Government targets for adoption of ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) in the UK have been branded "unrealistic" by industry bodies including the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) and Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

Interim targets set by the Department for Transport (DfT) suggest at least half of all new cars sold, as well as 40% of the new van market, must produce CO2 emissions less than 50g/km by 2030.

Notably, meeting the 50% threshold (from the current market share of 2.2%) would necessitate a 23-fold increase in ULEV uptake. The increase in uptake for vans would need to be even higher, with only 0.3% of new vans sold currently classed as ULEVs.

The Government's Road to Zero strategy aims to phase out the sale of all petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040, with "almost every car and van" to be zero emissions capable by 2050. Currently, zero emission vehicles sit with 0.6% market share.

Progress towards the interim target of 50% for ULEV cars and 40% for ULEV vans (classed as sub 50g/km of CO2) will be reviewed in 2025. The Government will then consider further "interventions" only if targets are not on track.

The BVRLA has promised to play a role in helping the Government to meet its targets, aiming for its members to increase their annual plug-in vehicles purchases from 17,000 today to 300,000 in 2025. According to BVRLA chief executive Gerry Keaney, however, this effort will not be sufficient.

“Our numbers are significant and our members are committed,” said Keaney. “But the Government has an active role to play to facilitate an aggressive uptake.”

“Road to Zero is a great first step, but it’s not sufficient. The Government needs to do more and we urge them to engage with us,” Keaney said.

Keaney proposed a series of suggestions including: bringing forward the 2% benefit-in-kind (BIK) for EVs from 2020 to 2019, a commitment to five-year BIK rates and electric vehicle (EV) incentives, and further investment in EV infrastructure.

Ashley Barnett, head of consultancy at Lex Autolease, also expressed concerns about the scale of the challenge facing the Government.

“We’d need to see an additional 100,000 new AFV (alternative fuel vehicle) registrations each year between now and 2030 to reach the 50% target,” he said. “The transition to ultra-low and zero emission transport is technically possible, but in reality, there is currently limited product availability, confusion around the current tax regime, and not enough in-life benefits to make ULEVs an attractive option.”

The Government's interim targets are also ambitious compared to the target recommended by the European Commission (30% ULEVs by 2030), according to the SMMT.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “These new technologies, and the lengthy investment required to deliver them, cannot be fast-tracked.

“We need realistic ambition levels and measures that support industry’s efforts, allow manufacturers time to invest, innovate and sell competitively, and provide the right incentives and infrastructure to take the consumer with us.”

On the subject of van targets, Nigel Base – commercial vehicle development manager at the SMMT – said: “Achieving 40% market share would require a nearly 144-fold increase in uptake from the current position.

“Vans are business tools and drivers are typically more sensitive to purchase price and return on investment than car buyers, while current electric van technology, which involves large batteries, can mean reduced carrying capacity.”

In its Road to Zero strategy, the Government acknowledges that incentives in some form will continue to play a role in driving increased ULEV uptake beyond 2020. Grants for plug-in cars, vans, taxis and motorcycles will also be continued – at current rates – until at least October 2018.

The Government is attempting to lead by example, pledging to ensure 25% of the Governmental car fleet will be comprised of ULEVs by 2022, reaching 100% by 3030.

The Road to Zero strategy sets out to “renew action to encourage the widespread adoption of fuel-efficient motoring by fleets, company car owners and private motorists”, including a raft of initiatives to boost EV charging infrastructure.