More than half of motorists1 aged 16 to 49 years say they are likely to switch to all-electric vehicles within the next decade – when sales of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars and vans will have come to an end.
The move could have a significant impact on the UK drive to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. As of 2019, transport was responsible for 27% of total UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Among adults in Great Britain surveyed by the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) between 22 September and 3 October 2021, 44% of all petrol, diesel and hybrid drivers said they were either likely or very likely to switch to an all-electric vehicle in the next 10 years.
By this time vehicles reliant solely on fossil fuels will have been phased out, with the sale of hybrid vehicles to end slightly later in 2035.
More than 4 in 10 of those likely to switch to electric (41%) expected to do so in the next five years.
Among 16- to 29-year-old adults who own a conventional vehicle, 52% said they were either likely or very likely to switch to electric in the next 10 years, with similar levels among 30- to 49-year-olds (54%).
Among those who said they would be purchasing a new vehicle in the next year, almost one in four (24%) said they intended to buy either an all-electric (8%) or plug-in hybrid (16%).
Data collected during the fuel shortages across the UK in late September and early October was broadly similar to response rates between 8 and 19 September 2021, when 57% of 16- to 29-year-olds and 56% of 30- to 49-year-olds said they were likely to switch to electric in the next decade.
- Motorists include all vehicles, including mopeds which can be driven by those aged 16 years
Most cars on UK roads still run on conventional fuels, with 97% of the 32.7 million licensed cars in 2020 powered by petrol (58%, 19.1 million) or diesel (38%, 12.5 million).
Cars powered by alternative fuels – including hybrid electric, battery electric, fuel cell and gas – made up the remainder, with 1.1 million (3% of all cars) licensed in 2020.
At the end of 2020, there were around 431, 661 ultra-low emission cars, commonly referred to as ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs), which typically emit less than 75g of CO2 from the tailpipe for every kilometre travelled.
This was around eight times higher than the end of 2015, when there were 55, 059 ULEV cars in the UK.
While electric cars are not net zero emissions over their lifetime - with emissions associated with the production process - overall, they are cleaner than traditional alternatives.
A 2021 study by independent non-profit, the International Council on Transportation, estimated that emissions over the lifetime of an electric cars were 66% to 69% lower than those of petrol cars in Europe.
Among conventional vehicle owners who said they were not likely to switch to an electric vehicle in the next 10 years, 70% said cost was a reason, according to the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN).
In 2020, ownership of privately licensed plug-in vehicles was more common in UK local authority areas with a higher gross disposable household income per person.
Plug-in vehicle ownership is more common in areas with more disposable income
Privately licensed plug-in vehicles per 100 households (2020), by gross disposable household income per head (2019), UK
- Plug-in car data is based on the location of the registered keeper and may not reflect where the vehicle is kept.
Kensington and Chelsea, the area with the highest annual gross disposable household income per head (£85,376) other than the City of London, had the second highest rate of licensed plug-in vehicles per 100 households (2.4) in the UK.
Only one of the 20 local authority areas with the highest proportion of plug-in vehicles had an annual gross disposable income per head below the UK median of £20,237 (The Orkney Islands). All others were in London, the East or South of England.
While plug-in vehicle ownership is more common in London boroughs with higher gross disposable income per head, cost remains a hurdle for many living in the UK capital.
More than four in five drivers in London (83%) who were not planning to switch to electric in the next 10 years said cost was a reason – the highest of any region in Great Britain.
Based on analysis of data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) from January to July 2021, the average sale price of the 10 best-selling BEVs (£29,073) was around 30% higher than the average sale price for the top 10 best-selling petrol vehicles (£20,128).
While the upfront costs remain higher, running costs for battery electric vehicles (BEVs) provide better lifetime savings over fossil fuels.
Based on average price data from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) for standard electricity (17.4p per kwh) and unleaded petrol (£1.14 per litre) in 2020, the cost of fuelling 100 miles in the top-selling electric car (£3.94) was less than half (41.7%) of the cost to fuel 100 miles in the top-selling petrol car (£9.45).
Other factors are predicted to help bring down costs in the plug-in vehicle market compared with petrol and diesel, with the cost of electric batteries forecast to halve between 2020 and 2030.
According to projections from the independent Climate Change Committee's Sixth Carbon Budget, the upfront vehicle cost of a battery electric vehicle will be similar to that of a conventionally powered car by 2030.
With lower running costs, lifetime costs for battery electric vehicles would be 13% cheaper than conventional fuel cars in 2030. With liquid fuel costs in addition to electricity and maintenance costs, plug-in hybrid vehicles are projected to be more expensive than conventional vehicles.
