Will the UK fuel crisis accelerate the switch to electric?

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Sellers of plug-in vehicles say petrol shortages has created a spike of interest in electric vehicles.

As panic buying causes petrol and diesel pumps to run dry in some parts of the UK, online interest in electric cars has seen a significant increase.

Data from Google Trends, analysed by automotive consultancy Sophus3, showed a drastic rise in UK searches for the term ‘electric car’ during the week commencing 20 September. On 20 September, 21 per cent of visits to manufacturer websites saw users click on an electric car. By Wednesday, this had risen to 31 per cent and remained as high as 28 per cent by Sunday.

Even before the panic buying of petrol and diesel began, there has been a steady increase in consumer interest in EVs over the past year. New electric car registrations rose 32.2 per cent year-on-year in the UK in August. In July, more electric vehicles were registered than diesel for the second consecutive month.

 

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As petrol stations in parts of the UK started running out of fuel, many car dealerships reported soaring interest via local media interviews. A dealership in Guildford claimed it had seen its busiest EV day ever, with the diary booked up with test drives, and the business low on stock.

Another dealer told an interviewer: “People buy electric cars for environmental reasons, for cost-saving reasons, and because the technology’s great. But Friday was one of those moments where people said, ‘Do you know what, this is a sign that we need to go electric’.”

EVA England, a non-profit organisation representing new and prospective EV drivers, also reported a sharp surge in enquiries. It announced that along with existing factors, such as the introduction of low emission zones across the UK, and the expansion of London’s existing ULEZ, the fuel crisis has proved to be a trigger point.

EVA England spokesperson Warren Philips, said the tipping point for EVs had already been reached but the fuel crisis underlined how electric cars could work for the majority of people: “The interest is already there; this just adds to it. And going forward with things like COP26, and with the cost of fuel probably going to rise … people will start looking at electric cars where you just skip that entire step.”

Social media was filled with humorous memes of how smug electric drivers must be feeling. The crisis confirmed one of the biggest pros of electric vehicle ownership — the convenience of being able to fuel up in your own driveway, at the supermarket, or at the office.