UK Survey Shows Massive Apathy Among Brits Towards Plug-in Vehicles

Brits are generally suspicious of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, haven’t even thought about owning one, and have massive recharging anxiety.

UK car buyers really don't understand electric cars.

UK car buyers really don’t understand all-electric and plug-in hybrid electric cars.

That’s the results of a recent official UK government survey (via recombu) into public attitudes towards electric vehicles. As well as painting a picture of massive apathy towards plug-in cars, the survey highlights some of the work ahead of both automakers and the UK government to convince brits to dump the pump in favour of the plug.

Little thought given

Questioning a total of 962 respondents earlier this year, the survey asked adults aged 16 and over living in private households in Great Britain about their attitudes towards plug-in vehicles. While more than 83 percent of respondents spent time in a car as a driver or passenger at least once or twice a week — with 51 percent spending time in a car at least once a day — a massive 56 percent of those questioned said they hadn’t thought about buying an electric car or van.

More worryingly, 14 percent of those questioned said they had considered buying an electric car but then decided not to. Only four percent said they had considered buying an electric vehicle but didn’t know when, while just one percent said they were thinking of buying one ‘quite soon’. Only 0.3 percent questioned said they owned some form of plug-in vehicle already. Of note is the fact that fewer people expressed an interest in buying an electric car than the 18 percent of respondents who said they didn’t need or own a car.

Despite little enclaves -- usually created through pilot programs like MyElectricAvenue -- EV knowledge is poor.

Despite little enclaves — usually created through pilot programs like MyElectricAvenue — EV knowledge is poor.

Focusing in on just those with a full driving license, things got even worse, with 69 percent of respondents saying they hadn’t given any thought to buying a plug-in vehicle, while 18 percent said they had thought about it but decided not to.

As with other surveys around the world, men were more likely to consider buying a plug-in car than women, and those with a graduate degree or higher were more likely to have thought about buying a plug-in vehicle than those without a university degree.

Charger anxiety plays its part

Among the reasons given for not buying an electric car, the a perceived lack of recharging infrastructure — or perhaps a fear about recharging — came top of the list, with 40 percent of the votes.

In a close second came range anxiety, with 39 per cent saying they were worried about the total distance they could travel on a single charge, with cost worries coming in third.

Interestingly, concerns about the vehicle’s size and practicality came fairly low down the list in fifth place, while a lack of faith in electric vehicle technology following after that.  Again, those with degrees were less likely to be concerned or feel constrained by an electric car’s range, and felt more comfortable with the way in which electric cars can be recharged.

Despite government incentives, overall EV knowledge remains low.

Despite government incentives, overall EV knowledge remains low.

Cost still a big concern

Again and again however, the data in the survey seems to point to cost concerns Brits have about owning and operating an electric car. In fact, the primary factor given by respondents as being something that would encourage them to buy a plug-in vehicle was cost, including the running costs and purchase costs.

Environmental benefits were in fourth place, meaning most respondents would need another reason to go electric.

Sadly however, a massive 23 percent of respondents said nothing could encourage them to buy an electric car, because they simply wouldn’t ever choose one.  Interestingly, the majority of people who responded this way fitted into older age groups, with those educated to a degree level least likely to give that response, preferring to say cost, and range would encourage them to buy an electric car.

An obvious lack of awareness

Above all else this particular survey, while fairly small in sample size, highlights what we already knew: that the majority of the UK car-driving public are unaware or disinterested in electric cars.

While those with a degree appear more likely to know about electric cars, the majority of buyers are still ruled by the same age-old concerns about range, cost and performance, while a shocking large subset are willing to discount electric cars all together.

There is hope however: while we’ve always thought that electric cars were perceived by Brits in a negative light due to the exploits of BBC’s Top Gear and the infamous G-Wiz neighbourhood electric car, it appears those particular stereotypes aren’t as strong as we feared.

EVs are misunderstood, the survey proves

EVs are misunderstood, the survey proves

In order to truly engage the average UK motorist however, it’s down to automakers, advocates, and government to better educate buyers on the pros and cons of driving a plug-in car. Without support at every level, it’s likely the UK’s electric car revolution will be more of a fizzle and less of a bang.

