Gov't must 'up its game' to support transition to electric cars

New survey shows most people not ready to make switch to electric vehicles by 2035

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The government must urgently take action to support the development and purchasing of electric vehicles, as a major new poll finds the British public remains largely unconvinced about switching to electric by 2035.

The survey, commissioned by the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the UK’s main auto industry body, found that nearly half – 44 per cent – of those polled said they would not be ready to switch to an electric vehicle in the next 15 years, while almost a quarter said they don’t see themselves ever owning an electric car.

Still despite the majority of motorists reporting they are not ready to switch to an electric vehicle anytime soon, a significant minority – 37 per cent – said they felt optimistic about buying a fully electric vehicle within the next five years.

Demand for electric vehicles has doubled over the last year, which the SMMT said was fueled by industry investment of £54bn in 2019 alone. In the year to July, sales of electric battery vehicles tripled to 39,000. Still, there is evidence showing that demand for electric vehicles could be cooling off, with separate data from Auto Trader showing the average asking price for an electric vehicle fell by more than 5 per cent in the year to August.

Consumers interested in electric vehicles said they are drawn to switching because of the low running costs, which 41 per cent cited as a reason for switching, and the chance to improve the environment, which drew interest from a third of those surveyed.

Still, there are a number of factors that are keeping motorists from making the leap to electric, including higher purchase prices, which more than half of those surveyed cited as a drawback, as well as lack of local charging points (44 per cent) and fear of being caught short on longer journeys (38 per cent).

An SMMT analysis found that charging infrastructure would have to expand substantially to meet the needs of a full zero-emissions new UK car market by 2035. This would require 1.7m new public charge points by 2030 and 2.8m by 2035 – meaning more than 500 charge points would need to be installed every single day until 2035 at a cost of £16.7bn.

Commenting on the poll, SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said, “Car makers are leading the charge to zero emission motoring, with massive investment in new models fueling huge consumer interest but they can’t transform the market alone.

“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,” he added.

“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. 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.”

Unite has long supported a just transition to electric vehicles, one which can only be accomplished successfully with targeted government support and realistic goals that support the UK’s automotive industry to produce electric vehicles domestically.

Unite national officer Des Quinn said that the latest SMMT survey “demonstrates beyond doubt that the government has got to up its game in supporting the development and purchasing of electric vehicles.

“First and foremost support needs to be provided for all UK automotive manufacturers to be building electric vehicles in the UK,” he added. “Giving tax breaks and discounts to electric models made overseas is ultimately self-defeating and could affect UK jobs.

“It is absolutely imperative that the government urgently enacts a comprehensive programme of investment in electric vehicle infrastructure, including expanding the network of fast charging points,” Quinn went on to say.

“Until drivers are reassured that they can recharge their cars when they need to and they won’t be left stranded miles from home, sales of electric vehicles will not increase significantly.

“The prime minister has promised to build, build, build and this is a project, which will create jobs, develop skills and reduce the UK’s carbon footprint in the long-term.

Quinn emphasised that “it is vital that the cart is not put before the horse”.

“Realistically, we remain some way from the mass roll out of electric cars,” he said. “In the meantime, incentives need to be provided for the purchase of the cleanest new car models.

“This will provide UK car makers with the financial resources and the confidence to invest in the future development of electric vehicles in the UK.”

By Hajera Blagg

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