The UK government has  published its infrastructure strategy to promote the use of plug-in vehicles. This is due to the contribution that they, and other low and ultra-low carbon technologies, can make across economic and environmental priorities – climate change, green growth, energy securities, decarbonising the electricity system and air quality.

But the very mention of electric or plug-in vehicles usually prompts a whole lot of reasons why they will not work, rather than questions or discussion about the benefits that they can bring. Plug-in vehicles are surrounded by myths which are then used to justify their inappropriateness. For example:

  • There is no carbon benefit if the electricity comes from coal-fired power stations. In the UK an electric car powered from today’s grid could emit between 15% and 40% less CO2 over its lifetime than a comparably sized gasoline car.  
  • Electric vehicles just don’t have the range for today’s journeys. The average trip length by car in the UK is 8.4 miles, and 94% of trips in Great Britain are less than 25 miles. Easily within the range of a battery electric vehicle.
  • Plug-in vehicles are too small and too slow. For many, the image of the milk float or the golf buggy persists. But the plug-in vehicles that I have driven – which range from the Smart ForTwo electric drive, through to the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Nissan Leaf and even the Rolls Royce Phantom Experimental Electric – proved to me that this is certainly not the case. 
  • Plug-in vehicles are not the answer for all people and all journeys. But perhaps that points to looking at different ownership and use models. The average car in the UK travels less than 25 miles a day – this means that for about 95% of the time it is not used. Is there anything else we spend many thousands of pounds on, only to not use it for 95% of the time – and indeed pay not to use it for some of that time in terms of parking charges?  

    Furthermore, car purchases are often influenced by the maximum use that will need to be made of the vehicle (the family holiday, the occasional need to transport furniture etc), whereas the majority of usage is likely to be short trips with only one or two people in the vehicle. Would we be better moving to a model where we buy a vehicle suited to the majority of our trips and rent a larger vehicle for the “extreme” uses? Or indeed move away from vehicle ownership all together and instead rent or hire – as many people do with mobile phones?

    Should the focus be on access rather than ownership? Why do people seem to look for reasons not to do something rather than embracing change and the opportunities that change presents?