UK EV purchases 'held back' by high prices, lack of charging network

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has called on the government to commit to significant long-term incentives for electric vehicle (EV) purchase and binding targets on charging infrastructure.

The move follows a new survey which suggested that almost half of UK motorists don’t feel ready to make the switch to electric by 2035.

EVs are growing in popularity, with demand more than doubling over the last year thanks to industry investment worth around £54 billion in 2019 alone. Over the last 12 months, the number of plug-in hybrid and full electric models has risen from 62 to 83, with more scheduled for launch in the coming months.

The SMMT survey by Savanta ComRes confirmed the interest in this technology, with drivers most attracted to the lower running costs (41 per cent) and chance to improve the environment (29 per cent).

However, while these cars now account for one in six models on sale (17 per cent), they make up just one in 13 purchases (eight per cent).

The survey found that the biggest factors holding buyers back were higher purchase prices (52 per cent), a lack of local charging points (44 per cent) and fear of being caught short on longer journeys (38 per cent).

While over a third (37 per cent) were optimistic about buying a full EV by 2025, 44 per cent said they would not be ready by 2035, with 24 per cent saying that they can’t ever see themselves owning one.

The SMMT is therefore calling for a long-term commitment to incentives, including the continuation of the Plug-in Grant and its re-introduction for plug-in hybrids – a technology critical to the transition, giving higher mileage drivers reassuring flexibility and delivering environmental benefits now.

It argued that this commitment, alongside VAT exemptions for all zero emission capable cars, would reduce the upfront price of a family car by an average £5,500 for battery electric cars and £4,750 for plug-in hybrids, and for an SUV by £9,750 and £8,000 respectively. This would bring them more in line with petrol and diesel equivalents and potentially drive some 2.4 million sales over the next five years, with an estimated 28 per cent market share by 2025, compared with eight per cent today.

Analysis by SMMT and Frost and Sullivan also showed that a full, zero emission-capable UK new car market would require 1.7 million public charge points by the end of the decade, and 2.8 million by 2035. Given there are only some 19,314 on-street charge points today, SMMT accepted that "the task is massive", needing 507 on-street chargers to be installed per day until 2035, at a cost of £16.7 billion.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: "To give consumers confidence to take the leap into these technologies, we need government and other sectors to step up and match manufacturers’ commitment by investing in the incentives and infrastructure needed to power our electric future.

"Manufacturers are working hard to make zero and ultra-low emissions the norm and are committed to working with government to accelerate the shift to net zero – but obstacles remain," he continued, adding: "Until these vehicles are as affordable to buy and as easy to own and operate as conventional cars, we risk the UK being in the slow lane, undermining industry investment and holding back progress."

The government has already taken steps to support this emerging market, with purchase grants worth more than £1.7 billion having been paid out, or budgets earmarked from 2011 to 2023, alongside £500 million committed to the Project Rapid motorway charging network and a £200 million investment fund for public charging network expansion.

However, the SMMT stated that this is a fraction of what is needed to meet its ambitious targets. It called for a national, multi-sector strategy led by government - but with binding infrastructure targets, delivered by local authorities, charging providers and energy companies.

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