UK electric car sales tripled in October

by SpeedLux
a busy london street

Like many other sectors, automotive sales in the UK were affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Due to widespread work from home policies, economic uncertainty, showrooms closing their doors, and social distancing guidelines, car sales dropped at an all-time low in April, when only a little over 4,300 vehicles were sold. But once restrictions were lifted, the industry slowly started to rebound, and October brought some exciting news for the EV sector: plug-in electric sales nearly tripled in the UK in October, and one in eight cars sold last month was an electric vehicle. In total, more than 17,100 electric vehicles were registered in Britain last month, and around 9,300 of these were battery powered. These numbers are especially encouraging because they show that the public’s trust in the EV sector is increasing. What’s more, this sector is growing despite the fact that the automotive market as a whole shrank by 1.6%. 

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT), the UK’s automotive sector is expected to have its worst year since the recession, but, even so, the battery-powered electric vehicle market is set to double. Compared to the same time last year, EV sales were 172% higher and now make up for 9.1% of the market. 

So does this mean that Britain is finally ready to make EVs mainstream and get closer to reaching its zero traffic emissions goal? Not necessarily. The UK has still to overcome several challenges before that happens and, at the cusp of a new lockdown, the future is still uncertain. 

Can infrastructure alone boost the number of electric vehicles on British roads? 

Poor infrastructure is one of the biggest impediments stopping British drivers from purchasing electric vehicles. Even if they are eco-responsible and aware of the cost-saving benefits of electric cars, charging stations aren’t nearly as widespread as they should. If drivers in cities can find a spot to charge their car, stations lack almost completely in the countryside, making road trips and long commutes highly impractical. 

According to a recent study, this was the state of EV charging points in October 2020

  • 12,400 charging locations across the UK 
  • 19,700 charging devices
  • 34,400 connectors

It’s definitely an improvement compared to 2011, when there were only several hundred EV charging points in Britain. Also, another piece of good news for drivers is that today, most charging points are fast (7-22kW), meaning that they can give a full charge in as little as 3-4 hours. What’s more, the number of rapid chargers is also growing; these 43kW+ chargers can power the battery up to 80% in as little as 30 minutes, depending on the car model. 

This increase was largely due to the Autonomous & Electric Vehicles Act 2018 (AEV Act), which introduced new regulations, such as: 

  • Gas and service stations were required to offer refuelling points on-premises 
  • Providers of refuelling points were required to make available prescribed information relating to such refuelling points: location, operating hours, cost of use, accepted methods of payment, and so on. 

But while EV infrastructure has definitely evolved in the past years, it’s only a small part of the picture. In order to reach mainstream adoption, the UK’s electric vehicle market also needs to overcome other challenges. 

Initial acquisition costs and financing options 

Although the costs of an electric vehicle are much less prohibitive than they were ten years ago, most British drivers still find traditional petrol engines more affordable. Car leasing offers are currently the most practical solution for people who want to replace their existing vehicle with an electric model but still, when bought outright, EVs are still seen as too expensive. According to a recent poll, more than half of UK drivers are concerned about the upfront retail price for electric cars. So, even if electric cars save money in the long run, they need to be as affordable to buy upfront and maintain as petrol and diesel cars. There’s also a huge disconnect between the people who want to buy electric cars and who can actually afford them. Young people are the most excited about electric cars, but most people aged 18-24 don’t have the budget to buy one in the next 12 months. Meanwhile, drivers aged over 55 have the budget, but they don’t trust the technology. 

Limited range of electric vehicles 

More and more automotive companies are releasing electric vehicles these days, and the market is growing in diversity. Nevertheless, the range is still limited and doesn’t satisfy all types of drivers. 65% of British drivers believe that they don’t have enough choice, compared to 61% in 2019. For example, the market is made up mostly of luxury cars, and the most popular ones, Tesla Model 3 and BMW i3, are too expensive for the average British driver. Additionally, 52% of respondents said that electric cars look too futuristic and high-tech for them and they would like them to look the same as the models they’re used to. But this could change in the future, as electric versions of popular “normal” cars become widely available (Volkswagen Golf, Vauxhall Corsa, etc.) 

Consumer awareness

In the past year, public awareness of the benefits of electric vehicles has increased significantly among UK drivers. According to a recent study, 21% of people in the UK know more than a little about electric cars, compared to just 18% in the UK. Still, 10% of Brits would like to know more about this alternative. The good news is that British consumers no longer perceive electric cars as experimental, so they have more trust in the technology behind them. However, most drivers rate EV technology as cutting-edge or innovative, not mainstream, so they’re more likely to perceive electric vehicles as expensive, not as something that’s financially achievable. 

According to Bloomberg NEF’s Electric Vehicle Outlook 2020, electric vehicles will account for 10% of global passenger vehicle sales by 2025, 28% by 2030, and 58% by 2040. Pricing-wise, electric and fossil fuel vehicles are expected to be equal within five years. 

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