What South Africa can learn about electric car adoption from the UK

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Infrastructure development and government and industry support will be the most important factors in determining the success of electric vehicle adoption in South Africa.

This is according to Michael Hawes, CEO of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, who recently spoke at the inaugural Auto Week about what South Africa can learn about electric vehicle adoption from the UK.

Moving toward the future

Much like the rest of Europe, the UK is scheduled to end the sale of diesel and petrol cars from 2030, and all new vehicles must have zero tailpipe emissions by 2035.

This means there will be a five-year transitional period where only cars with “zero-emissions capabilities” such as plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) will be allowed.

To accommodate this change, the UK will introduce a zero-emissions vehicle mandate that will require carmakers to sell a minimum number of EVs as a percentage of total sales each year.

Starting in 2024, the requirement will be set at 22%, and this percentage will increase yearly until 2034.

auto, autos, car, cars, features, what south africa can learn about electric car adoption from the uk

Even though this mandate is still a few years away, electric adoption in the UK is in full swing.

In 2017 the country recorded 49,217 sales of battery-electric (BEV) and PHEV units, which equated to a 1.9% market share.

Between January and September of 2022, meanwhile, more than 249,000 sales took place, equaling a 20.6% market share.

More BEVs were registered in 2021 than the previous five years combined, and this now means that one in every five new vehicles sold in the UK has electric capabilities.

A big reason for this is industry commitment and investment, according to Hawes, as just under 40% of the vehicle ranges sold in the UK now have a plug-in option.

Even with this success, the UK is falling behind other European markets in terms of electric uptake, though there is a caveat.

Norway is currently leading the charge on electrification, with an incredible figure of more than 80% of sales in the first quarter of 2022 comprising battery-electric and plug-in hybrid models, but this is the result of enormous government incentives that are only possible because of the country’s high tax rate – something that most other countries are not in a position to accommodate.

auto, autos, car, cars, features, what south africa can learn about electric car adoption from the uk

That being said, there is one thing that the UK learned from Norway, which South Africa can also learn from, and this has to do with infrastructure, said Hawes.

While the debate around electric charging infrastructure can sometimes feel like a chicken and egg scenario, where it’s unclear whether mass charging stations should precede large-scale EV adoption, or only take place after enough EVs have been sold to justify the investment, Norway’s definitive answer is that infrastructure must be in place before the public will start making a mass transition to electrified transport.

A key reason for this is that many car owners do not have access to at-home charging, and will be entirely dependent on public infrastructure to power their vehicles.

This is the situation the UK currently finds itself in, because while BEV and PHEV sales grew by 317% and 166% in the last two years, respectively, public charging points increased by only 70%.

Electric infrastructure is also not evenly distributed, as metropolitan areas such as London have been prioritized, leading to other parts of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland having an EV-to-public charger ratio as high as 134:1.

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