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Lifting the barriers to EV uptake – stimulating the demand side

Written by Darran Messem, Head of Transport and Sustainable Development

Delivering the UK Government’s targets for emission reduction and electric vehicle (EV) uptake depends on addressing three key challenges, according to a panel of EV experts at an event hosted by Madano on 18th July.

Huge steps have been taken in the decarbonisation and electrification of the UK fleet, but there is much more to be done to (1) stimulate the demand side, (2) secure clearer and longer-term policy from Government and (3) increase automotive and energy cross-sector alignment to deliver the grid flexibility, capacity and reliability to enable large-scale EV adoption. Here we look at the first of these three challenges: stimulating the demand side.

The automotive industry has launched 13 fully-electric cars and over 20 plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles, and sales of plug-in vehicles have steadily climbed. The rate of growth however is nowhere near fast enough to deliver the UK Government’s 2040 and 2050 objectives for ending the sale of conventional engines and delivering zero emission transport. The successes on the supply side need to be matched on the demand side by encouraging new attitudes towards mobility, improving information, and enabling pent-up demand to be fulfilled.

Addressing range anxiety and stimulating demand is not just a function of battery capacity and efficiency. Five key recharging requirements need addressing:

  • Interoperability and reliability of recharging must emulate the system compatibility and reliability of the conventional petrol station.
  • Strategic recharging infrastructure is needed to fulfil long-distance needs.
  • Better access to private charging facilities is required to build confidence and a sense of control.
  • Optimising the network is necessary to put recharging facilities where they are required.
  • Better information provision on recharging availability is required to build both confidence in and access to recharging.

Stimulating demand through key multiplier effects in the market will need to play a more prominent role. The expert panel noted a number of good examples:

  • Publicly accessible demonstration fleets like London’s taxi fleet, enabling people to experience an EV.
  • Pockets of infrastructure development around charging stations, with cafes and shops, enabling best use of charge times.
  • Seeding EV adoption, to stimulate the knock-on effect of wider EV uptake. The best advertising for EVs are existing EV drivers.
  • Building critical mass enhances charging station reliability because of the scale economies of monitoring and maintenance.

Further extension of vehicle choice is needed to stimulate demand in line with EV targets. In particular the vehicle range needs to be extended beyond the conventional saloon and hatchback:

  • Vans are a significant (and growing) source of emissions and because of short distance application are ideally suited for electrification.
  • Sports utility vehicles are a popular and growing vehicle class which, due to their size and weight, tend to be higher-emission.
  • The market leading brands, not wishing to point fingers, would make a significant impact by offering fully-electric and hybrid options.

Better information, more appropriately provided, is needed to clarify vehicle choice and availability of recharging infrastructure, to clarify the capability of EVs, to demonstrate fitness for purpose, and to match vehicle to need:

  • Better marketing: literature and advertising needs to provide the right information.
  • Better selling: selling an EV is different to selling a conventional car. Unfamiliar technology opens new questions, from whether a portable electronic device will excessively deplete the vehicle’s battery, to addressing practical concerns about the likely long term costs of repair and servicing.
  • Better business models: some, particularly new entrants to the automotive sector, may feel this warrants a completely new approach to sales and marketing, rather than the conventional showrooms and focus on selling units, and perhaps an accelerated move to mobility-as-a-service.
  • Stimulating the used-car market will be necessary to pull EVs through the fleet, including better information about practical issues like maintenance, charging opportunities at destinations, comparisons between different used models, and easing end-of-life disposal.

Improved vehicle availability, both new and used, will be necessary to facilitate choice. Shortcomings in the supply chain need to be addressed. Waiting for a vehicle is inconsistent with the ‘one click way’ on-demand world being created by other retail sectors. Industrial strategy will need to move production to the UK to create a shorter supply chain. Manufacturers will invest in those countries with more certain and ambitious political goals.

A concluding remark from Madano, who convened the panel and the background research. We set out with this series of articles and panel discussion to explore the barriers to EV uptake and the role of communication. The discussion has highlighted a number of key barriers, ranging public policy through engineering practicality to consumer perception, and we observe that in all cases communication is key, because electric mobility requires whole system change, and this requires joined up thinking. Insight – communication – impact.

This blog is part 1 of a series of 3. Two further blogs will cover the discussion on clearer and longer-term policy, as well as automotive and energy cross-sector alignment.

Our expert panel (from Madano breakfast briefing event 18th July)

Madano is grateful to the expert panel who came together for this discussion and agreed to its write-up:

Angie Boakes, General Manager Electric Mobility, Royal Dutch Shell

Professor Paul Maropoulos, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise Knowledge Exchange, Aston University

Evie Martell, Marketing Manager, Chargemaster

Huw Owen, Head of Digital, Tata Motors

Jay Parmar, Policy Director, BVRLA

Valerie Shawcross CBE, Transport for London Board Member, and Former Deputy Mayor of London for Transport (attending in a personal capacity)

Akshai Srinivasan, Electric Mobility Manager, BP

Peter Stephens, Head of External Affairs and Government Relations, Nissan