What will make car-buyers switch to electric?

Deryck Chester, Marketing Executive
09 January 2020

As environmental impact statistics and warnings of climate change enter our daily newsfeed, what will it take to make car buyers switch to electric?

In this blog, Somo shares key insights from its white paper research on barriers to mass electric vehicle adoption.


In July 2019, government legislation was passed with a target to make the UK carbon neutral by 2050. This ambitious pledge aims to remove greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the UK environment by using emission reduction technologies, among other green initiatives. Progress has already been made, with a switch to greener renewable power generation — and general emissions have declined since the levels recorded in 1990. But, on our roads, despite the introduction of electric vehicles and hybrids, road transport emissions – which make up a fifth of the UK’s total GHGS — have actually increased by a disappointing six per cent, according to a report from The Office for National Statistics

As environmental impact statistics and the warnings of climate change campaigners — like Greta Thunberg – enter our daily newsfeed, what will it take to encourage mass electric vehicle adoption? To help us understand what is happening in the UK market, Somo commissioned an extensive consumer survey of 2,000 drivers who are planning to buy a new car in the next 12 months. Their attitudes towards buying electric — as interest in petrol and diesel cars shows no sign of dwindling —  shines a spotlight on barriers in place and what it will take to change customers’ minds. 


Somo’s survey reveals that only one in three drivers are considering an electric vehicle for their next purchase, but why? Our white paper drills down into the specific barriers at play, and shows the biggest obstacle for purchase is still the premium price (cited by 42 per cent of respondents). The next most common barrier is the electric vehicle journey distance (40 per cent still believe it is a problem); closely followed by the logistics of finding somewhere to plug in and charge (mentioned by 38 per cent); and the time it takes to recharge, as compared to re-filling at a petrol station (35 per cent). 

But, it’s not just the physical product features which are putting buyers off — limited knowledge, understanding and uncertainty also factor in the results. Nearly one in five customers cited concern over the government’s long-term commitment to tax breaks and incentives, combined with doubts about the future of the plug-in car grants offered by the UK Department of Transport. A quarter of people also said that they didn't know enough about the reliability of the technology to enable them to make such an important decision; along with limited product choice and resale uncertainty.  


Drawing on our white paper research, Rebecca Crook, Somo’s CGO, says:

'In the future, there has to be opportunities for a much more joined-up approach with partnerships across the industry to help drive innovation and consumer take-up via digital tools’.

Of the 2,000 respondents surveyed, 50 per cent said that they would value a tool to show full charging distance and map journey charging points, with 45 per cent wanting a tool to compare electric car running costs vs equivalent combustion engine vehicles. It’s clear that a cross-sector holistic vision needs to be developed between car manufacturers, utility companies, and the government — as well as digital innovators — to solve the problem of: infrastructure, cost, product range and perception.

So, what do leaders from the automotive industry think will help drive change? Jim Campbell, founder and MD of Sutherland Campbell International, predicts a sea change occurring between 2020 - 2022 when a surge of affordable electric cars from mainstream brands will finally enter the market. 

Graeme Cooper, the project director for electric vehicles at the National Grid, says that, ‘charging will steadily become less of an issue as battery capacity continues to increase — and 250+ miles on a single charge becomes commonplace’. ‘Cost of ownership factors are another game changer’, he adds. It’s clear that more education is needed to bring down barriers to electric vehicle adoption. 

Perception is currently a big barrier to electric vehicle take-up, and this is where digital products can really help to drive the market. Useful comparison tools which demonstrate the efficiencies of electric vehicles with their petrol/diesel counterparts, or the resale value, will help educate and disseminate information. And — as information about the impact of carbon emissions continue to gain traction and importance in our global news — apps which monitor day-to-day carbon savings can aid motivation.    


Reassuringly, when asked to prioritise their motivation for buying electric, 44 per cent of people thinking about switching said that lowering GHG emissions was their main concern; and 42 per cent of people cited lower running costs as a key factor (a detailed description of key motivations are available in Somo’s white paper research). 

The desire to make the switch to electric vehicles is clearly there. But for the UK to have a real chance of uniting behind the zero emission goal of 2050, it must not wait for government pressure to ‘force’ the change — this strategy is too passive. To drive real change, the automotive industry must work with digital leaders, and as part of the broader ecosystem that includes government bodies, environmental campaigners and other stakeholders. Mass electric vehicle adoption will only happen through cross-sector collaboration, to address all of the concerns raised by the car buying public.    

With road transport GHG emissions making up almost a fifth of the UK’s total emissions, the need for change is urgent. But what will it take for UK car drivers to consider their carbon footprint when purchasing their next vehicle? 

To access full research and findings from the interviews with key industry experts, download Somo’s white paper on mass EV adoption here.