Despite petrol prices hitting all-time high records, and the threat of a tanker drivers’ strike turning the nation’s forecourts into battlegrounds, our attachment and reliance upon petrol powered cars has never been greater. With 30 million vehicles on the roads, it seems the personal freedom that they bring is ingrained into the fabric of our personal and business lives – and this love affair with the car is unlikely to change.
But as fossil fuel supplies dwindle, and with a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions coming from petrol and diesel road vehicles; a fact very much on the radar of government courtesy of the Climate Change Act 2008; it could be argued that there has never been a better time to make the case for electric cars as the way forward in terms of easing running costs and reducing the impact of motor car emissions.
While on the surface the benefits of electric vehicles appear to make them a favoured transport mode of the future, as with most complex scenarios there are a number of pros and cons which require a balanced assessment. It will then be up to the public and business communities alike to assess the arguments for and against the merits of electric cars versus the combustion engine. Worldwide it is estimated that about 50,000 electric vehicles were sold in 2011. About 1,000 of this number were purchased in the UK, accounting for just 0.06% of annual new sales. Indeed, back in 2010, the Committee on Climate Change predicted UK yearly sales of about 11,000 electric sales by now – a forecast that is way short of the current reality. And remember this is set against a background of the £5,000 car grant introduced by the government early in 2011 to try to stimulate sales.
So is the public slow to catch on? And, if so, why is this? Perhaps a quick summary of some of perceived advantages and disadvantages to the case for electric vehicles will shed some light on consumer and business behaviour.
These fall into two primary areas. Firstly, how people feel about the cars themselves, running them, their performance and how they look. Secondly, the wider implications of the infrastructure required to support an electric car industry in the UK and where users can charge and service their vehicles.
There are notably also several dual-fuel cars (often called hybrid cars) on the market, which typically combine an internal combustion engine (petrol or diesel fuelled) with electric battery power or some other fuel. These vehicles, whilst offering the security of familiar petrol driven power, can switch between power sources – such as a petrol motor and electric battery – in order to maximise performance and efficiency. However, the challenges for these vehicles are those of electric cars, as the batteries also require charging etc. If a different source of dual fuel is used (such as gas), availability can also be an issue.
According to Dr Clive Roberts, senior lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton, the future for electric cars is one of great possibility. He comments that “whilst the advantages of low emissions and cost are attractive, the reality is that until a significant development in the nationwide support infrastructure required for electric vehicles takes place, the chances of electric car sales outstripping combustion engines remains remote”. “However, while the majority of people may be taking a back seat on the issue for now, major expansion plans to increase charging points across the region could help to reverse the trend”.
Plugged-In Midlands (PIM) combines the roll-out of electric vehicle infrastructure with the development of regional capabilities associated with the electrification of road transport. It is one of eight national ‘Plugged-In Places’ projects. Over the next two years, the project will develop a regional network of more than 500 electric vehicle charging points across both the East and West Midlands that will be fully compatible with the Charging Points being installed across the country.
Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre