I don’t know if it was ‘burying’ bad news, but last week the British Government announced out of the blue they were cutting the levels of grant available for those buying new electric cars and vans.
Now that the grants and threshold have been cut, many drivers and fleets now need to recalculate to see if they can still afford their chosen electric vehicle (EV). With ambitious targets heading into 2030, it seems counterintuitive to reduce incentives, although we accept that those purchasing the lower value EVs probably have greater need for assistance.
Drivers have consistently told us that the main barrier to EV ownership is the initial purchase price. While we at the Automobile Association (AA) are encouraged that new EV sales have increased this year, we feel this mainly due to company car purchases and salary sacrifice schemes.
Regrettably, this type of purchase is beyond the reach of many consumers,, so reducing the grant and the number of vehicles eligible will be a disappointment for many. Yet we must remember that the mass electrification of cars is vital if we are to save the planet. The most effective method of encouraging mass electric car adoption is to scrap the VAT—a policy the Automobile Association has called for since 2020. Low-income households say this would help them the most in switching away from fossil fuels.
Does this matter to business? Yes, of course it does. The Automobile Association and British School of Motoring had run successful pilots to trial EVs in their driving school fleets with a view to introducing EVs to them in the New Year. Thanks to these government changes, their bill has just increased by £100,000. This is hardly an extra incentive to go green.
Earlier in the year before the talk of Downing Street Christmas lockdown “parties,” there was considerable coverage of COP26 Spokeswoman Allegra Stratton’s comments in a radio interview about not being quite ready to switch her older diesel for an electric vehicle yet.
There is no doubt it is difficult to make that switch.
It is not my job to tell anyone or any business what type of car they should buy, whether they were a COP26 adviser or not. I would not. It is a matter of personal choice, needs, budget, practicality, and lifestyle.
Lots of barriers come to mind and all the below points were raised in a recent AA/Yonder poll of 14,000 drivers:
- EVs cost more to buy than equivalent petrol or diesel car (81%)
- EVs won’t go as far on a single charge as petrol or diesel cars with a full tank (77%)
- EV charging takes too long (59%)
- EV infrastructure is unreliable (56%)
- EVs may run out of charge on a motorway (51%)
Most of these points can be addressed rationally:
- Expensive: Yes, EVs are more expensive, but they are also cheaper to run, have no car tax, cheaper servicing and are exempt from Congestion Charges and some parking charges. They can also be leased—as through AA’s Smart Lease.
- Range: Most EVs can’t go as far on a single charge as many petrol or diesel vehicles with a full tank. But the average automobile journey is under 8 miles, and most EVs have a range of about 200 miles. Indeed Paul Clifton, BBC Transport Correspondent, recently drove a Ford Mustang E-Mache from John O’Groats to Lands Land with recharging for less than 45 minutes in total, which we know as AA Patrols supported him along the way.
- Charging takes too long: Well, it doesn’t have to. Most EVs on rapid chargers can get at least 60-200 miles range in 20 to 30 minutes. The majority of EV users charge their vehicles overnight when they are not using them.
- Unreliable infrastructure: This has been a problem particularly at motorway service areas. However, there is good news here, as Gridserve has just taken over most of the motorway network chargers and is upgrading them. Tesla has also announced it will open its network to other users.
- May run out of charge on a motorway: EVs give drivers ample warning when the charge is low and often the sat nav will suggest a nearby charging point. As the range of EVs and number of chargers have increased, the AA has seen the number of breakdowns for out of charge half. Currently less than 4% of EV breakdowns are linked to running out of charge. In Norway, which has a much higher proportion of EV owners, the figure is less than 1%. So even on a smart motorway, the EV driver should be able to get to the closest service area or charge post when warnings are given, and in extreme circumstances should be able to get to the next Emergency Refuge Area where the AA could help.
Personally, my view is that each driver should choose the car that is right for them and that fits with their individual needs and driving patterns. For example, the sales rep that does high motorway mileage and tows a caravan on holiday is probably best suited to a decent Euro 6 diesel, whilst the city dweller in a flat who has a small petrol run-around and does very low mileage is probably best suited to hold on to that car. It is horses for courses.
My own personal barrier to being an EV owner was psychological. This is how it would run through my mind:
Can I get to my mother’s and back with one charge?
Norwich have been promoted so how will we get to Anfield and back in an EV?
What if I need the car urgently and it is low on charge?
Won’t it be a pain to have to stop to recharge?
The charging technology and different apps are too complicated, so how will I cope?
I like to drive petrol cars and love the sound of a decent engine; will I miss it?
What helped me to overcome these psychological barriers was adapting in stages. I went from a petrol sports car, to a sporty plug-in hybrid and after getting used to charging, I went full electric. The hybrid certainly helped me to break down some of the barriers.
As I stated, I would never tell any business or individual what type of car they should buy, but I would encourage them to seriously consider all the options. When I made that switch to go full electric, I did not regret it. I love my EV. I love driving it. I even love planning the charging on a long journey and picking out somewhere I would like to stop. I also do like the fact that I have no tailpipe emissions.
The one thing I still really miss is the sound of that great combustion engine…I have an enhanced engine sound on my EV, but it is still not a V6. So, even though I’m nearly 100% there, I still have a sound psychological barrier to cross.
Ultimately, businesses should also be thinking about whether a greener fleet is not only better for their bottom line—despite the cuts in grants—but also because it’s better for the environment and their employees.
In short: think electric.