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Pure electric and plug-in hybrid cars available in the UK - Picture: Go Ultra Low
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The market

  • Background, market penetration, sales etc.

The share of the market taken by electric cars is tiny – but it’s growing fast. During the first three-quarters of 2017 11,127 new pure electric vehicles were sold in the UK, up 37 per cent on the corresponding period in 2016.

According to industry body Go Ultra Low there were more than 120,000 plug-in cars (including plug-in hybrids) by September 2017, with sales of all plug-ins accounting for 1.7 per cent of new car registrations.

By the end of 2017, 119,821 new alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) – mainly hybrids and electric – had been registered in the UK, up 37 per cent compared with the 88,891 registered in 2016.

  • What’s available – new

A few years ago, the main mass market all-electric options – aside from the premium sector-dominating Teslas – were the Nissan Leaf and the Renault Zoe but now there is much more choice. Among the other models available are electric versions of the Hyundai Ioniq, Volkswagen Golf, the Volkswagen Polo, the Kia Soul and the Mercedes B-Class, as well as the electric-only models such as Teslas and the BMW i3.

  • What’s available – used

There is now a fairly wide choice of used electric vehicles. The most common vehicles are early Nissan Leafs and Renault Zoes, as well as the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and its rebadged Peugeot and Citroen sisters.

Outline of manufacturers’ announced plans

Just a few years ago, only a small number of manufacturers offered electric cars. Now almost every big manufacturer is offering or plans to offer not just one but several models.

Nissan has focused most of its effort on the popular Leaf, and recently launched a well-received second generation model. Renault has a range of electrics, the most important of which is the Zoe, which is now being offered with a much bigger battery than that fitted to the original version.

Tesla, having previously concentrated on larger, more expensive cars such as the Model S and Model X, is now offering the Model 3, a more affordable car designed to be sold in much larger numbers.

The Korean manufacturers are also increasing their efforts in the field of electrification. Kia sells a pure electric version of the Soul, and Hyundai has introduced the Ioniq, the first car available as a conventional hybrid, a plug-in hybrid or a pure electric car.

The biggest recent change in manufacturers’ plans has been the decision of the German premium manufacturers, which for so long saw ever more efficient turbodiesels as their main motor of growth, to embrace electric much more fully than in the past.

BMW has already been an early electrifier with, in particular, the i3, but now all of the German premium car-makers have accelerated their plans to introduce wide ranges of pure electric and plug-in hybrid models.

One to watch – Toyota, which has extensive experience of electrification as the main pioneer of hybrid drivetrains and also sold an electric version of the RAV-4 in the US in the past.

Toyota appears to be placing its next big bet on hydrogen fuel cell technology rather than pure electrics, but it will be interesting to see whether, like the German manufacturers, it will decide to put more emphasis on pure electric cars as the market develops.

Almost all manufacturers also have plans to expand the number of hybrids and plug-in hybrids in their ranges.

What does the future hold?

Previously, electric vehicles initiatives typically involved small trial fleets as part of officially sponsored projects. The extent of the big manufacturers’ electrification plans suggests that the electrification trend has a commercially-driven momentum of its own, but governments are still setting targets to promote development as well.

  • Government targets and schemes

 National government

Several national governments have set electrification targets – although most of the deadlines are so far in the future that they haven’t really started to bite yet, and there’s plenty of time for public policy priorities to change over the long periods involved.

The British government’s goal is that by 2040, no conventional petrols or diesels should be sold in the UK but hybrids and plug-in hybrids will still be permitted. France has a similar 2040 target but other countries are at least considering more demanding timetables. And of course these targets are backed up by a variety of fiscal and other incentives as well.

  • Local government targets and schemes

Several local authorities have directly or indirectly been setting electrification targets, or at least been encouraging electrification.

For example, electric vehicles are among the categories favoured by the Ultra Low Emission Discount (ULED) for the London Congestion Charge (LCC) system, and a further tightening is expected when an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) coinciding with the boundaries of the LCC zone is introduced in April 2019.

The stricter ULEZ arrangements will replace the recently introduced T-Charge which penalises older diesel and petrol cars and vans.

Nottingham, to take another example, has 2020 electrification targets for hackney cabs (40 per cent) and private hire vehicles (25 per cent), backed up by investment in electric charging points in the city centre.

  • Manufacturer targets

Several manufacturers have also set ambitious electrification targets. Probably the one that has attracted most attention is Volvo’s intention to fit electric motors to every car it sells by 2019, although this includes hybrids as well as pure electric vehicles, so isn’t perhaps as ambitious a target as it first appears.

Jaguar Land Rover, to take another example, has a similar target with a 2020 deadline and launches the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace in 2018.

The main German manufacturers, who for so long emphasised the importance of turbodiesels in their future plans, are also joining in. BMW, for example, wants to have 25 electrified models in its range, of which 12 will be fully electric.

And Toyota has announced a target to sell 5.5 million electrified cars a year by 2030.

Coupled with plans to make electrified vehicles more popular over the next decade, Toyota’s electrified vehicle strategy centers on a significant acceleration in the development and launch plans of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), battery electric vehicles (BEVs), and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).




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