Guest essay by Eric Worrall
British sales of Electric and Hybrid cars have surged in the last year. But there might be more than green conscience driving the rise in sales.
According to GoUltraLow;
Last year over 28,000 electric cars were registered across the country. That’s more than the combined totals of electric cars sold every year since 2010, and marks a phenomenal 94% annual rise compared to the previous year.
Plug-in power is fast becoming a mainstream option for drivers alongside petrol and diesel, and EV popularity shows no sign of slowing.
We saw every region in the UK record improve year-on-year registrations for plug-in cars. Ultra low emission vehicles (ULEVs) proved to be the most popular in the South East of England, closely followed by the South West and the West Midlands.
Why are electric cars becoming so popular in the UK? Apart from the obvious, a rise in government fleet procurement of electric cars, part of the reason is likely that the government is flooding the market with significant taxpayer funded incentives, to encourage commuters to switch to electric.
- The price of gasoline in Britain is horrendous, averaging around £1 / litre ($5.40 / gallon). This creates a tremendous price advantage for electric cars; according to the UK Government, fuel for a typical petrol car costs £12.50 / 100 miles, vs around £2 / 100 miles for an electric car.
- Lots of government grants to cities which embrace electric car technology, such as a recent £40 million grant for cities which embrace electric car recharging technology.
- A waiver for the notorious British “congestion charges” – tolls paid for entering some city centres.
- Poor public transport infrastructure. Unsafe, crowded, unreliable, expensive. Even with the cost of parking in London, the cost of buying and driving an electric car is likely comparable to the cost of commuting by train.
Whether the popularity of electric will last is anyone’s guess. Britain has a dangerously overloaded electric grid. If the majority of electric car owners recharge using off-peak power, this won’t be an issue – but if a significant number of drivers choose to charge during peak time, the surge in demand could cause the grid to fail.
There might also be some long term safety issues. Quite apart for the unfortunate apparent tendency for car batteries in some models to catch fire, Britain occasionally experiences severe blizzards which strand drivers on snow covered roads. A stranded petrol car can keep burning fuel, and can keep the car interior safe and warm for many hours. An electric car, not so much – especially if the battery starts to freeze.
And of course, there is the cost of replacing the batteries. The batteries in electric cars are a significant proportion of the cost of the cars. If they only last a few years, replacing them will become a significant issue.
Don’t get me wrong, I would likely be seriously considering going electric, if I was still commuting into London every day. People are making a rational decision, based on the available options, even if the options have been significantly engineered by government policy incentives.
There are some unanswered questions. As electric cars become more popular, how long will the generous government incentives last? Who is paying for those incentives – maybe poor people, who can’t afford to buy an electric car? As with any scheme sustained by the whim of politicians, the surge in demand for electric cars, could disappear as quickly as it appeared.