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Government needs to tackle EV misinformation

House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee calls for more work to encourage transition to electric vehicles

Mark Moran
06 February 2024
EV Strategy: Rapid recharged needed (Chuttersnap/Unsplash)

 

The government needs build consumer confidence in electric vehicles by countering false information, says the House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee.

A new report – EV Strategy: Rapid recharged needed – also argues that the high cost of electric vehicles and anxiety about whether and where to charge them are also key factors deterring people making the transition to EVs.

To address range anxiety, the Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (LEVI) Fund should be extended for three years to support local authorities to roll out public chargepoints. If need be government should bring in new powers to instruct local authorities with insufficient charging infrastructure to take action.

The committee also recommends that the government introduce targeted grants for electric cars to support consumers and stimulate the market.

The report recommends that government should explore options for equalising the VAT differential between public and domestic charging by reducing the 20% VAT rate applied to public charging to 5% in line with domestic electricity.

Challenges

The committee states that a successful transition to electric vehicles will be essential for net zero. Surface transport is the UK’s highest-emitting sector, with passenger cars responsible for over half the sector’s emissions, and electric cars can provide dramatic reductions in emissions and improved air quality. But with electric vehicles making up about only 3% of all cars currently on UK roads, concerted government action to get people to adopt electric cars is urgently needed.

The report recognises that government has committed to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035, and there has been some progress towards this target. But the committee say this is not happening fast enough, and major barriers remain. These include:

  • Electric cars are still more expensive than petrol and diesel
  • The availability of public chargepoints across the UK is highly variable, and the government has missed important targets for the public charging infrastructure
  • Major funding programmes have faced serious delays
  • Many consumers are anxious about whether and where they will be able to charge electric vehicles reliably, affordably and quickly, and about the battery range of second hand cars.

Baroness Parminter, chair of the committee, said both government officials and other witnesses to the enquiry had reported reading disinformation on the subject in national newspapers. “We have seen a concerted effort to scare people,” she told the BBC. “We have seen articles saying that cars are catching fire, but had evidence that the fire risk is absolutely the same as petrol and diesel cars,” she told the BBC.

Baroness Parminter said the government needs to step in and provide consumers with reliable information. “In the speech by the PM last year where he said getting to net zero was going to be hard,” she said. “The message that the public got is that this was less of a priority, I don't need to worry about this now. But net zero is fast approaching and the sooner we do it the cheaper it will be.”

Giving evidence to the committee, Richard Bruce, director of transport decarbonisation at the Department for Transport, recognised misinformation was a problem. He told the committee: “I do think there has been an impact from a concerted campaign of misinformation over the last 14 months or so that has been pushing consistent myths about EVs that people absorb and which is reflected in their appetite for purchasing EVs. There is an anti-EV story in the papers almost every day. Sometimes there are many stories, almost all of which are based on misconceptions and mistruths, unfortunately.”

Recommendations

1. Clear, accurate messaging
Though the electric vehicle (EV) transition is achievable by the 2035 deadline, it poses major challenges to industry, the UK's infrastructure and consumer habits of a lifetime. The committee heard that the government’s messaging has not been clear or consistent enough to give industry and the public the confidence they need.

In September 2023, the prime minister told the public that achieving net zero “is going to be hard”. By emphasising only the challenges and not the benefits, the government is not building public confidence. After the PM’s speech, 37% of consumers surveyed by Auto Trader said they would never buy an electric vehicle. Faced with conflicting claims and alarmist headlines, consumers need a go-to source of comprehensive, clear and balanced information so they can make informed decisions. It said: “Consumers need more information and a trusted source of information. There are so many mixed messages out there and confusion about making the right decision that consumers are worried about what they should do.”
Recommendation: The government should take a more proactive and leading role in communicating a positive vision of the EV transition to consumers, and promoting comprehensive, clear, authoritative, accurate and balanced information. It should also develop a communication strategy in collaboration with industry partners and consumer organisations to provide clear, authoritative and trustworthy information.

