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Friend of Tortoise Exclusive

What will accelerate the UK’s EV transition?

What will accelerate the UK’s EV transition?

This event is exclusive to Friends of Tortoise

in partnership with bp

This is a digital-only ThinkIn.

The UK has made a good start in the shift to electric vehicles, introducing ambitious targets and incentives for EV adoption. We know that electric vehicles are the future: so what’s delaying the switch? According to Economist Impact’s rEV index, 24% of consumers in the UK intend to buy an EV in the next five years. But what’s stopping the remaining 76%? Affordability, choice, access to ultra-fast charging infrastructure and range anxiety are cited as the biggest barriers. So, with the 2030 deadline looming closer, what steps can the UK take to address these challenges? And what do the potential tipping points towards widespread EV adoption really look like?


We were lucky enough to be joined by someone who could give us some fresh insights. Martin Koehring was one of the people behind the Economist Group’s rEV index, supported by bp and identified some key drivers of EV success:

– Charging infrastructure

– Energy infrastructure

– Regulations

– Availability

– Cost

The UK performs well in some areas, according to Koehring, but falls short on ultra fast charging (we need more of this in motorways and service stations), energy systems (we need more uptake of renewable energy), and price (compared with conventional cars, the cost of running an EV is 1.3 times higher in the UK).

All this adds up to a lack of faith: just 24 per cent of UK consumers feel confident in buying an EV. Solving that is down to plugging the gaps above but there need to be behavioural shifts too. 

It’s lucky, then, that we were also joined by Mark Earls, the behavioural change expert. “The horrible hard truth,” he said, “is that people do things for all kinds of reasons. They do the thing they do normally because it’s the thing they did yesterday and the day before that.” 

The solution, Earls explained, is not to make people agree with the EV lovers but to make them want to do it on their terms. That can be boiled down to the following: 1. Make switching to an EV easy. 2. Help people see other people switch. 3. Hammer home the benefits of switching.

Let’s not pretend though that there is not a material cost to EVs. As one of our speakers, Dr Ganga Shreedhar from the LSE, pointed out, two types of cost come from sourcing the materials to make EVs from global supply chains and potentially displacing pollution. We’re not going to get rid of the car altogether, but we need to acknowledge EVs aren’t a panacea. And walking and cycling are undoubtedly much better. Charlie Hicks, a county councillor in Oxfordshire, was right to stress the importance of planning in this regard, designing places where people can get to important amenities within 10–15 minutes by foot or by bike. 

We should try to make sure the relationship between EV users and people who take greener forms of transport is not oppositional. Having good public transport, Shreedhar explained, eases up the investments you might have to do to install EV infrastructure. And having an EV is still much better than having a car. They emit three times less carbon dioxide than conventional cars, and 20 per cent less even in countries with a low share of renewable energy.

Marrying better infrastructure with some behavioural nudges will get the UK a long way in catching up with other countries on EV usage. That exciting future just shouldn’t get in the way of the people who prefer Bromptons, National Rail or their own two feet to get around.

editor and invited experts

Giles Whittell
Sensemaker Editor

Dr Ganga Shreedhar
Assistant Professor, Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science, LSE

Mark Earls
Award-winning writer communications and behaviour change expert

Martin Koehring
Senior Manager for Sustainability, Climate Change and Natural Resources, Economist Impact