The government's promised consultation on pulling forward the UK's planned date for ending the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans could include proposals to complete the phase out by 2032 - three years earlier than was suggested last week.
Speaking to BBC Radio, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today suggested that the ban would come into effect in 2035, "or even 2032"
The comments come after Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week announced that as part of the UK's net zero strategy the government would consult on pulling forward the current 2040 target date for ending the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles.
The propsect of an earlier target date is likely to be welcomed by environmental campaigners who have argued a 2030 date would lower the costs of transitioning to electric vehicles by encouraging manufacturers to step up investment in new models and production capacity. Norway is among a handful of countries to opt for a pre-2030 phase out date while a growing number of analysts are confident improved ranges and falling costs for EVs mean consumers will be ready to switch to electric models well before 2040.
However, auto industry groups voiced concern over the proposals, arguing the government was "moving the goalposts" and is yet to put in place the incentives and charging infrastructure required to deliver an earlier shift to EVs at scale.
Shapps and Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom are reportedly set to meet auto trade body SMMT on Thursday, with the lobby group expected to argue the industry will need more support if the targets are to be met. The industry is also seeking clarity on how the proposed ban would be enforced and the extent to which plug-in hybrids are covered by the proposed rules.
A Department for Transport spokesperson confirmed the government was open to an earlier phase out date. "We are consulting on a range of possible dates to bring forward the end to the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans," they said. "The consultation proposal for this is 2035 - or earlier if a faster transition appears feasible - as well as including hybrids for the first time."
The news comes as Number 10 found itself at the centre of a row over cycling funding, following yesterday's announcement of plans to fund 250 miles of new segregated cycle routes.
Johnson yesterday announced a new £5bn package of green bus and cycling spending that appeared designed to quash some of the criticism of his decision to green light the controversial HS2 link.
But political opponents were quick to question the level of funding for new cycle routes, arguing it was a fraction of what is required to deliver on the government's stated goals to increase cycling participation.
The criticism was compounded when Johnson was challenged about the precise level of funding in the Commons and declared that "in the first stage £350m" of the £5bn package would go towards safer cycling schemes.
However, the Guardian reported today that Downing Street sources have acknowledged Johnson got the figures wrong and the Treasury has assigned £1bn of funding to new cycling schemes.
"It was a car crash of an announcement," one source told the paper. "We are pretty sure Boris made a mistake when answering that question and in fact it's about £1bn for cycling now."
However, cycling campaigners were quick to note that £1bn, while a welcome addition to current funding, would not even enable Greater Manchester's plans for an 1,800 mile network of safe cycle paths.