50% Of Brits Ready To Go Electric? Be Cautious About Headlines

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From my own experience, I would say that it is definitely the case that electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming more popular in the UK. Not long ago I would very rarely see another electric vehicle at the charging station on my travels. Now it is rarely the case that I have a charging station all to myself and I am lucky to not have to wait for others to finish charging before I can get on.

Also, I’ve been searching for a used electric vehicle for myself but have noticed that prices have gone up in the past few months since I have been looking. This is because demand is higher than supply. According to new research, 43% of UK adults say that they “would consider” driving a fully electric vehicle. This research was conducted by Opinium on behalf of Pure Planet, a 100% renewable energy company. The results are from a sample of 2,000 UK adults. Surveys were carried out between 2nd – 5th October 2018.

Consider What “Would You Consider” Could Mean

If you remember, it was not long ago that Elon Musk got himself into trouble by saying that he was “considering” taking Tesla into private ownership. It seemed a rather vague statement for people to become exercised about, though I think it was the more definite statement that he had funding secured that upset some people more.

“Considering” is no great commitment — it just describes a mental process of thinking about something. There is no commitment to the outcome of those considerations. No doubt we all “consider” doing all manner of things every day but never actually do any of those things. Even more vague than “to consider” is to say that we “would consider.” To say that we “would consider” is not to actually say that we are actively considering anything, but that we are open to considering it. I can say in all honesty that I “would consider” doing all sorts of wild and wonderful things, without having any intention of doing any of them. I am only committing myself to at some point sitting down and thinking about whether to do them or not. “Would you consider jumping out of an aeroplane at 35,000 feet, emigrating to New Zealand, taking up fire walking, etc.?” I am not very likely to do any of these things, but might be willing to sit down and think about it.

So, returning to the opening paragraph, if the survey asks people the question “would you consider buying an electric vehicle?,” it is no great commitment for them to say “yes.”

The actual survey question and responses turned out as follows:

Q1. Have you considered buying a fully electric vehicle?

Have not considered

39 %

Would consider

35 %

Have actively considered

8 %

I own a fully electric vehicle

1 %

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What the Survey Said

So, what the survey is saying is that only 9% have actually, definitely considered getting an electric vehicle or already bought one (8% for the former and 1% the latter). Another 35% would be willing to consider it, but have not actively considered it yet, and 39% had not considered it at all and presumably would not consider it. Of the 8% who said that they have actively considered buying an EV, we don’t know how many intend to get an EV next time they change their car.

The results of this survey were sent to CleanTechnica in a press release, where the headline was: “New Study Reveals Half Of Brits Would Buy An Electric Vehicle.” This is a good example of how statistics can be misinterpreted. A more accurate interpretation is that 1% of Brits drive an EV, 8% are considering the option, and 35% are willing to think about the option.

Automobile Association Survey

I was surprised when I saw the original press release, as I had only recently seen a relevant survey conducted by Populus Research, in November 2018, for the Automobile Association in the UK. In their poll: Seven in ten (70%) do not plan to change their car in the next 12 months, with over a third (36%) not planning to change their car in the next five years.

So, it will be a long wait for the EV revolution.

Of those who expect to change their car in the next 5 years, the main reason for changing is that their current car is too old/needs replacing (55%). Only one in five will change their car because they want a car that’s greener (lower CO2) (19%) or cheaper to run (19%).

As EVs are both greener and cheaper to run, there is some hope there.

Those in London (25%) are significantly more likely than those in other regions to want to change their current car because they want a greener one (with lower CO2).

I suspect that comes from the London mayor’s scheme to turn the whole of London into a pay-to-pollute zone.

Looking forward to their future car, those looking to change cars in the next 5 years are less likely to be using petrol compared to those using it in their current car (39% compared to 55%), with around one in six (15%) planning to go hybrid in their next car. The level intending to use diesel (14%) in their next car is also markedly lower than those using it in their current car (42%).

A small proportion intend to use a plug-in hybrid (5%) or go pure electric (3%) in their next car.

So, we have only 8% intending to use PHEV or BEV and 15% going for a conventional hybrid, but 17% giving up petrol and 28% giving up diesel. That gives a total of 45% giving up current fossil-fuels for their vehicles but only 21% going for hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or battery electric vehicle. I assume the discrepancy of 23% is that most of those giving up diesel will switch to petrol.

So, in conclusion, looking at the two surveys, both the AA Populus survey and the Opinium survey suggest about 8% of buyers might change to an EV in the next 5 years or so. Although I would love it to be true that “50% of Brits are Going Electric,” it is not so, yet.

More from the Opinium Survey

The Opinium survey did cover some other questions, and a summary of results. Quoting from the press release:

According to the study of the British public’s attitudes towards energy use, and sustainability, a fifth of UK adults, (17%) said they were more likely to consider an EV now, than this time last year.

It asked UK adults what factors would be most likely to encourage them to make the swap from petrol, or diesel to electric.

This year the report found that a 41% believe a reduction in cost would be the biggest factor in encouraging them to switch to an EV. (Yet the Tory Government have reduced the EV grant.)

Whilst the cost of new vehicles is high, prices are coming down., and the electricity to power them is less than half the cost of petrol, or diesel. (about 20% in fact)

Range – improving the ability to drive further between charges – came as the second biggest consideration, with 38% of respondents stating that this would encourage them to make the switch.

The availability of charging stations was also an important consideration for UK motorists when thinking about changing to electric.

37% of respondents stated that an increased number of charging stations would also help them ditch the diesel.

Nearly 1 in 5 (17%) of UK adults are now more likely to buy an electric car than they were 12 months ago.

In Britain, 49% of people polled said they are now regularly taking steps to combat global warming.

More than a quarter of people (28%) said they were more likely to use a renewable energy supplier than this time last year.

Final Thoughts

Some of these answers seem to reflect perceptions rather than reality, as both EV ranges and charging infrastructure are currently fairly adequate. The price of EVs is an obstacle, though, and I have already mentioned that the price of even used EVs is rising because of demand being higher than supply.

We need more EVs — and higher EV grants/incentives, at a time when the UK government have reduced them. There probably would be justification for putting a ceiling on the price of cars grants would be available for. If people are willing and able to pay £40,000 or more for a car, they are a small minority and can probably do so without any help from public funds. Help needs to be given to the average person, the person needing to buy an average EV as a family car but who would not do so without help. That would be more cost effective than paying out grants to people who would buy the EV of their choice with or without a grant.

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Andy Miles

As a child, I had the unrealistic expectation that I would learn about, and understand, absolutely everything during the course of growing up. Now, at the other end of life, I am fully aware of how much I have not learnt and do not understand, and yet, I remain interested in everything. My education, starting with an arts degree and going on to postgraduate studies in everything from computer science to hypnotism reflected my broad interests. For 20 years, I worked in local government. I am now retired, living in North Leicestershire in the UK, with plenty of time for doing whatever I like. I have always had a keen interest in everything alternative, which includes renewable energy and energy efficiency and, of course, electric vehicles. So, naturally, I have taken ownership of an EV, now that they are affordable and practical forms of transport. Writing is also one of my great pleasures, so writing about EVs and environmental issues is a natural evolution for me. You can find my work on EV Obsession, and CleanTechnica, and you can also follow me on twitter.

Andy Miles has 49 posts and counting. See all posts by Andy Miles