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The State of the Switch to Electric Cars

With the recent meeting of COP26 dominating the news cycle, there has been a further fresh impetus to move away from fossil fuels to cleaner technologies. Along with looking at how we heat our homes, grow and supply our food, and travel between countries, another prominent area of focus has been the vehicles we drive. With the Road to Zero mandating the end of new petrol and diesel new car sales in 2030, there is a need to take stock. We must assess the state of the electric vehicle market and look at what needs to be done to ensure there is as smooth a transition as possible to electric transport.

One recently published report looking at this is the State of the Switch, produced by New AutoMotive. Describing itself as an independent transport research organisation, New Automotive looks to support the switch to electric vehicles in the UK.

The report measures progress against several criteria. It is worth noting that they are only looking at cars in their report.

Six Ways of Measuring the Move to Electric Cars

The first they look at is the New AutoMotive Index. In this measure, they estimate that in 2020, 0.75% of the total number of miles driven in the UK was undertaken by pure electric cars. In a linked (second) measure, they look at the number of EVs on the road, which has reached close to 350,000. This is still dwarfed by the number of petrol and diesel vehicles in the UK. To put this figure into perspective, there are over four times as many Ford Fiestas on the road in the UK as there are electric vehicles of any model. There is still a very long way to go.

In their third measure, New AutoMotive looks at new car sales. Their model sees growth in hybrid vehicles until the late 2020s, although this is not born out by the current sales trends. New car buyers may be wary of going entirely over to electric cars. Still, with new sales of hybrid cars stopping in 2035, vehicle manufacturers' investment in technology will undoubtedly decline in the coming years.

The fourth measure revolves around EV price competitiveness. The report estimates that the typical EV motorist currently saves around £700 per annum. They also see savings with component prices as electric cars become more widespread. However, with close to £1 per litre of current fossil fuel prices being made up of fuel tax and VAT, there is a significant imbalance in pure running cost comparisons. Electric vehicles are cheaper to run partly because their running costs are not taxed in the same way as fossil fuel cars. The government may choose to continue with its current pricing strategies, but there is no guarantee.

Charging infrastructure

Charging infrastructure provides the fifth measure. The report estimates we will need between 230,000 and 280,000 public charging devices by 2035. This is well over ten times the number there are now. The EU recommends there should not be more than 10 EVs per charge point. If this measure is applied to the UK, we are failing to keep up.

The final measure looks at policy trends and progress on the road to zero. Emissions in transport have remained static, and improvement in the five other measures will be driven by government policy to encourage people to switch away from fossil fuel-powered vehicles.

The scale of the task in moving to net-zero cannot be underestimated. There has been steady progress so far, but there needs to be a significant uptake in electric vehicles and charge points for this to happen. This will not happen without a substantial push from the government, and this report is a handy tool to judge progress so far.