25 Nov 2019

There is growing recognition amongst the UK public that electric vehicles (EV) are critical to the future of road transport. Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) data shows that electric car sales in the UK have risen dramatically over the past few years. While only around 500 electric cars were registered per month during the first half of 2014, 2019 has seen an increase to an average of almost 5,500 per month.

While those numbers sound impressive, a report from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (EAMA) revealed that vehicle registrations in the UK of fully electric or hybrid vehicles increased by just 2.9% in the first quarter of 2019 — whereas the EU averaged a 40% increase.

So why is there such caution from the British public?

Currently, consumers trying to assess their current vehicle’s emissions versus greener alternatives will find that this information is not readily available.

In a Department for Transport study, 92% of respondents had heard of EVs. However, of these, the vast majority (over three quarters) stated that they knew just ‘a little’ or ‘hardly anything’ about them.

Therein lies an issue: the UK understands that EVs are an environmental alternative to the conventional cars they have now, but few know how this alternative works.

A major survey by the RAC found that over two thirds (66%) of road users say they are confused about whether to choose a petrol, diesel or an alternatively fuelled car.

Currently, consumers trying to assess their current vehicle’s emissions versus greener alternatives will find that this information is not readily available.

Close to seven in ten motorists in the RAC study say they would like to see a service introduced which links a vehicle’s registration number with a Euro emissions standard. But despite repeated calls from the RAC on government, this service does not yet exist.

Without this information, confusion prevails, and other sceptical assumptions that drivers hold about EVs prevail too.

An end to “filling up”?

Most notably, many assume that the ratio of miles EVs will travel compared to their time spent charging is generally poor.

It is of course true that the bigger an EV’s battery and the slower the charging point, the longer it will take to charge an EV battery from empty. Charging a large 40kWh battery (e.g. Nissan LEAF 2018) from totally empty to full on a slow household power source (3.7kW) can take 11 hours and result in a 143-mile range.

Under this logic, it would be right to assume that EVs demand a lot of charging time versus relatively little driving time. However, this assumption has a few important flaws.   

  • Firstly, EV drivers do not behave in the same way petrol/diesel drivers do and run their tank from full all the way to empty, but instead ‘top up’ their batteries when the car is not in use. For many electric cars, it is possible to add up to 100 miles of range in around 35 minutes with a 50kW rapid charger. Public and workplace charging points typically range from 7kW to 22kW, making their top up charging range between 30 and 90 miles per hour of charging respectively.
  • Infrastructure to charge at home and across local neighbourhoods is constantly increasing. Charging during your 30-minute supermarket shop could give you 90 extra miles. Plugging in whilst grabbing a coffee could give you 25 miles. Reaching the desired 300-mile range by ‘topping up’ rather than ‘filling up’ suddenly becomes far more achievable.
  • The fact also remains that cars stay parked for 95% of the time they are owned. But when you’re ‘topping up’ rather than ‘filling up’, that means 95% for flexible charging time and leaves 5% uninterrupted driving time.

Misplaced anxiety?

Research by the Transport Research Laboratory found that 50% of respondents said they would consider buying an EV if it had a 200 mile range; when this range was increased to 300 miles, this rose to 90%. Major models on the EV market such as the Nissan Leaf (168 miles), the Volkswagen e-Golf (144 miles) and the Hyundai Kona Electric (279 miles) would indeed fall short of the uninterrupted 300 miles.

But misperceptions about charging behaviour are often  coupled with, arguably, an overestimation of the actual mileage most drivers require.

Today, the average trip in the car is 10 miles. With 19 miles made on average per week it would, therefore, be fair to assume that an EV requires enough charge to run for 190 miles per week for most drivers. 

On this basis, were the popular EV models mentioned above being run from full to empty (without ‘top-up’ behaviour), drivers would, at worst, be required to do an overnight 11-hour charge once every 1.5 weeks.

These statistics show how easy it is for consumers to become confused by how EVs work, and crucially, how they will work for them. If the UK is to get more EVs on the road, this confusion should not be overlooked by business and Government. Public education will be critical for EV take-up to get over the tipping point.