Overview 2020 Q4
The electric vehicle market ended 2020 with a flourish. UK sales of Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) were up 226% in the final quarter, and the EV Index from Sophus3 shows that growing consumer interest, and confidence, in choosing electric was the chief driver of this. The Index as a whole rose 6 points over the previous quarter, but it was the measurement of consumer interest that made by far the largest contribution to this growth.
Success in this fledgling segment was one of the few bright spots in a European car market that recorded the lowest sales figures since records began. But with pure battery electric vehicles accounting for under 7% of the UK market there is still a long way to go.
Despite positive improvements in the number of EVs on offer, and marginal improvements in their relative price, the ‘affordability and choice’ metric remains the one in most need of improvement. Whilst the EV product pipeline for 2021 is encouraging – with new offerings awaited from Citroën, Fiat, Nissan, Vauxhall, Volkswagen and Volvo – the introductions over the last year of supposedly ‘affordable’ EVs have failed to live up to that promise. The UK car market remains dominated by popular ICE (internal combustion engined) superminis such as the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa, with entry level prices starting at little over £15k after available discounts. Buyers are therefore looking at an additional premium of upto £10k to seat themselves in a similarly sized and equipped electric car.
The cost of bringing this new technology to market, of which batteries are a major component, may be a valid excuse for this pricing differential, but it is a challenge that manufacturers could address in other ways. The total cost of ownership of an EV is now, according to most sources, less than its petrol or diesel equivalent, yet manufacturers’ websites and their promotional materials seem hesitant to share this obvious ‘good news’ story.
On the infrastructure side there was also some progress during the quarter. Relative to many other European countries the EV driver is better served by the UK charging network, but our index score of 50 means that, effectively, it is twice as difficult for them to access a charging facility as it would be to refuel an ICE powered car. Recent research estimates that the roll out of charge points in the UK needs to be happening five times more quickly than at present if the 2030 ban on petrol and diesel cars is to be feasible.
‘Electric forecourts’, where access to charging facilities is made attractive to customers – and profitable for providers – by offering a range of retail and food outlets on the same site, are a new initiative that could quickly scale the charger network in the year ahead. The first Electric forecourt in the UK opened in December in Braintree, Essex.