Obstacles to electric vehicle take-up

We were asked by Fleet News magazine to comment on 'blocks' to the take-up of electric vehicles. Mark Norman of CAP Automotive Intelligence Services, CAP's consultative arm, listed the following ongoing issues ...

7 blocks to the take-up of electric vehicles

November 6 2012

Mark Norman – CAP Automotive Intelligence Services (AIS)

(Note: CAP AIS is the consulting service of CAP which provides bespoke strategic advice and analysis to leading automotive players in Britain and Europe, including motor manufacturers, banks, credit risk analysts and fleets).

1.   Electric vehicles are technology-led, not user need-led.

People are used to being able to jump into a car and undertake a journey of any distance. With an EV there is an element of planning, involving charging opportunities and even how the weather will affect the vehicle’s range. EV’s are most suited to a single use cycle, such as commutes or other highly predictable journeys that are well within the standard range. The market is therefore restricted to – for example – households which also have a conventional vehicle which provides all the flexibility with which people are accustomed.

In short, conventional technology and infrastructure fits around usage while EVs dictate the way a vehicle is used.

People want technology to make their life easier. They do not want to adjust their life to fit the restrictions posed by new technology and pay a premium for the privilege.

2.       Risk of obsolescence

People are used to technology improving incrementally. Cars are replaced by new models which are better but still similar to their predecessors. There is no real fear, when buying a car, that it will be rendered obsolete by its replacement. EVs must undergo a range revolution to appeal to a wider audience. Therefore today’s EVs are seen as likely to be obsolete when that leap in performance is achieved. This makes an EV a higher risk purchase than a conventional vehicle.

3.       Lack of heritage demands greater trust

The absence of heritage on matters such as battery technology means people have to trust the manufacturer without basing that trust on the overwhelming weight of a long track record of reliability. It only takes a small number of problems to reach the public domain before seeds of doubt are sown and potentially damage a maker’s reputation more quickly than if they occur in a conventional vehicle.

4.       The finances don’t add up

EVs are too expensive at the front end to offer significant savings over time. If the trend which led to the oil price spike of 2008 had continued, the financial argument would be stronger by now. But it didn’t and it is all but impossible under a normal usage cycle to recoup the additional cost.

5.       Inconvenience

Charging infrastructure is an issue and charging at home is impractical for many people.

6. Advances in conventional technology, such as the 60mpg petrol engine and 80+mpg diesels, can only weaken the fuel economy argument with every improvement.

7.  Uncertainty over future taxation policy

There is no evidence that governments can behave responsibly by maintaining a stable policy in relation to tax breaks that encourage the take-up of any energy-saving technology. The story of LPG and, more recently, solar energy are testament to that. People will be wary of a changing taxation regime that removes the current benefits for EVs.


In conclusion, it’s worth reminding ourselves that electric vehicles were not developed to meet the needs of motorists. The impetus for their development came from other political, industrial and economic issues outside of the UK.



Mike Hind