Can the UK become an EV nation?

By Ian Silvera

Tuesday 06th April

With the UK government deciding to reduce the grant for new electric vehicles (EVs) from £3,000 to £2,500, British cities planning to rollout all-EV bus fleets and the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow on the horizon, Pagefield looks at whether the UK can become one of the world’s first EV nations.

Anxiety and infrastructure

When it comes to EV infrastructure, the backbone of any wannabe EV nation, China is a world leader, accounting for 52% of the world’s EV slow chargers and 82% of all fast chargers as of 2019, according to the International Energy Agency.

By comparison, the UK is ahead of Germany and Norway in the slow charging stakes, but is well behind the likes of the United States (11%) and Holland (8%). It is a similar picture for fast chargers, with a 2% market share against the US’ 5% and Japan’s 3%. The good news, however, is that the number of EV charge points per 100km of road in the UK has jumped by an impressive 1,257% between 2011 and 2019 (from 42 to 570, according to data from The European Fuels Observatory).

These infrastructure efforts, through a mixture of public and private sector interventions, will be crucial to mass EV adoption. This is especially true when you consider range and charging anxiety – that drivers are worried about how far their vehicle can take them and how available and easy it is to refuel it with electricity. A 2019 poll conducted by YouGov, of more than 1,400 respondents, found that 81% of respondents voiced concerns around battery charge/range.

Those fears seem to be abating though, with a record 108,000 new electric cars being registered in the UK in 2020, up 185.9% on the prior year, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). This trend has been driven by the corporate sector, with businesses buying up EVs to future-proof their fleets. Split out, 34,324 electric cars were purchased by private individuals in 2020, while 73,881 were registered by companies.

Legislation and government intervention

The overriding concern, especially around the private take-up of EVs, is affordability (a Tesla Model 3 will set you back £42,500, significantly above the median household income in the UK of £29,900) and a lack of government interventions. It is yet to be seen what impact the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ decision to reduce the EV grant down to £2,500 will have on the market.

The Conservative government has, however, made a series of other notable announcements to catalyse the adoption of EVs. This includes a £120m scheme to help local transport authorities introduce zero-emission buses and a £54m funding regime to help create electric propulsion systems for heavy goods vehicles, develop and manufacture energy-saving technology from motorsport and develop and manufacture low-cost hydrogen fuel cell technology for buses. A hydrogen centre of excellence with Wrightbus in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, will also be created.

This all feeds into the government’s wider plans of banning all new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030, its Road to Zero transport strategy and the ambition to have net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

E-mobility and structural shifts

EVs are often associated with cars, but there is a whole universe of electric-powered vehicles out there. Considering that London’s underground, buses and other rail service usage could drop permanently by a fifth as commuters embrace home and hybrid working.

As a second order impact the demand for more flexible forms of EVs, most notably e-bikes and e-scooters (which have been trialled across the UK), could spike. With this in consideration, if the UK is truly going to become an EV nation, it needs to take a holistic and sometimes imaginative approach, especially as the after-effects of the pandemic are yet to be seen.








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