As UK Electric Vehicle Sales Boom, Infrastructure and Operational Management are Holding Back Fleet Electrification

Written by André Dias, Founder and CTO, GoWithFlow 

Sales of Electric Vehicles (EV) are booming in the UK, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders’ (SMMT) annual sales snapshot for 2021. Britons bought more electric cars in 2021 than in the previous five years combined, including a 27 percent rise in commercial van registrations.

In 2020 EV sales accounted for just 6.6 percent of new cars bought in Britain, yet December 2021 alone saw electric cars make up 26 percent of sales, a record for a single month. The SMMT said sales of battery electric vehicles were a bright spot for an industry badly impacted by supply chain issues caused by the global pandemic.

The data released by the SMMT paints a compelling and encouraging picture of the EV adoption curve in the UK. Across private and commercial drivers, 2021 marked a dramatic rise in the registration of electric vehicles. This new appetite is not just promising, it is also essential. With UK targets to end sales of combustion engine vehicles by 2030, the shift to electric vehicles is a necessity.

The fact that 27 percent of the recorded electric vehicles registered are vans is evidence of a shift in the way businesses think about transport. The advantages of transitioning to electric commercial vehicles are clear: as conscious consumerism becomes ever more important to the public, and as the 2030 deadline looms closer, fleet electrification is an essential transition.  Additionally, according to Deloitte’s 2020 outlook report EV sales are set to rocket from 2 million units in 2018 to 12 million in 2025, before growing to 21 million in 2030. However, concerns remain about the need for better charging infrastructure – something which critics say the UK government is giving mixed signals about. Grants for electric cars were cut in 2021, however, the UK government has drawn up plans to mandate a charger for every new home or office from 2022, meaning all newly built residential properties and offices must have electric car chargers installed to comply.

Furthermore, last year Shell and Ubitricity announced plans to install 50,000 on-street EV charging stations in the UK by the end of 2025, greatly improving access to charging for drivers in urban areas. Shell-owned Ubitricity has designed charging hardware that can fit into streetlight posts, providing charging access to cars parked on-street, without taking up any additional space. This is important because more than 60 percent of households in cities and urban areas don’t have access to off-street parking, which makes home charging virtually impossible.

The requirements for infrastructure improvements to make mass electric mobility possible remain a challenge. Without the relevant infrastructure in place, anxiety amongst enterprises and individuals about switching to Electric Vehicles will continue.

A survey from British Gas showed that one in every three respondents feel nervous about switching to EVs due to high charging costs. While uptake of EVs is rising in the UK there is a need to ensure the infrastructure, education, and management tools are in place to provide the smoothest transition towards a green mobility service. This is the only way of reassuring companies and individuals that this is the future of transport – away from fossil-fuel-based vehicles.

The British Gas survey also revealed that only 21 councils across England and Wales allow motorists to top up their batteries for free. With energy prices set to rise further in April, it is not ideal that Electric Vehicle users are already reporting that they are facing steep costs to charge their vehicle.

Over half of UK councils are yet to begin transitioning to EV fleets, according to research by consultancy Smart Cities Connections. Via Freedom of Information requests, it obtained responses from 295 local authorities across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland about their EV plans. Of these, it found 19 percent had no transition strategy planned at all, while a further 37 percent said they had strategies planned, but had not yet started.

Regardless of energy prices, EVs will continue to be expensive to operate if a roadside, on-demand fuel supply model is replicated and EVs are used in the same way that internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles are. This is particularly true for organisations with fleets of vehicles. They will need to look for more innovative ways to move both people and goods around.

Any transition towards electric vehicles, whether this is part of an overall ‘sustainability’ effort, or a standalone project, requires conscious, defined strategy and real commitment to carbon reduction.

Without this the steps required might be seen as too complex at this stage in industry and infrastructure development. The software that fleet managers and businesses use to manage their operations during and after their electric transition is just as essential in keeping their vehicles operational as the infrastructure.

This is where intelligent, data driven management software, such as GoWithFlow’s Mobility Change Platform (MCP), delivers clear benefits to fleets and businesses because it allows users to find and reserve available charging stations. And it presents a cohesive platform through which organisations can track, schedule, pay, and audit charging across their fleets.

So, as we continue to count down to the 2030 deadline and individuals and businesses transition across to EVs and fleets, it is worth noting that with the correct, data-driven approach, fleet electrification can be a seamless and valuable choice for any business, without compromising on either efficiency or costs.