Image credit: Peter Burgess, used under Creative Commons license.
Oh dear. No sooner do we hear that UK solar sales are rising due to plummeting costs, than take up of another mainstay of green techno-fix hopes appears to be stalling before it ever really started. UK sales of electric vehicles fell 50% in the second quarter of 2011, despite a huge Government grant. What's more depressing is that they fell from a truly paltry figure in the first place. So why are electric cars not selling?Writing over at The Guardian, Will Nicholls of Business Green reports that electric car sales fell to just 215 vehicles between April and June of this year, down from 465 in the first three months. All this despite a government grant that offers £5,000 (about US$7,500) to purchasers of eligible vehicles.
These figures are a slap in the face to Government, environmental groups and manufacturers who remain convinced that electric cars will become a larger and larger part of our cleaner energy future. So what's going on?
Certainly the high sticker price of EVs, compared to similar cars, is still a major factor. Even with the government grant, cars like the Nissan Leaf are a much larger upfront investment than internal combustion engine cars. But that's not the only obstacle. Despite evidence that limited range is less of a problem than people might think, range anxiety is undoubtedly real. And for a technology that is best suited to urban and suburban environments, the fact that many British town homes have no driveway means that charging can be a major challenge. (Who wants power cables trailing over the pavement/sidewalk?)
But another factor may be at play here.
The most likely market to step out and take a risk on new green technology are the early adopters, and the environmentally committed. It is just possible that those with both the cash to spare and the motivation to act are sinking it instead into solar installations, given that the economics of solar are proving so favorable right now. That, combined with the fact that many British cities enjoy both reasonable bike/walkability, and at least a passable mass transit network, and the public appetite for EVs may need more of a boost than simple cash incentives.
With the UK government withdrawing support for public EV charging, potential buyers are seeing mixed signals right now. But the early stages of adoption of any new technology is a marathon, not a sprint. With utilities boosting their EV charging services, and rave reviews coming in from those who actually get to test drive an electric vehicle, we may just find that the early ebb and flow of demand turns into a steady trickle once familiarity and confidence kicks in. Then again, we may just continue to take the bus.