Consumers divided over electric vehicle revolution, Which? reveals

Older consumers, those on low incomes and rural households will need more support to switch to electric vehicles due to concerns about affordability, range and the UK’s charging infrastructure, new Which? research has found.

Electric car ownership has soared in the last few years and, with the government’s ban on the sale of new diesel and petrol vehicles looming, motorists are being encouraged to consider switching. However, Which? found there are stark contrasts between different groups of consumers and how they view the transition to electric vehicles.

The mass adoption of electric vehicles is a critical aspect of the government’s net-zero strategy and will benefit consumers who want to lead more sustainable lives, while also potentially reducing their motoring costs.

A new Which? survey found that while two in five people (44%) are comfortable switching to electric vehicles, almost half (49%) are not. The consumer champion found seven in 10 (71%) 18-24-year-olds are comfortable switching to electric vehicles and around half (56%) of those aged between 18 and 39 said they intended to buy one in the future.

However, only a quarter of those aged 65 and above are comfortable switching (26%) or intend to buy an electric vehicle (23%). More than half (52%) of respondents aged 65 and above do not intend to buy an electric vehicle in the future.

Urban dwellers are also more comfortable transitioning to electric vehicles than rural residents, with almost half (47%) of those living in urban areas open to switching and two-fifths (42%) planning to buy one. However, only a third of those living in rural areas felt comfortable switching (34%) or intend to buy an electric vehicle (36%).

Electric cars are currently more expensive to buy compared to petrol or diesel vehicles – a possible contributing factor to lower enthusiasm levels for switching among lower-income households.

The consumer champion found just a third of households (32%) on lower incomes (£21,000 and below) intend to make their next car an electric vehicle and two-fifths (41%) said they have no intention of buying one. This compares to more than half (57%) in more affluent households (more than £48,000) saying they would buy an electric car in the future and only a fifth (21%) saying they had no intention of buying one.

While the upfront cost of an electric car is one reason many people are reluctant to switch, the most common is related to perceptions about inferior performance. Two in five (44%) said concerns about battery range put them off switching to an electric vehicle, while a third (34%) cited the upfront cost.

The UK’s charging infrastructure is also a concern for motorists, with a third (33%) stating they are put off buying an electric car as they are worried about accessing charge points away from home or on long journeys.

In a market study published earlier this year, the Competition and Markets Authority suggested there needs to be a tenfold increase in the number of charge points across the UK by 2030 and that more needs to be done to address the “postcode lottery” of finding a charge point.

The UK government and Ofgem, the energy regulator, have pledged to invest millions of pounds to expand Britain’s public charging network. While Which? supports this move, it also believes the current infrastructure is difficult to navigate, disjointed and must be overhauled to ensure motorists have easy and convenient access to the charge points they need, wherever they live in the UK.

Sue Davies, Which? Head of Consumer Rights and Food Policy, said:

“The mass adoption of electric vehicles is a key element of the government’s net-zero strategy, but while some consumers are ready to switch, our research shows older consumers and those from lower-income or rural households are less inclined to embrace the electric car revolution.

“It is vital that action is taken to address significant barriers including concerns about battery range, cost and the UK’s charging infrastructure that could deter motorists from switching to electric vehicles. Consumers also need more support to ensure they can make the decision to buy an electric car.”

Notes to editor:

Which? surveyed 3,619 UK adults between 30th April and 2nd May 2021. Fieldwork was carried out online by Yonder and data has been weighted to be representative of the UK population (aged 18+). Those who did not drive or did not need a car were excluded from the sample. For questions on intention to purchase an EV and comfort the base was 2,986. The answers on ‘put-offs’ had a base of 2,810 after those who indicated the question was not applicable were removed.

Which?’s research will form part of a major report, due to be published in the next few weeks ahead of the government’s net-zero strategy, on how consumers must be supported in the transition to net-zero.

In episode three of the “Which? Investigates” podcast, host Greg Foot reveals how ‘zero emission’ cars don’t come with a zero footprint and explores whether the UK is ready for such a dramatic change to our transport infrastructure, and if the switch to electric is actually feasible for many of us in the UK. Listen here:

For decades, Which? has played a role in sustainability. We’re committed to championing sustainability for consumers and to being a credible source of expertise and advice on sustainable consumerism. More information is available here:

Previous Which? research:

High upfront cost risks putting off motorists considering switch to electric vehicles, warns Which?

Fragmented electric car public charging networks must be overhauled

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Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.






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