UK needs to commit more to BEV infrastructure to meet 2035 target

Phil Curry | 09 Sep 2020

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Phil Curry

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Phil Curry, Autovista24 Editor, is a seasoned automotive journalist, always keen to seek out and explain the latest industry developments

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As the UK looks to ban the sale of petrol, diesel and some hybrid powertrains by 2035, a new survey has highlighted the key issues consumers identify as putting them off purchasing battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). This is leading to calls for incentives and targets from the government to ensure the switch can be made seamlessly.

The survey, conducted by Savanta Comres on behalf of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) suggests almost half of UK motorists don’t feel ready to buy a BEV. This, the body says, means the government should commit to ‘significant long-term incentives for purchases and binding charges on charging infrastructure.’

Electric vehicles (EVs), including BEVs and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), are rapidly growing in popularity, with demand more than doubling over the last year thanks to massive industry investment worth some £54 billion (€59.4 billion) in 2019 alone. Over the last 12 months, the number of PHEV and BEV models available to buy in the UK has leapt from 62 to 83, with more scheduled for launch in the coming months.

There is interest from consumers in EV technology, with drivers attracted to lower running costs (41%), while interest in improving the environment only accounts for 29% of responses. However, while these cars now accounting for one in six models on sale (17%), they make up just one in 13 purchases (8%).

Issues found

The survey found the biggest factors holding buyers back are higher purchase prices (52%), lack of local charging points (44%) and fear of being caught short on longer journeys (38%). Encouragingly, a third (37%) are optimistic about buying a BEV by 2025, 44% don’t think they will be ready by 2035, with 24% saying that they cannot ever see themselves owning one.

However, the SMMT believes that the main barriers, those of cost and charging infrastructure, can be overcome with the right strategy. It is calling for a long-term commitment to incentives, including the continuation of the Plug-In Grant, which sees £3,000 taken off the price of a BEV, and the reintroduction of the grant for PHEVs, a technology which acts as a bridge for those who want a low-emission vehicle but still want the reassurance of an internal combustion engine (ICE). This grant was cancelled in 2019.

‘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 – vital given the high cost of producing this advanced new technology,’ the SMMT stated. ‘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% market share by 2025 compared with 8% today.’

Increased charge

Extensive analysis by the SMMT, alongside Frost and Sullivan also shows that a full, zero emission-capable UK new car market will 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 available in the UK at present, the task is massive, needing 507 on-street chargers to be installed per day until 2035, at a cost of £16.7 billion.

‘Carmakers are leading the charge to zero-emission motoring, with massive investment in new models fuelling huge consumer interest but they can’t transform the market alone,’ commented SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes. ‘To give consumers the 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 the government to accelerate the shift to net zero – but obstacles remain. 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 UK government has already taken steps to support the emerging EV market. Purchase grants worth more than £1.7 billion have been paid out or budgets earmarked from 2011 to 2023, alongside £500 million committed to the Project Rapid motorway charging

Editor comment

Autovista Group Daily Brief editor Phil Curry recently spent two weeks testing an MG ZS EV to experience the differences of living with a BEV in the UK.

Switching from ICE to a BEV is a big step, and currently requires a lot of planning, not just from a financial aspect, but also logistically. Consumers will need to look at the range of a vehicle and work out how often they will need to charge it. This is easier for those who use their car purely for local journeys, but those covering long distances will need to factor in charging times and charge point availability.

Having lived with a BEV for two weeks, while the technology was good, the MG ZS EV having a range of 160 miles was enough for everyday use but needed planning for longer trips. With no access to a charging point at home and no opportunity to plug in to a domestic socket, I relied on local infrastructure. However, in my local area, there is only one rapid charger, and five slower units, two of which are not currently operational.

On a longer journey, I relied on the current UK motorway charging network. However, having driven as far as I dare, I came across a service station with faulty charge points. The only option was to travel into a nearby town and use the only charge point available, a slow 7Kw unit, that took almost three hours to provide enough charge to get me most of the way home, missing my appointment.

Therefore, I can appreciate the SMMT’s calls for charge point targets. The UK’s infrastructure is only going to improve, but the number of charging points, especially on-street locations, needs to increase quickly if the government is to make it easy to switch in time for the 2035 target. With the country’s housing mix including a large number of flats, and homes without off-street parking, there will be a lot of reliance on a public network. As seen in the SMMT survey, consumers do not have confidence in what is available at present.

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