UK electric car sales risk falling further behind the rest of Europe after Sunak U-turn

The UK has fallen well behind the rest of Europe in the growth of electric vehicle sales and risks falling further back after Rishi Sunak’s “screeching U-turn” on its climate policies, according to industry analysts.

UK sales of electric vehicles grew by 31% in the 12 months to July, one of the slowest rates of growth in Europe, according to data analysed by Cornwall Insight and the law firm Shoosmiths.

The research revealed the UK’s electric vehicle growth rate fell well behind the near 61% increase in sales across the 27 EU nations. The report blamed a lack of public charging infrastructure in the UK, and warned that the government’s decision to delay a ban on the sale of new combustion engine vehicles could shake investor confidence.

The prime minister announced plans to push back the ban on new fossil fuel vehicles from 2030 until 2035 as part of a significant watering down of the government’s key climate policies designed to help Britain become net zero by 2050.

The unexpected U-turn has led to confusion among carmakers and electric vehicle infrastructure investors by raising uncertainty over how soon British drivers will make the switch to electric options. This could further delay expansion of charging networks, according to the report.

The analysis found the UK now has 11.3 electric vehicles for every publicly accessible charge point, leading to “range anxiety” for drivers considering buying an electric vehicle for longer journeys.

In the Netherlands there is 2.8 electric vehicles for each public charge point, while Sweden and Germany have 8.4 and 12.8 respectively, according to the data for Shoosmiths’ electric vehicle country attractiveness (EVCA) index.

Jamie Maule, a research analyst at Cornwall Insight, said the challenges to the UK’s electric vehicle rollout risked being compounded by Sunak’s decision to delay the ban on sales of new combustion engine vehicles.

The prime minister also signalled a slowdown in the phasing out of gas boilers and promised to scrap a requirement for landlords to make their properties energy efficient.

“This threatens to erode the country’s momentum in shifting away from traditional fossil fuel cars,” Maule said. He added: “Only by reaffirming our commitment to EV infrastructure growth, bolstering incentives, and rekindling investor and consumer confidence, can the UK reclaim lost ground and position itself among the leading nations in Europe for EV adoption.”

The index found Norway was the most attractive country in which to invest in electric vehicles, followed by the Netherlands, France and Germany. The UK ranked eighth in the league table of 15 European nations, down two places from last year.

Chris Pritchett, a partner at Shoosmiths, said carmakers and chargepoint operators were investing billions in the electric transition “but the government’s screeching U-turn on policy threatens new investment into the UK’s wider green industry”.

He added: “More importantly, it frames net zero as a political wedge issue ahead of the election which is clearly – and unforgivably – aimed at dividing the consensus on meaningful climate action.”

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