WA Communications was delighted to welcome Peter Campbell, motor industry correspondent at the Financial Times, for a breakfast roundtable discussion on the theme of electric vehicles this week. Peter joined us with a select group of industry leaders from the automobile, energy and EV charging industries to discuss the global outlook for EVs and the barriers to growth in the UK. We have reflected on a few of the key insights from the discussion.
The global picture for EVs remains patchy but we should look east for emerging solutions. China is the undisputed dominant force and is driving a lot of growth, with over 300 new businesses developing EV solutions, and the government taking an activist approach to encouraging investment in the industry. That enthusiasm is not being fully replicated by either the US, or Japan. In the US for primarily geographical and political reasons, while Japan continues to make a concerted push for hydrogen, instead of electric, vehicles.
The UK is not a hot-spot for the global EV manufacturing industry with a key obstacle being the lack of an internationally competitive battery manufacturing base. Batteries remain the one component manufacturers are unwilling to ship over long distances due to their weight. Brexit is also having an impact on the whole UK car manufacturing industry, including EVs. While Japanese vehicle manufacturers have made positive investments in the post-Brexit Britain, no major investment for EV production in the UK has been made or promised. With no clarity on UK-EU customs arrangements, nerves remain about the viability of the UK’s manufacturing and supply chain access.
Customers are yet to be won over and this remains a barrier for the industry. It is telling that, for all the market and media hype, most EV sales continue to be subsidy and policy-driven, with dramatic drops in EV purchases experienced in jurisdictions that have removed subsidies. The tipping point will come when consumers start considering purchasing electric cars because they see them as better cars, not because they want to save the planet.
The second key barrier to uptake is charging infrastructure, which in the UK (like elsewhere) is extremely variable, with some areas well served and others not at all. That means local authorities’ behaviour has a major impact on EV uptake, leading to a classic postcode lottery. While local authorities are generally reasonably cooperative, some frustration was expressed about the behaviour of electricity network operators, as their current business models act as a disincentive to the installation of charging points.
All can agree that more infrastructure is needed, but the question of who holds responsibility for delivering it is still up for debate. While many commentators are asking the government, both central and local, to install more infrastructure, the private sector has not rested on its laurels and is already delivering charging solutions and is eager to do more.
As could perhaps be expected, more questions were raised than answers provided, but two things are clear. Firstly, that the EV industry is maturing fast, and is well equipped to rise to the challenge ahead of it. Secondly that there remains a job to be done to create a coherent policy framework for the industry and its development. We now await the forthcoming publication of the Office for Low Emission Vehicle’s delayed strategy paper with interest.