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Price of electric cars is main barrier to EU mass adoption

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The high cost of electric cars remains the largest obstacle to greater uptake of the vehicles in the EU, a new study has found.

Other concerns like lack of recharging infrastructure and limited range are also cited by consumers as reasons why they haven’t invested in the technology yet according to the survey by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC).

The EU wants to increase the popularity of the vehicles as it’s seen as one of the best ways for the continent to transition to a low-carbon economy.

While comprehensive charging networks are still in their infancy across the continent, the race is now on between power utilities, tech start-ups and even oil companies to roll out the networks in the next few years. 

The current share of electric cars in new vehicle sales in EU countries ranges from 0 to 6 per cent the JRC found. The notable exception in Europe is Norway, where electric vehicles account for 29 per cent of the market.

In order to quantify factors influencing people’s car type choices in Europe, the researchers surveyed over 1,200 car drivers last year in six EU countries, (France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK) about their vehicle choices. These countries together represent 78 per cent of new car sales in the EU.

Almost half of the respondents said they had never even considered an electric or fuel cell car as an option for their next car purchase in the stated choice experiments, even when they featured favourable characteristics.

This may lead to the conclusion that widespread concerns for the viability of zero-emission cars on European roads still remain an issue for many consumers.

However, while electric cars are still considered expensive by most consumers, these attitudes have changed somewhat since a similar study was conducted five years ago.

While the purchase price continues to be identified as the most important factor for respondents when it comes to choosing a car, the proportion of the respondents strongly agreeing with the statement that electric cars are currently quite expensive, has decreased over the last five years from 75 to 69 per cent.

This could be attributed to an improvement in the cost competitiveness of this technology in the last five years, together with the introduction of purchase subsidies (e.g. in Germany and Spain, in addition to already existing ones in France and the UK) that lowers their price tag.

Manufacturers are also taking note, with Tesla unveiling its comparatively cheap Model 3 electric car last year with a price tag of $35,000. 

General Motors also unveiled the Chevrolet Bolt recently which is again designed for the mass market and not just buyers who can afford luxury vehicles.

The survey also found that car buyers were increasingly attracted by the low running costs associated with electric vehicles but were less aware of the environmental benefits of electric cars than they were five years ago.

While this is typically true, the electricity infrastructure is a key factor in ensuring the maximum environmental benefits are achieved.

A study released earlier this month showed that China’s big electric vehicle push could actually worsen its CO2 output if they are all powered by its heavily polluting coal plants. 

The survey concluded that the top factor for investing in an electric vehicle was the purchase price, with 77 per cent of respondents across all countries listing it as their primary consideration.

Further, fuel costs and maintenance costs become important in the second choices, followed by brand/manufacturer.

In order to respond to consumer concerns, the Commission has proposed to update the EU’s legislation on energy efficiency in buildings in order to develop recharging infrastructure in building stock.

The new provisions will accelerate the deployment of recharging points and ducting infrastructure in buildings’ car parks and thereby help the electrification of the transport sector and raise the share of renewables therein.

The Commission has also proposed an action plan targeting an accelerated deployment of recharging points accessible to the public in urban and suburban areas as well as along the major European roads.

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