Stepping Closer to Decarbonised Cars? Response to King Review Awaited

United Kingdom

In 2007 the UK Government commissioned Professor Julia King, Vice-Chancellor of Aston University and former Director of Advanced Engineering at Rolls-Royce plc, working with Lord Stern, to conduct a review to examine the vehicle and fuel technologies which over the next 25 years could help to decarbonise road transport, particularly cars (the “King Review”). An interim report was issued in October 2007. The final report was published in March 2008 and the Government’s response is expected in the next few weeks. The King Review is key reading for those in the automotive, technology and infrastructure sectors and others (say in the procurement, real estate and advertising sectors) with an interest in transport

In anticipation of the Government’s response, set out below is an overview of the King Review, identifying some of the main and more controversial recommendations.

“Part I: the potential for CO2 reduction” - Interim Report

The interim report concluded that in the long term an 80% reduction in UK road transport emissions is feasible but that the short-term focus should be on vehicle efficiency. Action would be required in 4 areas: (1) reducing vehicle emissions, (2) cleaner fuels, (3) consumer choices and (4) research and development. 

The key findings were:

  • almost complete de-carbonisation of road transport is a realistic long-term objective, through electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles. This will require major technological breakthroughs and substantial progress towards de-carbonising the power sector;
  • at low cost and by 2030, per kilometre emissions could be reduced by 50%. These significant reductions in CO2 from road transport are achievable in the short term through progress on bringing new technologies to market and smart consumer choices in addition to some contribution from biofuels; and

  • fuels must be considered on the basis of their life-cycle CO2 emissions.

“Part II: recommendations for action”

Published on 12 March 2008 ( the report makes 40 recommendations covering the 4 areas identified in the interim report.

Policy proposals highlight the requirement for:

  • appropriate near term targets for all road vehicle manufacturers to advance new technologies in a flexible and cost effective way; 
  • longer term regulation to assist in planning and investment for the development of cars able to emit 50% less CO2 per km by 2030; and
  • long term direction for regulation beyond tail pipe emissions to ensure future vehicle technologies are measured against life cycle emissions and their sustainability. 

Key priorities for policy intervention include an increased focus of UK public funding for R&D and influencing and collaborating with others to help achieve CO2 reductions globally.

The recommendations for the short and medium term are directed at:

  • bringing existing low emission vehicle technologies from the “shelf to the showroom" as quickly as possible;
  • ensuring that consumer demand creates a market for low emission vehicles;
  • moving the short-term focus of European policy away from biofuels to automotive technology; 
  • ensuring that further biofuel developments are sustainable, based on increased understanding of their indirect effects; and
  • ensuring that the automotive industry has the right requirements and signals to deliver step-change technologies in the medium term.

Amongst the recommendations there are proposals that the EU should implement regular target setting every 7-10 years; the Government should consider the inclusion of road transport in trading schemes such as the EU Emissions Trading Scheme; welcoming of measures by local authorities that incentivise consumers to choose lower emission vehicles (such as CO2 emissions parking charges); and the encouragement of low carbon linkage to future approaches to road charging.

The King Review recommended that the Department of Transport should establish an implementation plan supported by a cross department steering group. Further, as the recommendations are envisaged as forming part of the UK’s action to address climate change, it proposed that the Sustainable Development Commission, the independent watchdog on sustainable development, should be asked to report in 12 months time on the progress that the Government has made in implementing the recommendations. 

Government’s response

The Government has stated that it will publish a detailed response to the King Review this summer (anticipated in July 08). In the meantime it announced, in the 2008 Budget, certain measures to address particular findings of the King Review, including a £40 million research, development and demonstration programme for low carbon vehicles; outlining to the European Commission the principles on which it considers EU biofuel policy should be based and writing to the Indian Government seeking a collaborative programme for the development of a “low cost, low emission” car.

In addition the Government announced that it will take action including:

  • asking the EU to set a target to reduce the average new car CO2 emission to 100g per km by 2020; and
  • (via the Department of Transport), review the King Review recommendations on the introduction of colour coded tax discs relating to CO2 emissions; the bolstering of advertising regulation to provide clearer information on vehicles, including comparative advertising; redesigning and making compulsory new car fuel economy labels and considering whether dashboard technology can encourage smarter driving.
The comprehensive formal response to the King Review is awaited but if early activities are consistent with the approach to be adopted, policymakers may be starting the drive of their life.