LONDON • Britain will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040 in an attempt to reduce air pollution that could herald the end of over a century of popular use of the fossil fuel-guzzling internal combustion engine.
Britain's step, which follows France, amounts to a victory for electric cars that could eventually transform the wealth of major oil producers, car industry employment and one of the icons of 20th- century capitalism: the automobile itself.
The mayors of Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have said they plan to ban diesel vehicles from city centres by 2025, while the French government also aims to end the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040.
The British government has been under pressure to take steps to reduce air pollution after losing legal cases brought by campaign groups. In May, the government set out proposals for a scrappage scheme to get rid of the most polluting vehicles.
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"Today we are confirming that that means there should be no new diesel or petrol vehicles by 2040," Environment Minister Michael Gove told BBC Radio yesterday.
There is a mountain to climb, however.
Electric cars currently account for less than 5 per cent of new car registrations in Britain, with drivers concerned about the cost and limited availability of charging points and manufacturers worried about making expensive investments before the demand is there.
"We could undermine the UK's successful automotive sector if we don't allow enough time for the industry to adjust," warned Mr Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
Some carmakers have embraced a future where electric vehicles, or perhaps even driverless vehicles, ultimately win the race.
Earlier this month, Swedish carmaker Volvo became the first major traditional carmaker to set a date for phasing out vehicles powered solely by the internal combustion engine by saying all its car models launched after 2019 would be electric or hybrids.
Renault-Nissan in 2009 announced plans to spend €4 billion (S$6.3 billion) on electric car development.
Japan's Toyota, which pioneered petrol-electric hybrids but had long resisted battery-only cars, changed tack last year and has since unveiled plans for a new range of pure-electric models.