2. Support for upfront costs
Though more electric cars are being sold, significant barriers exist for many drivers, particularly those on lower incomes. Some 56% of respondents to a 2023 survey by Auto Trader said upfront cost was the biggest obstacle to them adopting an EV. As the market matures over the coming years, more affordable EVs are expected to be produced, but electric cars are still more expensive than their petrol and diesel equivalents. Yet the government has removed grants that previously existed to help with the upfront costs.
Recommendation: The government should explore targeted grants for electric cars to support consumers and stimulate the market. These should apply to more affordable models – not expensive SUVs. As the market matures and the price of electric cars falls equivalent to petrol and diesel cars, these incentives should be tapered and brought to a close.

3. Boosting the charging network
Insufficient access to reliable charging is the other main barrier to drivers considering an EV. Some 56% of What Car? readers surveyed cited the chargepoint network as a reason for not going electric.  The government has announced major funding schemes to support the rollout of public chargepoints, but these have suffered significant delays, and progress across the country is highly variable.
Recommendation: The Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (LEVI) Fund should be extended for three years to support local authorities to roll out public chargepoints. The government should bring in new powers to instruct local authorities with insufficient charging infrastructure to take action.

4. Making charging prices fair
In many cases, EV charging costs less than petrol refuelling, and home charging is significantly cheaper. According to research by the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), 90% of the electric car drivers they polled would not go back to a petrol or diesel vehicle and 57% of these cited spending less on fuel as a benefit.  But some forms of public charging, particularly ultra-rapid charging, are more expensive than petrol. Part of this is due to VAT: 5% VAT is applied to home charging and 20% to public charging.
Recommendation: The government should explore options for equalising the VAT differential between public and domestic charging by reducing the 20% VAT rate applied to public charging to 5% in line with domestic electricity.

Responses

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: "The Lords report recognises the role government must play in accelerating the EV transition. Many of the recommendations have already been highlighted by industry, such as chargepoint rollout ahead of need, equalising VAT on public charging to home charging and the importance of purchase incentives, which could be delivered by a VAT cut. The report also notes the need for clear, consistent communication of the UK’s ambition. The industry will continue to work with government to ensure this is a transition for all – including ministers whose cars should also be electric by the end of the year.”

RAC head of policy Simon Williams said: “We welcome this important and far-reaching report from the House of Lords and urge the government to take the recommendations it makes seriously. We have long argued that mass uptake of EVs – which is the government’s aim – depends on prices falling to make them the natural choice for more people, so we are particularly pleased to see the committee supporting the introduction of targeted grants for new electric cars, aimed at the more affordable end of the market.

“We believe the UK was too hasty in scrapping the plug-in car grant as it did lead to more lower-priced models being introduced. Without further financial support, it will be a long time before the majority of drivers will be able to afford to make the switch to electric.

“The committee rightly acknowledges the important role the 2023 Public Charge Point Regulations will play in ensuring drivers benefit from good quality public charging infrastructure in the future, and we’re pleased to see its suggestion that elements of the UK’s first Public Charging Charter – which we developed alongside the FairCharge campaign – could form the basis of a future review of them.

“The unequivocal support for VAT to be charged at the same 5% rate whether a driver is charging at home or at a public charger also now piles yet more pressure on the Treasury to correct this bizarre anomaly. As things stand, the current mismatched VAT rates are an unnecessary barrier to switching to an electric car for the estimated third of people who can’t charge an EV at home and who wholly rely on the public charging network.”

Ian Plummer, commercial director of Auto Trader, commented: “The Lords Committee has rightly grasped the urgency of putting the electric transition back on track and instilling confidence with drivers, because after the Government delayed its ban on new petrol and diesel sales last September more than a third of consumers said they would never go electric. That means ending the unfairness of higher VAT on public charging, for example, and restoring grants in a targeted fashion to make electric vehicle ownership a viable option for everyone. Electric cars need to be accessible to all, so we welcome this report and urge the government to act.”

EV Strategy: Rapid recharged needed

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