COMMENT: An unbalanced approach to EV infrastructure is doomed to fail

Rebecca Crook urges a joined up approach to charging station infrastructure that aligns businesses, start-ups, innovators and local authorities

As September drew to a close, Boris Johnson and the UK government announced ambitious plans to bring forward the ban on new fossil fuel vehicles from 2040 to 2030, speeding the rollout of electric vehicles (EVs) across British roads. On the other side of the Atlantic, Democratic candidate Joe Biden secured victory in the US election, promising US$400bn in public investment in clean energy and dedicating government spending to supporting EVs, with 500,000 new EV charging outlets by the end of 2030. The quickening of these targets necessitates an equal acceleration from consumers in the adoption of EVs—but to convince people to convert, it is critical to understand what holds them back.

A report from McKinsey found that, behind price and vehicle driving range, the availability of efficient charging stations is the most serious barrier for most consumers. As EV prices drop and improving technology continues to expand the driving range, this barrier could soon become the most pertinent. The widespread introduction of accessible charging points is critical in the mission to convince consumers to adopt an EV—and to hit the government’s looming 2030 deadline.

Uneven adoption suggests there is a lack of strong overarching policy, or appropriate incentive, for developing an encompassing infrastructure for EVs

The Recharge EU report, which is focused on how many charge points Europe and its member states will need in the 2020s, also suggests that in order to meet this demand a harmonised, future-proof infrastructure policy is necessary to recharge the dozens of millions of EVs due to hit the roads in the next decade. However recent reports reveal that the rollout of charging points so far has been unbalanced. According to The Guardian, London and the south-east of the UK have benefited disproportionately from the installation of new electric car charge points in the last year—receiving 45% of new charger capacity in the year to October, well in excess of their 27% share of the population. Already this shows a lack of foresight according to a 2020 Centre for London report showing statistics proving that London has lower car ownership rates than other UK cities—80% of households in the rest of England have at least one vehicle whilst only 56% of London households do.

This uneven adoption suggests there is a lack of strong overarching policy, or appropriate incentive, for developing an encompassing infrastructure for EVs. According to the RAC in the UK, a third of local authorities have ten or fewer locations where drivers can plug in their vehicles. This represents a significant problem for those driving across the country, particularly lorries and logistical fleets. Graeme Cooper, the Director in charge of National Grid’s EV project, noted that “targeted investment will be needed to ensure there are appropriate places where drivers can access sufficient high power charging away from home.”

Somo conducted consumer research among 2,000 UK drivers, assessing attitudes towards buying electric for their next vehicle purchase. Although 1 in 3 are considering an electric car as their next purchase, interest in gasoline and diesel engines showed no sign of decline, with 54% looking at these for their next purchase.

Without ubiquitous access to charging points, EVs stand little chance of disrupting the current status quo. There is a clear and urgent need for a more joined-up approach to developing charging infrastructure, aligning the interests of businesses, start ups, innovators and local authorities.

Without ubiquitous access to charging points, EVs stand little chance of disrupting the current status quo

Digital tools will have a critical role to play in driving the necessary collaboration and innovation. The Somo survey revealed that 50% of consumers would value a tool that showed full charging distance and map journey charging points. The research also revealed that consumers are very open to using tools and technology that would visualise the positives in switching, dynamically highlighting the environmental benefits and difference in running costs as you drive.

The desire to make the switch to EVs is clear, but there are significant hurdles to surmount if we are to hit the ambitious 2030 deadline in the UK and meet the ongoing demands across the world. Car manufacturers need to start pricing more competitively and creatively as well as properly investing in an electric model line-up—many brands still only have one EV option and consumers like to have choice.

To drive real change, the global automotive industry must work with digital leaders, government bodies, environmental campaigners and other stakeholders to ensure no county or consumer is left behind. Norway has just become the first country in the world to see sales of electric cars overtaking gasoline, diesel and hybrids down to infrastructure development and tax exemptions making ownership far more accessible and logical. Mass electric vehicle adoption will only happen in other countries through similar cross-sector collaboration, leveraging digital tools and investing in the necessary infrastructure to create a truly encompassing electric future.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.

Rebecca Crook is Chief Growth Officer at digital product agency Somo

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