When it comes to the mass adoption of ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) like electric cars, the United Kingdom does not lag behind other nations, such as the United States and Norway. It is tirelessly pursuing a low carbon economy, and there has been great progress on their part, in spite of numerous challenges and setbacks on the way. By shifting to low emission vehicles, the UK aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions, create more jobs, and support the automotive and related industries.
UK’s commitment to greenhouse gas reduction
Like the US, the UK has its own greenhouse gas reduction targets. As per the Climate Change Act of 2008, the government aims to achieve at least 80% carbon reduction by 2050. So as a minimum, it should reduce carbon emissions by 34% relative to 1990 levels by 2020. The UK is likely to raise the target to 42% should the European Union increase the current 2020 target of 20% to 30%. The domestic target hike is a possibility as the Committee on Climate Change has recommended higher reduction target. If these targets are to be met, the transport sector, being responsible for a quarter of carbon emissions in the UK, should play a major role. This is where electric vehicles come in.
UK electric vehicle sales up in 2015
The UK is one of the fastest growing global markets for ULEVs, particularly plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). 2015 was indeed a record year for sales, topping the combined total of the previous five years. Sales of plug-in hybrid units went up by 137%, with 18,254 registrations. All-electric vehicle sales also did not disappoint, with 9,934 units registered – a 48% increase on the 2014 figure. So what is driving the sales growth? The UK government has increased incentives for low emission vehicles. British drivers love the monetary perks that come with driving a cheap-to-run and eco-friendly technology. Moreover, auto manufacturers have rolled out their versions of electric vehicles, thus giving British customers a wider choice of vehicles to choose from.
The numbers will just continue to increase as the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) has announced government subsidy for electric motorcycles and scooters. Under this subsidy plan, electric two-wheelers will become 20% cheaper, thus becoming the most affordable electric vehicles on the market. Subsidy for electric two-wheelers will help cut greenhouse gas emissions, but there are other benefits too:
- Give people of lower incomes an opportunity to drive an electric vehicle and enjoy the benefits that come with.
- Reduce or eliminate road congestion for all motorists.
- Expand available parking space in city and town centers, commercial establishments, and the workplace.
- Boost the auto manufacturing sector.
UK, an attractive market for electric vehicles
What makes the UK an attractive market for electric vehicles? Or to rephrase the question, why will electric cars click in the UK? British car owners are active adapters of new automotive technology, and electric cars are tech they are interested about, as they are cost-efficient, eco-friendly, and maintenance-free. Moreover, there are other factors too:
- Most car trips in the UK are relatively short, and majority of car drivers rarely exceed more than 100km/day.
- Frequent journey types are indeed short trip types. This include driving commuting, children to school, visiting friends at private home, shopping, and other personal business.
- There is a strong demand for workplace charging than for public charging, since traveling to work is the most common trip purpose and commands a significant percentage of total car travel by distance in the UK.
So given the aforementioned factors, electric vehicles are well suited to such types and purposes of trips. Other countries, such as the US and China, have a hard time enticing potential car buyers to go for electric cars due to a lack of public charging stations. This is not much an issue for British drivers. However, the UK government should not disregard public charging, but adopt it at some later time, when electric vehicles become the most dominant vehicle type in the auto market.
UK’s opportunity to lead the electric vehicle market
Domestic production of electric vehicles will generate billions of pounds in the UK, not to mention hundreds of thousands of direct and indirect jobs. In 2015, the country has shipped 1,682,156 units, and is expected to produce 2.2 million units by 2016. In terms of global production, the UK ranks among the top 15 global automotive producers by volume. In terms of exports, the UK has become increasingly competitive in exporting vehicles. It exports 55% of its production to countries outside the European Union, which makes the UK the biggest European exporter and one of the strongest producers of cars for export. In 2015, it raked in $38.9 billion of export revenue. The UK automotive industry has supported more than 750,000 jobs, including manufacturing, sales, supply chain, and repair.
By shifting to electric vehicles, the UK will not only capitalize its strength on research and development, but also restore its manufacturing might (by empowering the automotive industry). The UK is the second largest car market in Europe, accounting for 18% of the continent’s car sales. The field of electric mobility has presented UK an opportunity to lead both the industry and the market. If the country can support a steadily growing market for electric vehicles, then multinational auto manufacturers are far more likely to build a production site in the UK in order to support global demand, as in the case of Japanese car maker Nissan that moved its European production for their flagship electric car model in the UK.
Challenges of electric vehicles in the UK
What can the UK do to become a leading global adapter and model market for electric vehicles? It will need to overcome certain challenges, some of which are unique to the UK:
- Skill shortage – The automotive industry is suffering from a lack of competent engineers. In colleges and universities, only few students are pursuing engineering degree courses. Both industry and government should encourage students to take up engineering by offering them scholarships, and firms should enhance their apprenticeship programs. Moreover, the government should make it easier for skilled foreign students to remain in the country and work highly skilled positions upon graduation.
- Inadequate funding – Both automotive supply chain firms and research and development firms suffer from a lack of funding needed to do business. More must be done to ensure they have access to the finances they need.
- Lack of charging infrastructure at the workplace – Current policy favors home and public charging, with no regards for workplace charging. The government should prioritize workplace charging and offer businesses funds so they can install charging stations for their employees.
- Inaction from government – The government has both responsibility and opportunity to drive demand for electric vehicles. It can do to mandate government offices and civil servants to adapt electric vehicles for official business.
- Lack of awareness on government incentives – Not many people are given the opportunity to experience driving an electric car. It is not that they do not know such cars exist, but they have no knowledge of the incentives that the government offers to buyers. The government should level up their awareness programs in order to fully utilize the incentives set aside for electric vehicles.
- Lack of coordination – Rules and regulations over electric cars differ across political boundaries, which make it difficult for drivers to fully enjoy their incentives. Local authorities should work towards proper implementation of the incentives for electric vehicles.
Given their global influence and political clout, the UK is in better position to lead Europe and the rest of the world in the adoption of electric cars. It has a thriving economic base to support its re-emerging automotive industry and sustain a healthy market.