaced with streamlined legislation to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles. The Government cannot tackle the urgent issue of air pollution with the handbrake on."
BVRLA chief executive Gerry Keaney added that last week's BEIS Select Committee report had "made clear… that time is of the essence if government is serious about the UK leading the transition to zero emission".
"This month's Budget provides the Chancellor with the perfect opportunity to address the glaring lack of cross-government alignment when it comes to creating a supportive environment to incentive the uptake of electric vehicles," he added.
Dr Jonathan Owens, Lecturer in Operations Management at the University of Salford Business School, said Dyson's decision to focus on the Asian EV market should not come as a surprise.
"While it is disappointing that Sir James Dyson has made the announcement that his company will set up production for their first Electric Vehicles (EV) in Singapore, in many ways it is not surprising," he said. "Dyson sees Singapore as a base closer to their target market; Asia Pacific. They do not cite Brexit as the reason to leave, but being able to secure the talent required to produce their new EV and shorter and established supply chains... The UK's biggest barrier to EV growth is still access to public charge points with uptake and roll out still not hitting significant numbers. In contrast the Asian market is seeing huge growth in the usage of EV's.
"The biggest supporter to this rapid growth is the investment of charge point infrastructure. China is aiming to install an extra 500,000 public EV charging stations by 2020. Others, such as India, Thailand, and Singapore, have also announced investment plans to develop EV charging infrastructure, leaving the UK trailing in their wake."
The UK government has pledged to increase investment in support of the roll out of EV infrastructure, but critics maintain the deployment of new charge points is not happening fast enough.
However, there was good news for the UK's fledgling charging sector last week as developer Pivot Power announced it had secured planning permission for a major new energy storage 'superhub' on the M6 near Carlisle.
The move makes the project the second of the company's 45 proposed sites to achieve planning permission. The start-up said it now intends to submit a separate planning application for an EV charging superhub at another site in the area.
Pivot Power is working on ambitious plans to combine 50MW battery arrays with rapid charging stations as part of a £1.6bn investment drive designed to create a sustainable charging network across the UK. The use of co-located chargers and energy storage capacity is expected to provide both fast-charging and grid balancing services, offering the company a variety of revenue streams.
Carlisle City Council granted the permission to install Pivot Power's second 50MW battery facility at Harker electricity sub-station. The project is expected to cost up to £25m with the site expected to be operational by October 2019, providing capacity to store enough electricity to supply nearly 6,000 average homes for a day from a single charge.
"The plan will contribute to cleaning our nation's air and driving forward a cleaner greener economy - a need brought into sharp focus by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's landmark climate scenario report," said Mikey Clark, CTO of Pivot Power. "Working with the local authorities, our plans will see Carlisle become a pioneering city for low carbon vehicle adoption, ensuring that the rural areas it serves are not left lagging in the EV revolution."
As the links between EV tax policy, industrial policy, and infrastructure policy become ever clearer, Dyson's decision to locate manufacturing in Singapore provides a handy reminder that if the UK really wants to lead the world as a zero emission transport hub it needs to bring all the pieces of the puzzle together - and fast.
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