While supporters of the ban say it will create thousands of new jobs in green technology, the motor industry has warned that it will take a 'Herculean' effort to avoid jobs being lost.
Plans are already in place to turn over the Jaguar Land Rover engine plant near Wolverhampton to the production of electric motors. The latest announcement will also pose questions about the future of the BMW Hams Hall engine plant at Birmingham, which employs 1,200 people in the manufacture of car engines for export around the world.
The West Midlands, south Wales and the north-east of England are among the regions vying to host the UK’s first "gigafactory" making electric car batteries, while Jaguar Land Rover has built its own battery plant close to the BMW works at Hams Hall.
Yesterday's announcement by the Prime Minister, as part of a 10-point plan to cut carbon emissions, has been welcomed by environmental groups. It follows a new report by Cambridge Econometrics which urged the Government to bring forward the ban, previously scheduled to come in during 2040, claiming it will create more than 30,000 new jobs and provide a £4.2billion boost to the economy.
However, Mike Hawes, chief executive at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, questioned these figures.
He said that with more than 864,000 automotive livelihoods depending on drivers investing in the latest, cleanest vehicles, the best way to support job creation and emission reduction was by encouraging companies to update their fleets.
"More than one in six car models on sale now is zero emission capable, with many more to come," said Mr Hawes.
"But to fully electrify the market – and safeguard our critical manufacturing base with all the jobs that involves – we will need more than an arbitrary date.
"It will require a Herculean effort from government, including a truly world-beating package of incentives, massive investment in infrastructure and the creation of competitive investment conditions to generate rather than jeopardise jobs in this critical sector."
The exception to the ban will be the sale of some hybrid vehicles, which combine petrol and electric power, which the Government will allow until 2035.
The plan aims to help the Government reach its target of cutting net carbon emissions to zero by 2050.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined new investment of £1.3 billion to increase the number of charging points for electric vehicles in homes, streets and on motorways.
It will also offer £582 million in grants for those buying zero or ultra-low emission vehicles to help reduce the costs.
Nearly £500 million will be spent in the next four years for the development and mass-scale production of electric vehicle batteries, helping to boost manufacturing bases including in the Midlands and North East, he said.
The Government will also launch a consultation on the phase out of new diesel HGVs to clean up freight transport, though no date has been set.
Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant questioned whether electric cars would really provide the solution, suggesting that their limited range between charges would be an obstacle to them entirely replacing petrol and diesel vehicles.
He said he believed the long-term future would be in producing hydrogen-powered cars.
Elsewhere in the 10-point plan, there are moves to have the UK’s first town entirely heated by hydrogen by the end of the decade, a renewed push on nuclear power and support for restoring nature and for walking and cycling.
Mr Johnson, who has already highlighted plans to power every home in the country by offshore wind within 10 years as part of his vision, said the moves would support up to 250,000 jobs.
The Government also said new investment formed part of £12 billion mobilised for the plan, though Labour said only £4 billion of the funding was new and called for a much bigger investment in a green recovery.
The UK has legal a target to cut greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050, requiring huge cuts to emissions and any remaining pollution from hard-to-treat sectors such as aviation “offset” by measures such as planting trees.
There is also pressure on the UK to set out ambitious action to tackle the climate crisis as hosts of the United Nations Cop26 summit which was delayed by the pandemic and is now taking place in Glasgow in November 2021.
The widely trailed move to bring forward the phase out of petrol and diesel cars comes in the wake of guidance from the Government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change which said it should be implemented by 2032 at the latest.
Mr Johnson said: “Although this year has taken a very different path to the one we expected, I haven’t lost sight of our ambitious plans to level up across the country.
“My 10-point plan will create, support and protect hundreds of thousands of green jobs, whilst making strides towards net zero by 2050.
“Our green industrial revolution will be powered by the wind turbines of Scotland and the North East, propelled by the electric vehicles made in the Midlands and advanced by the latest technologies developed in Wales, so we can look ahead to a more prosperous, greener future.”
But shadow business secretary Ed Miliband warned the funding did not “remotely meet the scale of what was needed to tackle the unemployment emergency and climate emergency we are facing”.
He said only a fraction of the funding for the plan was new, adding: “We don’t need rebadged funding pots and reheated pledges, but an ambitious plan that meets the scale of the task we are facing and, crucially, creates jobs now.
“That’s why Labour called for the Government to bring forward £30 billion of capital investment over the next 18 months and invest it in low-carbon sectors now as part of a rapid stimulus package to support 400,000 additional jobs."
Last year Jaguar Land Rover revealed there had been talks of possible collaboration with BMW, which would see the companies work together to develop components they could each manufacture in their own works.
The company also discontinued production of its long-running flagship XJ range last year, announcing that its replacement would be an electric car.