EV mass adoption: What will it take for British drivers to go electric?

With the government’s EV targets drawing closer, we’ve run a survey to look at whether the British population is on board with making the switch to electric.

Updated 18 May 2023  | 3 mins read

As the government aims to phase out internal combustion engines, targets for cleaner vehicles have been locked in for 2030 and 2035. However, issues with EV[1] accessibility and charger infrastructure have led to concerns over whether these targets are achievable.

To find out more, we’ve asked drivers if they’re thinking about buying an electric car in the next five years. We also investigated their biggest barriers to getting an EV, as well as what it would take to convince them to make the switch.

EV targets for 2030: are they set to fail?

In March 2022, the government published an action plan centred around EV charging.[2] This includes goals to slowly phase out vehicles with an internal combustion engine (ICE vehicles), and a plan to improve charger infrastructure.

The plan has two main targets:

  1. “To end the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030”
  2. “For all new cars and vans to be fully zero emission at the tailpipe by 2035”

However, for these targets to be met, the general public needs to invest in going electric, and according to our survey results, the majority of drivers aren’t thinking of switching to an EV any time soon.

The majority of motorists won’t buy EVs - Why?

Our survey results[3] show that over half (57.9%) of UK motorists aren’t intending to buy an EV in the next five years. Only a fifth (20.6%) said they are looking to make the switch over the coming years.

Interestingly, although all ages are unlikely to buy an EV, it appears that older generations are the most unwilling to go electric. Almost half (49.2%) of Millennials (people born between 1982-99) said they aren’t planning on getting an EV. This goes up to 57.2% of Gen X (1965-81), and 67.9% of Baby Boomers (1946-64).

For most drivers, the main reason for this is to do with costs. Over half (55.8%) said that this was the main barrier to them buying an electric car. Currently, the average price of an EV is around £50k, with the cheapest models costing an average of around £30k.[4]

The second biggest barrier, at the top of the list for a fifth (20.2%) of people, is an insufficient real-world range[5]. This is particularly prominent among older generations, with only 15.9% of Millennials choosing real-world range as their main deterrent, compared to around a quarter (24.7%) of Baby Boomers. The average estimated range of an EV is currently around 212 miles, dropping to 148 miles in cheaper models.[4]

What will it take for more drivers to buy an EV?

Put simply, motorists want EVs that better resemble the capabilities of current ICE vehicles, for a more accessible price.

The majority of our respondents (47.3%) answered that they’d need a real-world range of over 261 miles to make the switch to EVs. Although some electric cars do have higher mileage, these models aren’t available at a cost that drivers are willing to pay.

Almost three-quarters (71.3%) said that they’d need a price of under £25k in order to buy an EV, and the vehicles closest to this price range are only capable of around 148 real-world miles. Since cost is the biggest deterrent overall, it’s clear that a big leap is needed in order for the range drivers require to become available for a price they’re able to pay.

How can the government encourage EV mass adoption?

So far, the government has tried to encourage EV mass adoption through the creation of EV grants, tax reductions, and similar incentives. This includes the current EV chargepoint grant,[6] which funds up to 75% of the cost of installing a chargepoint at home.

There’s also the current EV exemption to Vehicle Excise Duty (VED). However, this is set to change in 2025, as VED will be introduced to zero-emission cars, vans, and motorcycles, meaning EVs will no longer be road tax-free.[7]

Based on our research, it’s likely that more will need to be done in order to successfully reach 2030 targets. There is a big emphasis on improving charging infrastructure, but with some of the main grants coming to an end, EV purchases are unlikely to increase at the rate needed.

Hugo Griffiths, the consumer editor for Carwow, said that meeting these targets is down to government ministers: “With 66% of Carwow customers thinking the Government should provide support for drivers switching to EVs, it’s clear more support would be popular.

“Given ministers have mandated that only zero-emission cars can be sold past 2035, my view is that it’s only right that the people setting policies also have responsibility for working out how to achieve them if market forces and consumer demand are not enough.”

He also said that “Corporate buyers find support for EVs; around 65% of new EVs are bought by fleets and businesses, bolstered by a company-car tax regime that hugely favours zero-emission vehicles. Yet, consumers shopping on the private market have been left high and dry since the withdrawal of the Plug-in Car Grant (PiCG) in 2022.

“It's unlikely that the PiCG will be reintroduced, but that’s not to say the Treasury has no options left on the table. One option ministers could consider is what VAT rates new EVs should be subject to. This path could reduce the price of an electric car by up to 20%, with smaller reductions for more expensive cars having the potential to effectively facilitate a means-tested incentive scheme.”

Potential EV alternatives

If targets for EV mass adoption fail, could it be time to think about other alternatives, and if so, what other options are there?

According to Hugo Griffiths, electric cars still offer the most potential out of these options: “Hydrogen fuel-cell cars were once considered as an alternative zero-emission solution, but while the technology behind such vehicles works, infrastructure considerations linked to storing and transporting compressed hydrogen, and the cost of engineering fuel cells, make this technology something of a blind alley.

“For now, only electric cars offer the potential for carbon-neutral transport, but we may see synthetic ‘e-fuels’ come into play in the future. These are created when carbon taken from the atmosphere is combined with hydrogen generated using renewable energy, and while e-fuels produce CO2 emissions when burnt in an engine, this is offset by the carbon captured during the fuel’s synthesis.”

About the data

[1] In this report, the terms ‘EV’ and ‘electric vehicle’ refer strictly to battery electric vehicles (i.e. vehicles that are solely electric powered). Other types of low-emission vehicles, such as hybrid electric vehicles, are not included.

[2] Information on the UK electric vehicle infrastructure strategy was sourced from GOV.UK.

[3] To collect the data used in this report, we ran a YouGov Survey of 2,000 UK adults on 7 March 2023. Respondents were selected at random across several demographics. All statistics were sourced from this survey unless otherwise stated.

[4] Average EV prices and ranges have been calculated using the electric vehicle database.

[5] Real-world range refers to the actual range experienced with an electric vehicle, which can differ from the advertised estimated range. The difference can depend on real-world driving conditions such as the type of road, the weather, the weight of the car, and more.

[6] Information about the EV chargepoint grant was sourced from GOV.UK.

[7] Information about VED for EVs was sourced from GOV.UK