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Ask the Experts – Is the UK committed to the electric vehicle transition?

Is the UK ready to make the electric transition a priority in the foreseeable future? Elizabeth Warren, interim Director of Public Charging at Mer, considers this question.

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In 2022 , the average car in the UK drove 6,600 miles, a staggering number that highlights the necessity of creating a more sustainable road transport system.

As with any new venture of such magnitude as transitioning from a historic system powered by petrol/diesel to one powered by electricity, scepticism and concern is expected.

The question of whether the UK is ready to make the electric transition a priority in the foreseeable future can be answered by considering:

  • How market trends highlight EV adoption will continue to increase
  • How investment from manufacturers and government shows the UK is committed to an electric future

There are two ways of looking at this question.


Driver commitment – is there an appetite for EV ownership?

Trends in EV ownership

It is undeniable that petrol and diesel vehicles still have a considerable market share. However, it is exciting to see that trends in EV sales show the UK public are taking to the electric mobility movement and that EV ownership is on the rise. In 2019, there were just over 97,500 battery-electric vehicles registered in the UK. At the end of 2023, this figure stood at around 975,000. 315,000 battery-electric cars were registered last year, an 18% growth on the number registered in 2022.

In 2024, it is expected this upward trend will continue. Melanie Shufflebotham, Co-founder & COO at Zapmap, predicts ‘around 500,000 new pure-electric cars will be sold across the country, bringing the total to around 1.5 million.’

Goldman Sachs research shows EVs will make up about half of new car sales worldwide by 2035.

Stakeholder commitment – are manufacturers and the government invested in an electric future?

Manufacturers are changing their business models

EVs are not just a token part of car manufacturers’ business strategies. They are swiftly becoming their predominant, and soon to be only, focus.

Nissan is aiming to achieve 100% EV in Europe by 2030, with all new Nissan models now all-electric in Europe, whilst Jaguar Land Rover pledged to make its brand electric-only by 2025. The Mini brand will go all-electric from 2030, and Audi will sell only battery-electric cars by 2033.

If the companies manufacturing our vehicles are switching to electric, it is inevitable that all the vehicle’s on our roads will eventually become electric.


Investment in EV manufacture

We are also investing in transforming existing production lines to be able to manufacture EVs in the UK.

It was promising to see Tata confirm plans to build an electric car battery gigafactory in Somerset last year, what will become one of the largest in Europe. It will not only make batteries for Jaguar Land Rover vehicles, but also supply other car manufacturers. It has been described as ‘the most important investment in UK automotive since Nissan arrived in the 1980s’.

This followed the £1 billion commitment from Nissan and AESC to create an EV manufacturing hub in Sunderland, and Britishvolt’s plans for a gigafactory in Northumberland, towards which the government has committed about £100m through its Automotive Transformation Fund.

These pledges are clear examples that companies are making strong commitments to upscaling the infrastructure to build EVs at home. Such reiterates how serious the UK is about making EVs the dominant mode of our road transport system.


Investment in the UK’s EV public charging network

The charging network that supports UK drivers is also growing, and stakeholders have recognised the importance of doing so. The government’s target of 300,000 charge points in itself highlights its commitment to making EVs the future.

The government is supporting the expansion of the UK’s EV charging network, the £381 million Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (LEVI) fund to support the installation of tens of thousands of new chargers being just one example.

Private investment from UK charge point operators (CPOs) is also a crucial part of expanding the network. Charge UK, comprised of companies who install and operate charge points, of which Mer is one, have committed over £6 billion to this aim.

The investment has been worthwhile. In December last year, the AA reported that only 2.3% of the EV callouts it received in the year to the end of October were a result of batteries having limited or no charge, down from 8.3% in 2015 and 4.3% in 2021. The AA linked this decrease to the expansion and reliability of our public charging network, in addition to improved range on newer EVs. Alongside the burgeoning EV market, the ever-growing public charging network is another sign that we are preparing for an EV revolution.

And, the National Infrastructure Commission confirmed if charge point deployment grows at around 30% per year, the 300,000 target will be met, and Zapmap’s calculations show the UK is likely to reach 100,000 charging devices by August 2025.


Legislation will ensure EVs will be a firm part of our future

Underpinning all the above are government laws, that solidify the UK’s position on EVs. Some may argue the government’s push back on the 2030 ban on new petrol/diesel cars and vans by five years implies its apparent commitment to EVs can be thrown into doubt, however this is simply not the case. The delay is not an endorsement of petrol/diesel transport over electric, and will not have a detrimental impact on the uptake of EVs.

In addition, there are many other commitments that reinforce that the government remains committed to realising the electric transition:

  • 80% of car sales to be “zero emission” by 2030: The zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate states car firms must still meet strict quotas for selling electric cars despite the delay on the ban. From January, just over one fifth of vehicles sold must be electric. Failure to hit the quota could see car manufacturers fined £15,000 per car. The quota will rise to 100% by 2035, however some manufacturers already plan to reach this target sooner.
  • Schemes to lower the upfront and running costs of owning an EV: The government will offer a plug-in van grant of up to £2,500 for small vans and £5,000 for large vans until at least 2025, as well as £350 off the cost of homeplace charge points for those living in flats.

So, are we ready for an electric transition?

In summary, whilst petrol/diesel vehicles are still a major feature of the UK’s transport sector, EVs are continuing to gain popularity amongst drivers and will undoubtedly dominate our roads in the coming years as the net zero transition unfolds.

Of the world’s top 20 markets, the UK is ranked the 5th best-prepared nation for the EV transition, and ranks 6th for EV demand. With the government’s £2 billion investment in the electric mobility movement, the UK should be able to realise a strong electric revolution.

It therefore remains crucial that landowners install public charge points at their sites, from commercial retail locations to forecourts, to support this transition.