Speech to the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association on autonomous emergency braking, intelligent mobility and air quality.
Thank you for inviting me to say a few words this afternoon.
It’s good to be here.
I am very grateful to the BVRLA for organising the discussions which have culminated in this evening’s reception.
There really is no substitute for getting the experts around a table and thrashing out some good ideas.
And I must say that I am impressed that such a broad range of organisations including BT, Barclays, Diageo, John Lewis, KPMG, and Royal Mail have reached agreement on so many fundamental issues.
Of course, my job is to look at all the different ideas and attempt to plot the best possible course.
That means it’s rarely possible to please everyone.
But such a clear set of recommendations certainly helps.
Autonomous emergency braking
First, I was interested to see your strong support for autonomous emergency braking.
I agree that this technology has great potential for increasing road safety.
The good news is that progress is already happening.
The European Union has made autonomous emergency braking mandatory for heavy vehicles such as lorries.
And I have been encouraged by what has happened in the US where, in September, 10 of the top car manufacturers voluntarily agreed to install the braking technology in all future car models sold in America.
It’s a classic example of technology moving quicker than the need for regulation.
The market, helped along by demands from buyers, and perhaps some gentle encouragement from government, is getting us to near-universal adoption of autonomous emergency braking technology far quicker than we could draft, propose, debate and pass new laws.
I am also grateful for your recommendation that the government adopts a requirement that its own vehicles should have a 5-star rating from the European New Car Assessment Programme.
We are currently looking at this very question - of how to best include NCAP ratings into the official government buying standards and your recommendation is a very welcome contribution to that process.
Turning to your recommendations about intelligent mobility, I agree that a common set of standards would be a huge help in the development of this new technology.
Not just for the industry and for consumers.
But also to give Britain the best chance of leading the field in new designs.
So we have asked the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles – funded by the government to work with the British Standards Institute, the Intellectual Property Office and the Government Office for Science.
To map the existing standards landscape and identify what more should be done.
Finally, I am really glad you picked up on the issue of air quality.
Poor air quality results in thousands of early deaths each year across the UK, and the main source of air pollution is road transport.
So there can hardly be a more important issue for the government or for industry.
I am pleased you have called for the continuation of the plug-in vehicle grants.
They have been a real success in moving the industry forwards.
But we need to do more, so we will shortly be publishing a new National Air Quality Plan.
It will show how the UK will meet European air quality standards in as short a time as possible.
Many of the points you have made will need to be taken account of in that plan.
But in the meantime, I agree that the government has an opportunity to lead the way in many of its purchasing decisions.
As you recognise in your recommendations, governments can make a difference not just through passing new laws or imposing new taxes, but by setting an example and raising awareness - whether of air quality or new car technology.
And as we look at how far the vehicle manufacturing industry has come in the last few decades, we must also recognise that pioneering fleet managers in the private sector have been great agents of change.
That you have got together with the BVRLA and made these recommendations shows that the spirit of enterprise and innovation is still strong.
So we will continue to reflect on your recommendations.
In some cases, we are already taking action, and I will be pleased to circulate your recommendations among my colleagues in government.