Where are the electric cars?

21 Nov

Where are all the electric cars? According to the latest RAC Foundation report, Keeping the nation moving, the government wants us to have 1.7 million of the things on the road by 2020 to be on track to meet our carbon reduction targets. Unfortunately only 106 people bought one in the last quarter even with a very generous £5,000 sweetener against each purchase – a total of 940 electric cars have been sold in 2011 (in and out of the scheme). At this rate it will take another 1,700 years until we meet the government’s 2020 target. Possibly that is why the RAC Foundation recommends that we should rely on petrol cars for a little longer (page 33) and should build more roads (because petrol cars are so inefficient when stuck in traffic). (page 34)

Unlike the RAC I am more interested in car clubs which had 161,000 members in the UK by January 2011, up from 112,298 members the year before. That is 161,000 people sharing only 3,055 cars between them, no wonder the motor industry isn’t that keen. Car club members tend to only use cars for the odd journey and are much more likely to walk, cycle and use public transport for everyday journeys reducing congestion and pollution for everyone and also the need to build roads. So, no wonder that the road builders aren’t keen.

The really interesting thing about car club membership however is the demographic profile. Here is a chart from the Carplus report shows that car club membership is strong amongst younger drivers which is always interesting. I wonder what the demographic profile of people buying electric cars is?

Car club membership by age

So… personally, if I was the new Transport Secretary I would not want to be sitting where Philip Hammond is sitting in the picture below taken in July 2011. I would pushing for money to be spent on supporting car clubs and would be resisting the road building and motoring lobby. If I was the RAC Foundation, or to give them their full title of ‘Royal Automobile Club Foundation for Motoring Limited’ I would be worrying that it was all going horribly wrong.

Hammond in electric car

9 Responses to “Where are the electric cars?”

  1. Graham Martin-Royle November 22, 2011 at 2:23 am #

    I have to have a car to get to & from work. One week I’ll be starting at 04.00hrs, the next I could be finishing at 02.00hrs. I need a car to get myself to & from home. I want an electric car, my commute is urban, it’s all I use a car for, an electric car will have more than enough mileage in it’s batteries for me. So why don’t I have one? Because, even with a £5000 bribe, they are still way outside my budget. I’ll have to stick with my Smart car for a while longer, until there are some at a sensible price on the second hand market.

    • livinginabox November 22, 2011 at 7:18 am #

      The question is, how far do you commute? I am led to believe that the average distance driven in London is two miles. Sadly I can’t locate a source. But the National Travel Survey tells us that the average UK distance driven, all purposes, has been 7 miles for decades. Of the 50% of those journeys under 7 miles many can be easily cycled.

      Now I realist that you may not live in London, but cycling on a sensible roadster bicycle might work very well for you. It works for millions of others.

      The type of specification I have in mind is upright frame, mudguards, dynamo powered LED lighting, full chain-case, hub gears, pannier racks and panniers.

      It would also save you considerable sums of money, and in urban areas, cycling is often quicker than driving.

      • Graham Martin-Royle November 22, 2011 at 11:29 am #

        I commute 5 miles. I already have a cycle which I use as much as possible but cycling at 04.00hrs in pouring rain, in the dark, in mid winter, is not something I would advocate before starting work. Maybe when I was younger, but the closer I get to retiring, the less likely I’m going to be doing something like that.

      • livinginabox November 22, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

        Re: Cycling in pouring rain
        As for getting caught in pouring rain, that’s happened just once in over a year. It’s incredibly unusual. It was a heavy shower, not rain and I was prepared. It’s no big deal.

        Cyclists are not made of sugar and we don’t dissolve.

    • Peter Miller November 22, 2011 at 8:38 am #

      Thanks Graham. My main point was that there is a huge amount of wishful thinking around all this from policy makers and the industry. People think that electric cars will replace petrol cars like-for-like. I don’t think they will. The government hopes we will all chose electric cars in the next few years. The evidence is that they won’t. The motor industry hates the idea of car clubs because they could half the number of car sales for starters of those people who don’t need a car every day. Policy makers and the motor industry hate the idea of express coach, even though it is incredibly carbon efficient, because it is again not their dream future.

      • Graham Martin-Royle November 22, 2011 at 11:35 am #

        I agree Peter. I don’t think that electric cars will replace petrol on a like for like basis. As I said, I use my car for commuting only (at the times I go to/from work, public transport hasn’t started up). My commute is such that I should be a shoo-in for an electric car, but they are way out of my price range. As for car clubs, with my hours of work, they’re not much use to me. Any long distance travel I have to do, I tend to use the train. Should I have a need for a car, I’ll hire one for the time needed (I haven’t needed to do this for over 10yrs now).

  2. SteveL November 22, 2011 at 8:52 am #

    The problem w/ electric cars is they are only a #2 vehicle; you still need something else for longer journeys, such as at weekends.

    Car clubs are more efficient as they use less parking space, but also reduce the space for non-car club members to park. Maybe it’s also that
    -you don’t get to show off your shiny new car club car in your driveway
    -they are actually not much use on commutes precisely because you pay for every hour you keep them at the office
    -car club users are not members of the RAC, share maintenance costs with all other members
    -reduce the number of cars sold in the city

    They are certainly a threat to vendors of cars if they reduce the #sold. But why should the RAC care about that?

  3. pete November 22, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    ‘I wonder what the demographic profile of people buying electric cars is?’

    Given the high price of electric cars I expect hardly any of the tiny number of electric cars on the road are bought by young people.

    For all real statistical purposes the number of electric cars is effectively zero.

    Obviously, even eco-enthusiasts don’t buy them.

    • tomford August 30, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

      Amazing to know that as of early last century was thinking about electric cars. Baker Motor Vehicle impressive work done in relation to those days and the quality of illustration, too.
      Tags: car charging.

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