UK budget gives green light to let autonomous cars on roads by 2021

22 Nov 2017

Image: Patryk Kosmider/Shutterstock

The UK government is promising to speed up the rate of autonomous car testing on British roads, while offering incentives for electric vehicles.

With Brexit discussions in full swing, much attention was focused on today’s (22 November) budget announcement by the UK government and how it plans to address the radically different financial ins and outs that come with leaving the EU.

From a sci-tech perspective, Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced a raft of changes that aim to speed up the development of clean, autonomous transport technology.

In the statement, Hammond said that the combined technologies of autonomous and electric vehicles (EVs) will receive a £650m boost. This includes an additional £100m being spent on grants to encourage more people to buy plug-in hybrid vehicles, and a further £400m going towards developing a larger public charging infrastructure.

For those charging EVs at work, the government has said that owners will not be liable for taxes, thereby incentivising their use.

For firms testing autonomous vehicles, the government promised that by 2021 they should have free access to test their vehicles on public roads in the UK, and that £150m will be put towards both autonomous vehicle research and training programmes for those working in industries such as trucking.

Diesel cars take a hit

The same cannot be said of diesel drivers. Plans are to increase their company car tax by 1pc and, from 2018, most diesel vehicles will move up by one tax band, thereby increasing the annual cost of running these vehicles. It is expected that only cars with the latest engines – such as the Euro6 diesel engine – will avoid such charges.

Already, reports have come in that the price of diesel cars have plummeted in advance of the announcement with What Car? finding that they are now, on average, more than 25pc cheaper than petrol cars.

Speaking of the government’s plans, Hammond said: “For the first time in decades, Britain is genuinely at the forefront of a technological revolution.

“Our future vehicles will be driverless but they will first be electric – that’s a change that needs to come as soon as possible.”

Reaction to the government’s budget has been mixed with claims that much more is needed to be invested, particularly into public charging.

Adam Spriggs, R&D tax senior manager with business consultancy firm Ayming, said: “£40m for research into charging is a drop in the ocean.

“It won’t take us anywhere close to developing our electric vehicle economy and if we want those businesses to remain in the UK we have to increase that amount significantly.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic