After several years of lacklustre plug-in car sales, the UK’s automotive industry has reported a record third quarter to the year, with more than 5,000 plug-in car grants being awarded to Brits keen to dump the pump in favour of an electric car.
As data from the UK Government shows, the number of plug-in vehicle grants awarded between July and September of this year account for more than twice the number of grants handed out in the previous quarter of 2014. What’s more, they equal around one third of all plug-in vehicle grants awarded by the Government since the scheme started in 2010.
Under the UK government’s plug-in vehicle grant, private buyers can apply for up to £5,000 in grant money for each motorway-capable plug-in vehicle they purchase, with the total actual funds awarded calculated according to the vehicle’s sticker price, battery capacity, and electric range. While not all cars are eligible for the full £5,000 grant, most cars on sale in the UK today — including the Nissan LEAF, Vauxhall Ampera, BMW i3, Tesla Model S, Volkswagen e-Up, Volkswagen e-Golf and Renault Zoe are eligible for the full grant amount.
Operating simultaneously, the UK Government’s plug-in vehicle grant for commercial vehicles allows those purchasing a commercial vehicle to claim up to £8,000 off the sticker price, provided the commercial vehicle has no more than two seats and is to be used exclusively for commercial purposes.
Additionally, those purchasing a plug-in car as a company car stand to benefit even further, with 0 percent ‘benefit in kind (BIK) tax to pay until 31 March next year, while companies purchasing an electric vehicle can write off the total purchase cost against their company tax liabilities in year one.
But perhaps the real reason for the rise in plug-in car sales in the UK can be explained by the launch of the BMW i3 and Tesla Model S in the UK market this year. Highly favoured by the mainstream press over more established electric cars like the Nissan LEAF, the BMW i3 and Tesla Model S have captured a much wider, more mainstream market than their rivals, making more people than ever before aware of the existence of electric cars for the first time.
Other plug-in cars have had their effect on improving plug-in sales too, with the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV — which went on sale earlier this year in the UK — proving extremely popular with those who want the convenience and practically of a crossover SUV with the fuel efficiency of a plug-in hybrid. And with more competition in the marketplace, other automakers who have been selling plug-in cars for much longer in the UK market — including Nissan and Vauxhall — have found themselves offering far more favourable lease deals and finance packages for new customers than were offered when the Nissan LEAF and Vauxhall Ampera first entered the UK market in 2011.
“It is not surprising that people want these vehicles — they are a pleasure to drive and incredibly cheap to run, as well as being beneficial to the environment,” said UK Transport Minister Baroness Kramer. “The Government is breaking down barriers that may have put people off in the past.”
One of the biggest barriers here — a perceived lack of public charging stations — has been the subject of a massive investment in plug-in charging infrastructure, electric car incentives, and even the promise of establishing several key ‘electric car cities,‘ where electric and plug-in hybrid car owners are given special incentives like free parking, charging and access to the bus lanes.
But perhaps it is the effort of private companies like British utility company Ecotricity — whose nationwide ‘electric highway’ has dramatically expanded this year both in term of total charging stations but also in its reliability — which has really helped Brits make the switch to plug-in cars. While UK government funds have traditionally been focused on city centre and suburban environments, Ecotricity has worked alongside Nissan, Renault and Volkswagen among others to ensure that those buying an electric car can rapid-charge when they need to on longer motorway trips.
While the UK has some way to go to match the US in terms of plug-in cars per capita — and both have a long way to go before they match electric-car mecca Norway — we’re glad to see the traditionally change-averse people of the UK finally giving plug-in cars a chance.
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