Do you agree? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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  • It is hard for humans to try new things, more so as they age and build a knowledge base of personal experience. Did the survey ask if respondents had, or a close friend ridden in, or driven an electric vehicle? Expect the answer would have been very small number of survey respondents.nnCan we just say lacking “range confidence” instead of labeling the unknown confidence level as a range anxiety? Anxiety is a natural human response when facing an experience or situation for the first time. The anxiety with driving a PEV (any new vehicle the first few times, more than half it’s range) is being able to find an accessably charger and make it to a destination on time. It’s kind of like the anxiety of traveling and renting a car for first time in a new region, or contry. Once we have a successful experience, our confidence goes up.

  • Chris O

    I think its all about value proposition. Once consumers start to perceive EVs as better value for money than gassers things will turn around quickly. Right now that may not be very obvious to consumers. Cost of ownership is an important factor in the value proposition equation and might already be lower in some cases but higher up front cost combined with uncertainty about future cost/benefits will still scare people away. nnSubsidies and exemption from congestion charges improve the value proposition perception and when it all comes together in a practical plug-in that people actually like things start to shape up. Enter the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV…nnThe 23% that wouldn’t consider a plug-in under any circumstances is no doubt the Top Gear factor. However I’m sure that as EVs improve as a value proposition even those that can’t distinguish between staged entertainment and serious consumer information will come about eventually.

    • Andrew Campbell

      Hybrids are just ICE with extended range – not the same as pure EV at all.nnThe comparison is invalid in this context IMHOnnI doubt the mass acceptance of EVs will come from education at all but from government tax on fuel cost making the use of ICE personal transport prohibitively expensive.nnAnd as we have already seen that tax figure appears very high.

      • Chris O

        To say that plug-in hybrids aren’t the same as pure EVs is kinda axiomatic but they are still plug-in vehicles and therefore relevant in this context. For the lovers of pure EVs (which would include me) Model S might shake up things too in the UK since it is a very strong value proposition indeed, but only for those who can afford them of course.nnnTaxes and subsidies are of course factors that influence the strength of a product as a value proposition, but at some point plug-ins need to be able to make it on their own merits. Serious fuel taxes are totally warranted though since they help internalize the negative external effects of oil addiction.

  • Andrew Campbell

    The lack of charging infrastructure is not a perceived issue.nnIt is real.nnThere is no charging infrastructure, there is just a number of unconnected, uncoordinated, generally localised, program’s that take no account of actual usage patterns and driver needs with one exception, that of Ecotricity.nnThe governments standard response of throwing money at every issue has not provided a properly considered and working charger network, anywhere.. IMHO

    • VFanRJ

      All so true but I think it’s more than that. The Chevy Volt has no range anxiety and it still doesn’t sell, which I find baffling.

  • Chris Sanderson

    We live in Australia in a rural area with no available public transport, so wentake the warnings from the oil industry insiders such as Jeremy Leggett and Stephen Kopits very seriouslynwhen they say they expect a global u2018Oil Crunchu2019 within the next three years andnthen explain why – see link below and here nnYou wonu2019t hear these warnings from our govts, by the way. This generation ofnpoliticians sees no upside for them in releasing unwelcome news, and we donu2019tnhave a Churchill among them this time.nnI share other Brits range anxiety, and canu2019t afford a Tesla at current prices,nwhich I donu2019t think will come down before the u2018Oil Crunchu2019 hits. But I also remembernthe petrol rationing and long queues at the petrol stations from the last oil crunchesnu2013 and those were short term crunches. Looks like the next ones will be a lotnlonger.nnOur solution was to convert our 2nd generation Prius Hybrid to plug-innwith a range of 100Kms in EV only mode, which should keep us out of trouble,nand we can re-charge the battery directly from our solar panels.nnIu2019d say when the next oil crunch hits, most people will want to convertnimmediately, which will keep the price of EV’s high and it will take a while to obtainndelivery.