Is the UK ready to go electric?

Electric vehicles have been hitting the headlines with increasing frequency over the last few years.

Whatever side of the fence you sit on with regard to the benefits and drawbacks of going electric, one thing seems certain: it’s going to happen. New regulations will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in the UK – and now, that ban is set to come in even earlier.

With our ear to the ground, we know that manufacturers and dealerships were already worried about the impact of the legislation. Now, with the deadline brought forward to just 15 years’ time, there’s even more concern about how it’s going to work.

Technology is advancing faster than ever, but it’s still very early days in relative terms: the first electric vehicles hit the market less than a decade ago. The focus on climate change is certainly pushing the switch more quickly than would happen naturally and, somehow, everyone is going to have to be ready.

Why don’t people buy electric cars?

For consumers, there are numerous obstacles in the way of moving to electric straight away. For a start, there’s the cost: the very cheapest EVs on the market are around £15k, with most coming in significantly higher than that. The Nissan Leaf, for example, the biggest seller in the category, has an OTR price of £26k. That immediately rules out a good chunk of the market who will compare EVs with the more affordable petrol alternatives and rule them out immediately.

That then brings in the issue of choice. With most manufacturers having a very limited range of EVs, it’s a case of “one size fits all” – or doesn’t, as will be the case for many buyers. Anyone who’s ever looked for a new car will know it’s a question of balancing all sorts of needs against each other and weighing up the best option. If the one or two EVs on offer aren’t the right size, look, colour or whatever else is top of the list of priorities, customers will turn elsewhere.

Finally, there’s the practical side. Most electric cars need to be charged after around 100 miles, which is far more frequently than a traditional fuel alternative. Charging also takes longer: a rapid charge could do it in an hour or less, depending on the car, but they are few and far between. While this might not be too concerning if you’re making short journeys and can charge regularly, it could significantly extend the time needed to complete longer drives.

There’s also the question of infrastructure, with the number of charging points around the UK still only a fraction of the number of petrol forecourts. That fear of running out of charge in the middle of nowhere is all too real for most customers and, dealerships tell us, a major factor in their decision-making.

What about manufacturers?

There is an enormous amount of pressure on manufacturers to produce more and more EVs. With hybrid and other halfway-house options no longer open, as they will also be banned from 2035, there are some big steps ahead of manufacturers.

As yet, they’re struggling to deliver cars that meet both emissions rulings and customer expectations, including on that thorny issue of price, but given the time constraints and looming deadlines, they’ll simply have to find a way to improve.

There are other options, including hydrogen-fuelled vehicles, which some belief will become the more prolific type of car in the future. However, with that technology still lagging behind electric, they don’t currently provide a viable alternative ready to hit the market in any significant numbers.

We can expect manufacturers to invest a lot of time over the next few years into finding better solutions, aiming to be the first to bring out cars with better range, faster charging and, of course, a lower price tag.

Where does it leave dealerships?

Good question. They’re somewhat caught in the middle between the government’s desire to hit targets and move away from petrol and diesel, and customers’ reluctance to move to electric while it’s still not meeting their needs.

Manufacturers, of course, will want to encourage customers towards the new technology which they’re having to spend so much on delivering. However, anyone who has sold cars knows that nothing drives a customer away from the forecourt faster than a salesperson trying to convince them to buy something they don’t really want.

We’re already seeing some forward-thinking businesses looking at creative ways to move towards more EV sales, such as special events and test days which bring people through the doors. Most people have never had chance to experience driving an EV, or even look around one, so it gives savvy salespeople the chance to let the cars themselves do the convincing. As well as achieving some sales in the short-term, it’s a great way to build a list of potential customers to contact as new EVs arrive and deals become available.

In the end, it may well fall to the dealerships to try to bridge the gap between the current market and the new legislation over the next 15 years. Those who have laid the groundwork ahead of time are likely to reap the rewards as the market comes around to the new technology.