The U.K. Wants to Lead World in Driverless and Electric Vehicles

The U.K. government plans to invest more than 800 million pounds ($1 billion) in new driverless and zero-emission vehicle technology as it seeks to boost its economy while leaving the European Union.

Investment in research and new recharging infrastructure is intended to make Britain a “leader” in electric and autonomous vehicles, Queen Elizabeth II said in a speech marking the state opening of Parliament in London on Wednesday. The technology may be worth 28 billion pounds to the economy by 2035, the government estimates.

In order to deliver on that goal, the government will:

Extend mandatory vehicle insurance to cover the use of automated vehicles
Set a target for almost every car and van to be zero emission by 2050
Allow government to require motorway service areas and large gasoline stations to install electric vehicle recharging points
Require a set of common standards for charging points so they can be used widely across all vehicles
Invest 200 million pounds in researching and testing driverless car infrastructure and 600 million pounds during the course of this Parliament in supporting the ultra-low emission vehicles, sums which had been previously announced

The measures were welcomed by businesses, which had been concerned that Prime Minister Theresa May’s focus on withdrawing Britain from the European Union would push issues like air pollution down the agenda.

“It is encouraging to see the government’s desire to make the U.K. a leader in new industries and enhance its role on the world stage,” said Nick Molho, executive director of the Aldersgate Group, an alliance of business leaders, politicians and non-profit groups that’s pressing the Treasury on environmental policies.

As well as offering a new source of revenue, EVs could help reduce smog, which is linked to about 40,000 early deaths each year, and is draining 20 billion pounds a year from the economy, according to the Royal College of Physicians.

The government is working to publish a final plan setting out how it will tackle the issue next month. It has lost two court battles with ClientEarth, an environmental pressure group that sued claiming the current action was not good enough to meet legal requirements.

Although electric cars are still only about 1 percent of all U.K. vehicle sales, the country was one of only a handful worldwide to have more than 100,000 plug-in automobiles on the road, according to Colin McKerracher, analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“The announcements today on charging infrastructure in particular should help pave the way for broader EV adoption in the 2020s,” McKerracher said. “Much of the pressure for EVs across Europe comes from EU fleet-wide vehicle CO2 targets and it remains unclear what comparable standards the U.K. will enact or adopt post-Brexit.”

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