Government must use supportive policies to ‘charge up’ EV switch with sales ‘still tiny’

The pace of the transition to electric motoring must increase if Government targets are to be met, according to a report by the influential Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce.

The Taskforce, a collaboration established jointly by business and transport ministers at the Prime Minister’s Zero Emission Vehicle Summit in 2018, comprises more than 350 organisations including motor manufacturers, major contract hire and leasing companies, energy providers, electric vehicle charge point providers, banks and other organisations.

The report makes 21 recommendations to be taken on by Government and the electric vehicle sector focused on enabling the efficient integration of electric vehicles with the energy system during the electrification transition.

While the report says that “the transition to electric motoring is now well underway” – although new car registrations would suggest otherwise – it adds that “the pace of change must increase”. The Taskforce says that it expects electric vehicles “to become ubiquitous on Britain’s roads”.

One of the major hurdles that must be overcome is electric vehicle charging point interoperability. Concerns include: the different types of plug-in vehicle recharging points causing confusion around the speed at which a vehicle’s battery will be recharged; different vehicles requiring different connectors to enable charging to take place; and no standard payment system across all charge point providers.

Battery enhancements by motor manufacturers means that electric vehicle range has improved significantly, and continues to do so and, as a result, some experts say that electric vehicle charge point anxiety has replaced so-called range anxiety as the number one concern among drivers.

The Taskforce says that the Government must intervene if by 2025 the industry has not reached convergence on a preferred set of standards that meet interoperability requirements across the electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Indeed, Mike Hawes, chief executive of motor industry trade body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: “Drivers must feel confident that it is as easy to charge as it is to pull up at a forecourt and refuel.”

Transport Minister George Freeman said: “Government commissioned the Taskforce to advise how we can best work with industry to make sure the energy system is ready for the transition to electric vehicles. This report provides important evidence to shape the next stage of our ‘Road to Zero’ roadmap.”

The Government is committed to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 with investment in clean energy solutions and green infrastructure to reduce carbon emissions and pollution.

Following up Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ Conservative Party 2019 Conference commitment to make driving an electric car “the norm” and to look at bringing forward to 2035 its previous commitment to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040, The Government has now said that it would consult on the earliest date they could be phased out.

That pledge was in response to its advisory Committee on Climate Change suggesting that 2030 might have to mark the end of the road for the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans – potentially just two fleet replacement cycles.

Data highlighting new car registrations for 2019 show just how far the pace of electric vehicle take-up must change.

Registrations of battery electric cars totalled 37,850 units, 144% up on 2018 but still accounting for just a 1.6% share of total new model sales, according to SMMT data. Together with plug-in hybrid vehicle registrations, which totalled 34,734, down 17.8% year-on-year, electric vehicles accounted for a combined near-73,000 units to take just a 3.1% share of the new car market.

Nevertheless, Go Ultra Low, the collaborative campaign group bringing together the Government, SMMT and motor manufacturers, said 2019 was the most successful year for electric car registrations to date. At the end of last year the number of 100% electric and plug-in hybrid cars registered in the UK was 271,524.

Furthermore vehicle choice is set to further expand in 2020 as 23 new zero emission cars and 11 plug-in hybrid models are set to make their showroom debuts including the Peugeot e-208, Volkswagen ID.3, Mercedes-Benz EQC, Vauxhall Corsa-e, Skoda CITIGO E, and Mini Electric.

While the “huge increase” in battery electric vehicle registrations was welcomed by the SMMT, it said the 1.6% market share was “still tiny” and underlined the progress needed to achieve Government targets.

However, the SMMT, which is a member of the Taskforce, added that the Government’s ambition had not been helped by the significant decline of zero emission-capable plug-in hybrids, due to what it called “further evidence of the consequences of prematurely removing upfront purchase incentives before the market is ready”. The Government ended the Plug-In Grant for plug-in electric vehicle hybrid cars 15 months ago.

Mr Hawes said: “We urgently need more supportive policies: investment in infrastructure; broader measures to encourage uptake of the latest, low and zero emission cars; and long term purchase incentives. Industry is playing its part with a raft of exciting new models in 2020 and compelling offers but consumers will only respond if economic confidence is strong and the technology affordable.”

He also called for motor manufacturers’ investment in electric vehicles and the widening of model choice to be supported by “an appropriate and appealing electric vehicle charging network for electric vehicle drivers”.

Whether or not the first Budget of the new Government’s reign due on March 11 provides additional financial support to switch electric vehicle demand into the fast lane remains to be seen.

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