By Paul Minto, Partner in Addleshaw Goddard’s Energy and Utilities team

AS we speed towards the adoption of electric vehicles, I can’t help but think of Karl Benz and Henry Ford, and wonder if they imagined the impact their innovations would have on the world and how undeniably critical automobiles would become to commerce across the globe.

Such is our reliance on cars that we’ve been forced to reconsider their very makeup over the years. From the introduction of the world’s first high-speed diesel car by Peugeot in 1967, to the first-ever highway legal all-electric car by Tesla in 2008, it’s been a long road, but one of innovation, efficiency and more recently, environment front-of-mind.

Fast forward to today, and there are more than 166,000 electric cars registered in the UK, with National Grid predicting as many as 36 million by 2050. It’s said Scotland’s leading the way in the uptake of electric vehicles, with six Scottish regions listed in the UK top 20 for electric and hybrid sales, with Argyll and Bute ranking second overall.

The appetite for electric cars is clearly increasing, but how far are we from their widespread use? It’s certainly a key target of the Scottish Government, which has pledged to phase out new petrol and diesel cars by 2032 – eight years ahead of its UK counterpart. The UK Government’s 2040 ambition has been criticised, with commentators arguing it should be brought forward by at least 10 years, including the National Infrastructure Commission, which believes all new cars sold in the UK should be electric by 2030. Instead, the Road to Zero Strategy aims for at least 50 per cent of new car sales to be ultra-low emission by 2030, disappointing many. Norway, for example, has promised to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles by 2025 – the same year the UK Government plans its first “progress check”.

So, what are the latest developments?

In its 2018/2019 Programme for Government, the Scottish Government announced it would more than double the Low Carbon Transport Loan Fund to £20 million, enabling more people to switch to electric.

It’s been said the introduction of Scotland’s first Low Emission Zone in Glasgow and Clean Air Zones across major cities in England will act as a catalyst to force behavioural change towards zero-carbon vehicles, particularly as drivers will be charged a daily fee – upwards of £12 a day – to enter a Clean Air Zone if their car fails to meet emissions standards.

Theresa May’s speech at the Zero Emission Summit also reemphasised the Government’s commitment to invest in the infrastructure required to speed up the adoption of green vehicles, pointing to a planned £1.5 billion investment into ultra-low-emission vehicles by 2020.

However, both UK and Scottish Governments recognise that no matter what incentives are in place to encourage ownership of an electric vehicle, “range anxiety” is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. But they’ve responded, with the Scottish Government revealing a planned roll-out of 1,500 new charge points in homes, business and communities. UK-wide, a new £400 million Charging Infrastructure Investment fund has also been introduced.

Looking ahead, the direction of travel is clear: electric vehicles are the future, but the pace at which we’ll reach their widespread use is still undefined. With any new development comes uncertainty, but we must face the fact that sooner rather than later, we’ll be driving an electric car.

Collaboration between Government and industry is crucial if the UK is to be home to the much-promised, world-leading electric vehicle infrastructure network. As Henry Ford himself once said: “if everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”