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UK buyers plugging into electric cars

Wed, 07 May 2014

New figures suggest UK motorists are charged up about electric vehicles (EVs), with a record number of zero-emission cars now on Britain’s roads.

Figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) suggest there are more than 10,000 electric cars on the road today, with as many as 1,200 EVs sold in March alone.

In the midst of an EV revolution

Compare that to the lowly 270 that were sold during the same month in 2013 and it becomes hard to argue that we’re not in the midst of an EV revolution, especially when you combine the figures with the 10,200 hybrid cars sold so far in 2014, up by 45% on last year.

Much of the growth will be down to the greater level of choice offered to the consumer in 2014. The likes of the Renault Zoe have made the purchase of an electric vehicle more realistic for more buyers.

And the innovative BMW i3 has brought a new set of customers into the electric vehicle arena, many of whom may not have been interested this time last year.


Record number of electric car plug-in grants

The Department for Transport argues that the surge in popularity is set to continue, with a spokesperson saying:

“The uptake is gathering pace. The last quarter saw a record number of plug-in grants - double the previous quarter, which was itself a record. More than six times as many grants were issued this January as in January 2013.”

Global sales of electric vehicles have doubled in each of the past two years

Only last week, the deputy prime minster, Nick Clegg, announced that the government-funded Plug-in Car Grant would continue until 2017. Under the scheme, buyers of electric and hybrid vehicles can save 25% (up to £5,000) off the cost of their vehicles.

At the same time, Nick Clegg announced a £500 million scheme to boost electric and hybrid car ownership in the UK, including plans to allow electric vehicles to use bus lanes and to park for free in council car parks.

A section of funding will also go towards having a series of rapid-charge points on every main road in the UK by 2020, allowing electric cars to be charged within 20 minutes. We also understand that the Highways Agency is to begin the testing of a wireless charging system on an as-yet-unnamed UK motorway.

So as far as the electric vehicle industry is concerned, there are many reasons to be cheerful. However, a number of counter arguments pour cold water over the buzz of excitement.


Electric cars still account for less than 1% of overall sales

In a report published by the International Council on Clean Transportation, analysts are suggesting that fiscal incentives are failing to capture the imagination of car buyers and many people remain put off by the lack of infrastructure and the fear of the unknown.

The white paper - entitled Driving Electrification - points to the fact that, in the majority of markets, electric cars account for less than 1% of overall sales. Only Norway and the Netherlands buck the trend, but that’s largely down to the abnormally high incentives.

In Norway, up to 55% of an electric vehicle purchase price is offered to buyers, with the Netherlands going even further by offering 75% off the price of a new plug-in hybrid. This led to a European shortage of the Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid, with Dutch buyers rushing to take advantage the scheme.

Global sales of electric vehicles have doubled in each of the past two years, from about 45,000 in 2011 to more than 200,000 in 2013. So there’s little doubt that the trend is set for continued growth.

And with such an electric mix of zero- and low-emission vehicles coming on stream - from the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV to the BMW i8 - it’s hard to see a downturn in fortunes any time soon.

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By Gavin Braithwaite-Smith, Motoring Research