Why Electric Cars Haven’t Really Taken Off

It seemed like such a great idea at first: cars that run on electricity instead of petrol. This sounds like an environmentalist’s dream, not to mention what it means to those of us tired of paying high petrol prices.

However, despite large government incentives (which are now being phased out), the sale of electric cars has just not taken off. The goal was to have 1.7 million electric cars on the UK roadways by 2020. The reality is that in the past two years only about 3,600 vehicles have been sold. Even though the government offered a £5,000 subsidy to electric car buyers, sales have been sluggish. So exactly why hasn’t the electric car movement gained much traction here in the UK?

Electric Cars are Expensive to Produce

Pound for pound, electric cars cost about twice as much to manufacture as their petrol powered counterparts. Unfortunately, a person’s wallet often speaks louder than their desire to reduce carbon emissions. Electricity might be cheaper than gas, but electric power is not free. In order to make up the difference in cost you would have to drive close to 200,000 miles. This would take the average driver over 24 years to accomplish (based on figures in this 2012 report).

Combine this with the higher cost of insuring electric cars and it’s a lot to put consumers off. Sure, it’s possible to look around on a comparison site to find a better policy and it’s possible that electric car production cost will go down, but for now price is a clear obstacle. Choosing a comparison site is hard, but after looking at the Meerkats on Facebook, Compare the Market obviously put their customers first.

Electric cars are slow to charge

Slow Re-Charge Time

The fastest charging time possible for an electric car is about four hours. Now you can plug it in overnight, but sometimes you just don’t have the time or an outlet. How long does it take to fill up a fuel tank? The UK government and the EU are investing big money to add charging stations throughout Europe, but this does not eliminate the time factor.

Some electric cars claim to have a range of 100 miles. However, real life road tests show numbers more in the range of 30-55 miles per charge depending on temperature and average speed. So what do electric car drivers do to save charge? They turn off the radio, the AC or the heat. Also they obsess over trip routes, charging times and charging locations.

BBC reporter Brian Milligan wrote in his online electric car testing diary, “Including the time spent both charging and driving, I managed an average speed between London and Edinburgh of just 6mph. Not exactly impressive or very practical…”.

They Aren’t Completely Green

Electric car advocates often point to the low emissions produced by electric engines (about half that of petrol or diesel engines). This is only half of the story though. The fact is that the manufacturing process of an electric car produces twice as much CO2 emissions as does the manufacturing of a petrol powered car. Also, the energy used to produce the electric charge is mostly from fossil fuels. Like the cost comparison, you end up having to drive the electric car huge distances for a long time in order to make a real difference in emissions.


Even though electric cars are a great idea, prohibitive factors like cost and convenience must be resolved. The real issue, however, is that the whole environmental benefit is questionable. Given these obstacles electric cars have a long way to go before they make a real difference in the automotive market.

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