A few months ago, I overheard two people bashing electric cars at a time when a hurricane was nearing Florida. “You can’t even drive one out of the state to escape a storm because there are no chargers available and the ones that do exist don’t work when the power is out.” News flash! Gas pumps don’t work when there’s no electricity either, bozos.
There’s another problem with gas pumps. If there’s no gas, they are pretty much useless. Lots of car owners in the UK are finding that out as gasoline supplies have tumbled, partly as a result of there not being enough drivers and tanker trucks to bring gasoline to British forecourts. (“Forecourt” is how you say “gas station” in the British Isles.)
That has led to a spate of panic buying, which only makes the shortages worse, as Americans who remember long lines at gas stations after the OPEC embargoes in the ’70s will recall. It also has led to another phenomenon no one has ever seen before — electric cars passing by while other motorists are stuck in all those forecourts that have no petrol to sell.
James Fairclough, the chief executive of AA Cars, says: “For those already thinking of going electric, the sight of electric vehicle drivers breezing past long queues at service stations during September’s fuel crisis may have been a clincher.” BEVs took a record slice of the new car market in September. According to a report earlier today here on CleanTechnica, nearly 33,000 pure electric cars were registered in the UK last month — almost 50% more than during the same time last year, The Guardian adds. 7,000 of them were Tesla Model 3 sedans, making it the top selling electric car in the UK. Actually, that made it the top selling car — of any kind — in the UK.
Sales of conventional cars have plummeted recently, making it the weakest September total in more than two decades. The global shortages of semiconductors affecting car manufacturers was reportedly a major factor. Only 215,312 new car sales were registered last month, the worst number since 1998, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Numbers were down a third from last September, when Covid-19 restrictions were dampening the buying and selling of cars, and down almost 45% compared with the 10-year average before the pandemic.
September is normally the second-busiest month of the year for the industry. Mike Hawes, chief executive of the SMMT, said the headline figures were “desperately disappointing” and further evidence of the impact that the shortage of semiconductors, especially from Asia, was having on the industry.
New car sales so far this year are only 5.9% better than 2020 figures — the worst year for three decades — and down 29% on the pre-pandemic decade-long average. Sales of diesel cars continued their steep decline, with 77% fewer sold than a year ago. Only one in 20 new cars sold in the UK was a pure diesel last month.
With long lead times for most EV deliveries, analysts said it was too soon for the impact of the fuel crisis to show up in sales. However, Jamie Hamilton, automotive director at Deloitte, added: “The inconvenience of long queues and empty pumps has jump-started many motorists to explore the switch to electric.”
Car retail websites such as Auto Trader reported surging interest in electric cars after 24 September, when news that the shortage of lorry and tanker drivers was affecting forecourt fuel supplies, leading to widespread panic-buying at the pumps. And just wait until people find out they could earn money by plugging their cars into the grid!
Hawes called on the government to step up investment in charging points. “The rocketing uptake of plug-in vehicles, especially battery electric cars, demonstrates the increasing demand for these new technologies,” he said. “However, to meet our collective decarbonization ambitions, we need to ensure all drivers can make the switch — not just those with private driveways — requiring a massive investment in public recharging infrastructure. Charge-point roll out must keep pace with the acceleration in plug-in vehicle registrations.”
Used Car Prices Soar
Seán Kemple, the managing director of Close Brothers Motor Finance, tells The Guardian, “Consumer demand is there, but choice is stifled. Buyers are turning to ‘nearly new’ options, a growing trend where vehicles up to 12 months old are outstripping the price of their new counterparts. The supply chain pressures are unlikely to ease up this side of Christmas, and with secondhand vehicles going for premium prices, customers looking for a car are left in an unenviable position.”
No one would wish the pain of not being able to find gasoline on anyone, but perhaps this disruption in the marketplace will help more people discover the benefits of driving on electrons instead of molecules. It also might encourage others who drive conventional cars to be a little less smug in their disdain for electric vehicles.