David Williams: Our fuel choices are a sign of the times

David Williams
Going forward: Sadiq Khan has announced plans to reduce emissions: Reuters

While Mayor Sadiq Khan outlines new plans to discourage use of the most polluting vehicles in London, there is good news on the “clean” car front, with two surveys revealing a surge of interest in low-emission cars.

One in five intending to buy a new car by September plan to buy a low or zero-emission model to minimise the impact of new vehicle tax rules, according to Sainsbury’s Bank.

A second survey, by Venson Automotive Solutions, shows that 85 per cent of motorists would now consider buying an electric vehicle (EV), or choosing one as their company car.

According to Venson, doubts by seven in 10 of those surveyed over sufficient provision of charging points are set to be addressed by Government proposals to boost charging point provision under the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill — and Total and Shell’s plans to introduce charging points at certain petrol stations.

However, the survey reveals that many motorists are still in the dark over the ownership benefits of electric cars. Of those surveyed, 41 per cent said general lack of knowledge about the cost and convenience of going electric clouded their decision-making.

Motorists’ second-biggest concern was the limited range of electric cars (61 per cent), while the cost of charging the vehicle (42 per cent) took third place.

Meanwhile, UK drivers are “slowly falling out of love” with diesel cars, says the AA, with research revealing a significant drop in buying intentions in the past three years.

Last year, less than two in 10 (18 per cent) intended to buy a diesel as their next car — down from nearly a quarter (23 per cent) in 2014. Environmental concerns, the increased range of hybrid and electric vehicles and what the AA calls a ‘boom in public charging points’, have seen the appetite for alternatively powered cars double (from six per cent to 12 per cent) over the same period.

In addition, the number of drivers undecided about which fuel to opt for increased to 19 per cent last year from 13 per cent in 2014, mirroring the consideration of more environmentally acceptable options.

The AA-Populus poll of 17,979 AA members indicates that an extra 3.6 million hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric cars could be on UK roads in the next few years. It said that over the past year, UK electric vehicle charging locations had increased by 19.8 per cent to 4,300. The number of individual charging points increased by 29.5 per cent over the past year, which means there are now 12,237 publicly available connectors.

Car buyers in London — which has 11.6 per cent of the nation’s public charging point connectors — were by far the most likely (19 per cent) to think of low-emission vehicles when buying their next car, said the AA.

Simon Benson, director of motoring services at AA Cars, said: “Zero or low-emission cars are increasingly looking like a viable alternative to traditional fuel types as they become more affordable. Government plans to commit £35 million to help install new charge points and offer new grants to develop the charging network, coupled with higher-range battery development, will help to reinforce this.”

Don’t write off the internal combustion engine yet, though. Dr Ian Robertson, board member of BMW — which has invested extensively in its own electric programme with the i3 and i8 models — told a press briefing last week: “The combustion engine has a long way to go. We will continue to drive emissions of CO, CO2 and Nox down to the point where we have zero emissions.”

Looking ahead to wider changes in the motor industry, Robertson promised: “The next five or so years will see more changes than we have seen in the last 100 years.”