All new and used zero-emission – mainly electric – vehicles sold in the UK are now eligible to wear green-badged numberplates to help distinguish them from petrol and diesel vehicles. 

The plates, intended to make it simpler to identify such vehicles and allow local authorities to easily introduce specific incentives, feature a green flash down the left-hand side in the same place as a European country marker. They are optional on newly registered cars, rather than mandatory. 

Research carried out by Nissan and Yougov claims that 32% of people surveyed would be more likely to buy an electric car because of the new plates, and the prospect of further incentives to be rolled out as a result. This could include specific zero-emission parking zones, exemption from road charges and even zero-emission lanes. 

However, the plates face criticism from some industry corners, with the RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes claiming there are “question marks as to whether drivers would see this as a badge of honour or alternatively it could foster resentment among existing drivers of petrol and diesel vehicles”. RAC’s own research claims only a fifth of drivers think the numberplates are a good idea. 

The move is part of the government’s plans to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Transport secretary Grant Shapps said when they were announced in the summer: “Green numberplates could unlock a number of incentives for drivers and increase awareness of cleaner vehicles on our roads, showing people that a greener transport future is within our grasp.”

At the time, the government also announced £12 million funding for research into the zero-emissions market to develop greener vehicles and help improve EV charging technology.

Within this funding, £10m will be used for a new Zero Emission Vehicle Innovation Competition. It will invite applicants to bid for project funding to support advancements in both battery EVs and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, as well as charging infrastructure.

Small and medium businesses will receive £2m to support research and development into zero-emissions vehicles in areas such as battery tech and charging infrastructure. The government said the funding will help businesses to drive local economic growth, which could in turn create more than 6000 skilled jobs. 

Shapps said: “A green recovery is key to helping us achieve our net-zero carbon commitments while also promoting economic growth.