Despite the environment being the biggest driver for switching to an electric vehicle, new research by digital transformation agency, Somo, has identified that the interest in petrol vehicles is not declining. In fact, over half would consider purchasing a petrol engine vehicle next, and, surprisingly, a quarter are still considering diesel engines.
In an independent survey of 2000 UK drivers all looking to change vehicles within the next 12 months, and as part of a white paper titled Driving mass adoption of electric cars: are customers ready to switch?, only a third surveyed said they would actually consider moving to an electric car, owing to a number of concerns around practicality.
Whilst the government’s £1.5bn Road to Zero strategy aims to make the UK ‘the best place in the world to own an electric vehicle’ and despite the recent proposals to issue green-coloured number plates, the research clearly shows there is a lot more to do in switching consumer behaviours in favour of electric.
An interesting point the research uncovered is that consumers believe there will be a significant change in the future. 39% believe that there will be a core emphasis on the environment so public transport will be the key mode of transport and almost a third believe that consumers won’t own their cars in the future, they will rent them. This is interesting when you look at how the number of UK households with two cars has grown by more than half a million, now over 7.5m.
Barriers to entry
So if the research indicates a belief that behaviours will shift in the future, why is the UK so behind in electric car adoption in comparison to other parts of the world?
Cost looks to be a major barrier. The research showed that 42% of drivers cited price as one of the biggest reasons preventing them from switching to electric. Despite electric vehicle registration figures rising from 3,500 in 2013 to 227,000 as of August 2019, the UK has withdrawn or downgraded government subsidies: a £2,500 subsidy for plug-in hybrid vehicles was cut altogether, and a grant for pure electric vehicles has been reduced from £4,500 to £3,500. This may then suggest why the UK is falling behind other proactive adopters of electric cars, such as Norway, where, as of March 2019, 58% of all new cars sold were electric.
This deviation from early promises and its impact on driver confidence was further evidenced in the research, with more than two-fifths (41%) saying they believe that, in future, the Government would make owning a car more expensive.
Other barriers to purchase included concerns about driving range availability compared to petrol and diesel models (40%) and having to spend time researching charging point locations (38%).
Opportunities for the industry
Where cost is a major factor to address in helping make owning electric cars more appealing to consumers, the research showed the benefits of visualising the positives in switching using tools and technology crucial to day-to-day lives.
The majority of consumers surveyed said they would be highly likely to use digital tools, such as apps, that would help them understand the benefits of electric vehicles in comparison to petrol/ diesel. They would also be highly likely to use tools that chart the cars’ resale value over time, payment options and journey planning tools, such as the best routes to take to maximise charging opportunities.
The research showed that a key challenge consumers want to see overcome is how they get a charging point installed on their road or place of work. Millions of households in the UK don’t have a drive or a dedicated parking space, so changes in infrastructure to enable charging and making it simple and part of consumers daily routine is critical.
Ross Sleight, Chief Strategy Officer at Somo, said: “This research has proven to be hugely insightful in gauging the long-term views of consumers alongside the short-term problems that are affecting shifts in behaviour to electric. The environment sits as a priority in the hearts of drivers, however cost and practicality concerns sit at the forefront of their minds and it’s clear that the government isn’t doing enough to incentivise, as well as the industry not doing enough to educate.
“Waiting for government pressure to ‘force’ the shift is not a wise strategy; it is too reactive. Consumers are very open to using tools and technology that would visualise the positives in switching. This is a natural and obvious area for focus when you look at how we use technology in our day-to-day lives. If the industry is proactive about pooling ideas about the kinds of experiences and services that will entice and delight electric car drivers, this can only help propel the UK’s adoption rates to where they could and should be. The winners will be those that partner wisely, put the consumer at the centre of any planning, and work towards delivering the desirable and sustainable driving/transport experiences of the future.”