Purely electric vehicles and some alternative fuel cars are also exempt from Vehicle Excise Duty, which is charged annually and raised more than £7 billion in 2020, with £2 billion in duty paid by businesses.
Plug-in vehicles are also eligible for various grants, both at point of sale of up to £2,500, and for up to 75% of the cost of installing home charging infrastructure.
Difficulties recharging electric cars – sometimes referred to as "range anxiety" - has also been cited as a key factor against switching from conventional fuels.
More than half (52%) of car owners surveyed by the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey between 22 September and 3 October 2021, who were not likely to switch to electric in the next decade, quoted a lack of infrastructure, such as charging devices, as a reason.
The CCC estimates 325,000 public charging points will be needed to support a fleet of 23.2 million electric cars across the UK by 2032.
By 1 October 2021 there were a total of 25,918 public charging points across the UK, with the latest data showing 460,090 plug-in cars.
Almost one in five (19%) of those were rapid charge points (with speeds of 25kW to 350kW), which can charge an electric car to 80% in as little as 20 minutes.
According to data from Zap-Map, as of 1 October 2021 there were 9 rapid charge points for every 100km of the major road network across the UK.
The best provision was in Hammersmith and Fulham, with 39 rapid charge points including three along the A4. This equates to 121 rapid charge points per 100km of major road - and London boroughs made up 5 of the 10 local authority areas with the highest provision.
Rapid charge hotspots outside London include Milton Keynes (118 per 100km of major road), Slough (97 per 100km of major road), Dundee (90 per 100km of major road) and Coventry (72 per 100km of major road).
Ards and North Down had no rapid charge points listed, and just one was listed in both Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, and Causeway Coast and Glens (0.3 per 100km of major road respectively).
Public rapid charging provision is highest in London, which lacks home charging
Provision of public rapid charge points per 100km of motorway (October 2021) and home devices installed per 1,000 households (2013 to July 2021), UK
Public charge points of all speeds, including rapid charge points, are also concentrated in London, with 30% of all public charge points across the UK (7,865 of 25,918).
Elsewhere the highest rates are found in Coventry (728 per 100km of major road) and Brighton and Hove (549 per 100km of major road).
Currently 57 UK local authorities have fewer than 20 public charge points. Westminster alone has more than 1,000.
Almost an eighth (12.2%) of all public charge points are marked with some form of restrictions, such as being only for taxis, for customers only or not having 24 hour access.
Home charging is a far more common method of routinely fuelling electric vehicles (EVs), making up around 80% of all EV charging on the latest estimates, but the ability to do so depends on access to parking.
Home-charge device installations increased almost four-fold between March 2015 to March 2021, from 1065 to 5,084 a month (six monthly rolling averages).
They are not spread evenly, however, with London seeing a shortage of provision compared with other UK regions.
The highest rates are in the North East, with 15 home devices installed for every 1,000 households.
Across London there have been 4 home devices installed for every 1,000 households, with Hackney having the lowest rate (1 device for every 1,000 households).
London has a much higher provision of public charge points than home devices
Public charge points per 100km of road (October 2021) and home devices installed per 1,000 households (July 2021)
- The actual number of domestic devices may be different as data from the Department for Transport do not include home charge devices funded entirely privately and it is not possible to confirm if they are operational.
This is a likely result of a lack of off-street parking. Data from the English Housing Survey indicates a third (33%) of households in England do not have access to off-street parking, rising to almost two thirds (58.9%) in London and the South East.
It has created a demand for communal infrastructure, with on-street devices much more common in parts of London. More than three quarters (75.1%) of the public charge points in London are marked as on-street, rising to 9 in 10 in some boroughs.
More than three quarters of public charge points in London are on-street
Proportion of public electric car charge points, by speed and whether they have an on-street marker, UK, October 2021
More are on the way, with more than 2,000 applications for on-street charge points approved for London councils under the On-Street Residential Chargepoint Scheme (ORCS) but not yet installed as of July 2021.
The number of charge points awaiting installation was 100 times the number that have been installed to that date in London (287), and higher than the total number installed under the ORCS scheme across the UK to July 2021 (1,459).
Around two-thirds of the total number of approved ORCS applications across the UK (3,282) have been granted to London borough councils.
The UK charging network is likely to grow in the future with the Net Zero Strategy, published in October 2021. This announced £620m in grants for electric cars and local charging infrastructure, with a focus on on-street residential charging.