Electric car experts have rallied to the defence of the vehicles after suggestions from a government spokeswoman that they were unsuitable for long journeys.
Electric cars have an average range of about 200 miles, suitable for the vast majority of journeys taken on British roads, while top-range models have a more extensive range of about 250 miles.
An increasing number of chargers on British roads can also charge a car battery from about 20% full to 80% within half an hour, meaning even long journeys can be accommodated without much disruption, car experts told the Guardian.
Allegra Stratton, spokeswoman for the Cop26 climate summit, courted controversy when she told Times Radio on Monday that she continued to use a diesel car because of taking long journeys to Scotland, Wales and Gloucestershire for family visits.
She normally cycles and drives only about 3,000 miles a year, but her comments provoked a storm over “range anxiety” – the fear electric vehicle drivers sometimes suffer that they may run out of juice before reaching a battery charging point.
Ian Plummer, commercial director of Auto Trader, said there were now 25,000 public charging points in the UK, of which nearly 5,000 were rapid or ultra-rapid. “Range anxiety and the concern of an inadequate charging infrastructure remain as two of the biggest barriers to consumer adoption of an alternatively fuelled vehicle. However, with an average range of over 190 miles on a single charge, modern electric vehicles are more than capable of meeting the vast majority of journeys.”
Edmund King, president of the AA, said drivers ought to take a break after 200 miles driving, in any case. “Drivers covering long distances should take regular breaks to maintain safety, so this is the ideal time to charge the car. Range anxiety will continue to decrease with more chargers and improved range on new models.”
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said plug-in vehicles, including both purely electric and hybrid vehicles, accounted for 14.5% of new car registrations between January and June this year. At the end of last year, about 1.3% of the cars on British roads were plug-ins.
Mike Hawes, chief executive of the SMMT, called for more electric vehicle infrastructure: “Range anxiety is best tackled by massively increasing the number of public charging points, both on-street and on the motorway network. Drivers need certainty that they can find an available, working charge point wherever they need one, if they are to be inspired to make the switch.”
The government has set a time limit on sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles, which will be banned from 2030. Many more charging points are likely to be needed to induce consumers to switch ahead of the deadline: the Guardian’s Sam Wollaston found on a recent journey from Land’s End to John O’Groats that some charging points failed to work or involved queues.
Plummer said the government also needed to make the case for electric cars better. “We need very clear messaging that not only dispels outdated misconceptions but encourages consumers to make the switch on a large scale – 40% of consumers we asked didn’t know government grants are even available, let alone understand the different charging speeds.”
Adrian Keen, chief executive of InstaVolt, an electric car charging network company, added: “Comment’s like Allegra’s continue to perpetuate these barriers [to the take-up of electric vehicles] by fuelling archaic negative connotations with electric vehicles. In her position of authority as government climate spokeswoman, it’s potentially incredibly damaging to the EV sector – and the government’s climate change targets as a whole – to hear that she is not encouraging uptake, rather damning it.”
The Liberal Democrats accused the government of failing consumers by cutting the grants available to new electric vehicle owners earlier this year. Sarah Olney, Lib Dem spokesperson for transport, said: “Once again, the Tories are doing one thing but saying another. They say that by 2030 all new cars sold should be electric, yet they’re doing everything they can to put people off buying electric vehicles. Even the prime minister’s climate spokesperson says she doesn’t fancy owning one.”