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Electric car uptake in the slow lane

Written by: Emma Lunn
The government wants to stop sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, but drivers are being slow to switch to electric vehicles.

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) found that sales of electric cars not growing fast enough to meet the government’s climate targets.

In November 2020, the government announced plans to stop the sale of new cars that are powered solely by petrol or diesel by 2030. From 2035, only zero-emission cars can be sold, and by 2050 government wants almost all cars to emit zero carbon.

But as of September 2020, only 1.1% of UK cars were ultra-low emission including 0.5% which were electric.

By the end of September 2020, sales of new ultra-low emission cars accounted for 8% of the market, above the projections of the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV).

But while sales of electric cars have increased, the NAO says “substantial growth” is required to meet the government’s target for them to comprise 100% of new sales from 2035.

The report also criticised the setting up of public charging points in residential areas. Between 2017-18 and 2019-20, OZEV allocated £8.5m to help local authorities install on-street residential charge points, but uptake has been slow.

By March 2020, government funding had contributed to 142,604 new charge-points, most of which are on private driveways. OZEV has spent £97.2m supporting the installation of more than 133,000 chargers for those with off-street parking.

OZEV informed the NAO that it initially focused on supporting people with off-street parking or with an ability to charge at work. It has not yet focused sufficiently on charge-point availability for people who do not have a driveway.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: “The number of ultra-low emission cars on UK roads has increased, but meeting the government’s ambitious targets to phase out new petrol and diesel cars in less than a decade still requires a major transition for consumers, car makers and those responsible for charging infrastructure.

“Government now has the opportunity to reflect on what has gone well and better target its interventions and spending to secure this fundamental change and deliver the carbon reduction required.”

Michael Briggs, head of sustainability at Which?, said: “To ensure electric cars are a viable option for motorists and the UK can hit its net zero target the government must urgently tackle the costs involved for those who do not have the ability to charge at home.

“The public charging network can be confusing due to the lack of easy ways to pay, inconsistency of unit pricing and unreliable apps. The multiple networks of chargers also require motorists to download specific apps, or register a card, prior to charging their car.

“If it wants to achieve its target of phasing out new petrol and diesel car sales by 2030, the government should prioritise making the public electric vehicle charging network larger, simpler and far more accessible than it is today.”

Research by heycar has found that electric cars are cheaper to insure than comparable petrol and diesel models.

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