UK at risk of falling behind in electric vehicle race, car industry leader warns

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), told how EV sales have rocketed since 2019 but remain a fraction of cars on the road and growth is slowing.

This is because of high upfront costs, high energy prices, a lack of trust in the public charging network and Vehicle Excise duty.

Mr Hawes said: “Every major economy is investing billions into their own electric transition to cut down their environmental impact, increase their independence and resilience.

Global Britain can’t afford to get left behind. Car makers are delivering the products, with ever-greater choice. Now, everyone with a stake in the switch – government, chargepoint operators, energy companies – must also commit to make driving electric accessible and available to all.”

The SMMT’s expectations for the growth in demand of pure electric new cars was downgraded earlier this month.

It predicted the vehicles will make up 18.4 percent of new car registrations this year, down from 19.7 percent in a forecast issued in January.

Ian Plummer, commercial director at Auto Trader, said: “The downgraded EV forecast reflects what we’re seeing in the EV new car market where consumer demand is softening just at the time high levels of growth were projected. 

“The cost-of-living situation plus well-publicised energy bill price hikes are contributing to this but there are some specific EV barriers causing many consumers to continue to hold off making the switch.

“Upfront cost is the biggest issue for the majority of consumers with new EVs over, on average, a third more expensive than petrol or diesel equivalents.”

Mr Plummer said the second-hand electric market will be key to unlocking mass adoption, as a wider range of price points are available.

Nearly three in 10 used electric cars on Auto Trader’s platform are now under £20,000 but the key issue here is confidence in battery health.

Mr Plummer added: “Another key barrier is public charging; and although progress is being made it doesn’t feel fast enough for many consumers, and there’s still a gap between where we’re currently at and where we need to get to. 

“Some good news – we recently asked EV drivers what problems they’d experienced since going electric and less than a quarter (22 percent) reported issues with public charging, which points to this being more of a perception issue.”

The sale of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned in the UK from 2030.

In 2018 there were only 21 different EVs available to customers but there are 84 individual electric cars on the market today.

There are now more than 750,000 electric cars on UK roads, with just shy of 100,000 EVs registered alone in the first four months of 2023.

In March last year the Department for Transport (DfT) pledged to “ensure that every motorway service area has at least six rapid chargers by the end of 2023”.

But RAC research shows only 27 out of 119 motorway services in England currently meet that target.

A DfT spokesperson said: “While 97 percent of motorways service areas already have charging available, industry has plans to install many 100s more chargepoints in the coming months.

“We‘ve put more than £2 billion into accelerating the transition to electric vehicles, and our £950million Rapid Charging Fund will further boost charging to support long distance journeys, including at motorway services.”

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