Policy shift needed to incentivise electric vehicle take-up, PM told ahead of summit

A diverse range of businesses and trade associations have called for policy changes to incentivise the take-up of electric vehicles, rather than focus on the deployment of public EV chargers.

This follows the publication of a study by European NGO Transport and Environment which found that just public chargers are only used for around 5% of all charging across the continent, including in the UK.

Writing to Theresa May ahead of her appearance at the first Zero Emission Vehicles Summit this week, signatories including the likes of Aviva, Energy UK, housebuilder Willmott Dixon and Sky have called for a new approach to tackle what the letter describes as a fall in UK sales of zero emission vehicles.

Convened by WWF-UK, the coalition of businesses has added to calls for the existing 2040 phase-out of new petrol and diesel car sales to be brought forward, although it stops shy of suggesting a more appropriate date.

The likes of National Grid, city leaders like Labour’s Sadiq Khan and Conservative Andy Street, Green Alliance and MPs from across Parliament have all expressed support for the date to be brought forward to 2030.

Instead, the group called for an acceleration of ambition for the phase-out and instead targeted a more specific policy area around company car benefit-in-kind tax.

Currently, pure electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles are currently incentivised in the same way up until 2020 when a 2% benefit in kind tax rate is to be introduced for full battery EVs. James McKemey, head of the insights team at Pod Point – whose chief executive Erik Fairbairn also signed the letter to May – told Current± earlier this year that the current plans disincentive the purchase of EVs before the end of the decade.

The signatories have therefore called for this rate to be brought forward to 2019/20 to address “the cliff-edge that is disincentivising zero-emission uptake before 2020/21”.

They also suggest supportive EV sales targets and policies be introduced to ensure market readiness to meet demand.

August figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed that one in 12 buyers chose an EV or hybrid last month, with these vehicles now accounting for 8% of the market.

Until now, many have suggested that the country’s EV infrastructure would hold back take-up, with drivers put off by the perceived lack of public chargers. However, consensus has begun to emerge over this view, with the new study from Transport and Environment claiming just 5% of charging in Europe is done on public networks.

Furthermore, it suggests that as the market matures this share is expected to decline with a preference for more fast charging over slow kerbside sites.

Evidence from Norway, the most developed EV market in Europe, shows that the share of drivers relying on public slow charging on a daily basis dropped from almost 10% in 2014 to just 2% in 2017 (about 15% of drives used it on a weekly basis).

The visibility of public recharging may however be important in encouraging existing drivers of conventional cars to switch to electric options despite them being rarely used.

Creating a visible network of public chargers was part of the key recommendations from the National Infrastructure Commission in its assessment published in July. It argued that more parking spaces should be equipped with charging points to ensure the country is ready for demand.

Responding the recent letter, a National Infrastructure Commission spokesman said: “Recent figures have shown the increasing demand there is for electric vehicles. Today’s call from Energy UK and business is therefore a welcome recognition of the benefits this can bring to the UK.

“But to support drivers to make the switch from petrol and diesel, our National Infrastructure Assessment recommends that councils work with charge point providers to ensure more of their parking spaces – including on-street parking – can be ready for electric vehicles.

“This should be a key part of delivering a truly visible and national charging network so that as demand for electric cars continues to surge, our infrastructure can keep up.”

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