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Sir Richard Branson

VIRGIN founder and now the financier behind a Formula E racing team, Sir Richard Branson, has been subjected to a hailstorm of criticism for suggesting that the UK government should target 2025 as the end of fossil-fuelled vehicles.

“I honestly think that we’ve got to bring everything forward because there are concerns that we could actually have sea levels rising by over 100 feet (30 metres) if we lose a big chunk of the Antarctic,” he said.

He had previously said the deadline of 2040 was too far away. New petrol and diesel vehicles are expected to be banned in the UK from 2040 under a government decree announced in July 2017.

Sir Richard said 2025 should be the deadline, in line with countries including Norway and the Netherlands.

But the Automobile Association (AA) said it was not possible, with AA president Edmund King saying in an interview with the BBC that the length of time it takes to charge an electric car, compared to filling one up with petrol “is a real challenge”.

“There is absolutely no way that we could have the infrastructure for 32 million cars being charged at the same time – so we’ll have to change the way we think about fuelling our cars.”

Momentum is clearly growing towards the widespread adoption of hybrids and electric vehicles, however, and many suggest that 2040’s target will be reached through natural, incremental growth in the EV sector.

The UK peak automotive body, the SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) last month reported that demand for alternative-fuel vehicles had grown by 36.1 per cent to 11,240 units during May in the UK, accounting for a record 5.8 per cent of the market.

Plug-in hybrid cars were the biggest driver of growth, with a 72.7 per cent rise bettering the 22.6 per cent growth in hybrids and 18.7 per cent rise of EVs.

Almost 50,000 new EVs were sold in the UK during 2017. The UK’s biggest charging equipment provider, Chargemaster, went on public record earlier this year by predicting that figure will rise to about 70,000 in 2018, with the number of EVs on UK roads reaching a million by the end of 2022, representing only three per cent of registered cars.

From 2022, the trend to EVs and hybrids is expected to accelerate, with around one in six vehicles expected to be powered purely by electricity by 2027.

Behind Sir Richard’s demand is his position as owner of DS Virgin Racing, which competes in the global Formula E series.

He said in an interview with the BBC’s Newsbeat program that the race series is driving the faster development of EV technology.

“Every month the technology is getting better and better,” Sir Richard said.

“The teams want to be the best out there, so they’re pushing for improvements in battery technology.”

By Neil Dowling