It now seems a long time ago since driving an expensive 4x4 – or ‘Chelsea tractor’ – around London was seen as a status symbol. Today, the emphasis in urban areas is – quite rightly - on sustainability and the environment. The issue of London’s air quality is now high on the political agenda and will no doubt figure prominently in the run-up to May’s mayoral election.
In that context, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement regarding the ban on selling new petrol, diesel or hybrid cars being brought forward from 2040 to 2035 should have been welcomed.
However, this may be a case of hitting the accelerator at the wrong time. Most vehicle manufacturers are now starting to produce electric cars on a mass scale and the sector is clearly adapting. But while the Government’s plans are welcome in terms of their commitment, the e-vehicle market is still in its infancy and the government should, in the first instance, be concentrating on a clear and cohesive strategy for nationwide charging infrastructure roll-out, or even appointing a ‘Minister for Electrification’, such is the important of this to the environment, UK vehicle manufacturers and the motor retailing sector.
A combined undersupply of charging points both at home and ‘on the move’ together with apprehension over lengthy charging times is currently contributing to a lack of buyer confidence and ‘range anxiety’. Meanwhile, concerns over the ability of the current UK energy supply to meet future demand and the lack of guidance for landlords and developers for integrating charging points in to commercial premises is causing misperceptions.
Charging a vehicle at your home is fine if you have off-street parking, but most central London residents don’t. Some London Boroughs are selectively placing charging points in lamp posts. This is a great initiative, but what happens when every vehicle is electric? We already see cables stretched for 20 metres along the pavement which is a safety risk and open to vandalism.
There needs to be more consistency in terms of the approach to the infrastructure. At the moment it seems a ‘free for all’ approach has been adopted, so anyone with an electrical vehicle who arrives at a charging point does not even know what type of charge they are going to receive, and whether it will even work. And, as charging times improve, the need for higher levels of electricity is also required, but some locations are not able to provide the required capacities.
Further infrastructure needs to be created, particularly at existing petrol filling stations and arterial route locations. Filling a vehicle with petrol or diesel takes a matter of minutes, but even e-vehicle superchargers take significantly longer.
The addition of charging points at filling stations in town and city car parks, shopping centres, retail parks, supermarkets and new public ‘charging parks’ represents both a challenge and an opportunity for landlords and developers.
But whilst it’s good that Prime Minister Johnson is attuned to society’s desire for a better environment, he first needs to show support for the required infrastructure. If the mass migration of drivers to e-vehicles is going to be a realistic and achievable goal, the UK Government needs to fully support both the property and automotive retailing sectors, including petrol retailers, - rather than simply bringing a deadline five years forward.
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