Comedy star Rowan Atkinson has been in the news again thanks to his views on electric vehicles.
The actor’s Guardian column was recently singled out for ‘damaging’ efforts to promote EVs, and it was even suggested his comments might have contributed to a drop in new EV registrations over recent months.
So, is it really Mr Bean’s fault?
No, of course not. Read beyond the outrage and his original column was not rabidly anti-EV but it did reinforce certain stereotypes and misconceptions around battery life and the impact of production.
Unfortunately, it forms part of a broader wave of negative coverage that a new House of Lords report highlighted. This ranges from the blatantly untrue nonsense that flooded social media after the Luton Airport fire to more insidious ‘news’ articles that deliberately misrepresent other people’s comments on EVs.
Then there are the attention-grabbing opinion pieces by people like Atkinson and Giles Coren, who last year ranted about the shortcomings of his Jaguar I-Pace. In among his legitimate but exaggerated concerns around infrastructure, a good chunk of Coren’s ire was directed at his car’s unreliability – a symptom of Jaguar’s build quality issues rather than the car’s powertrain. But it was used as fuel for the anti-EV fire.
Sadly, that volume of negativity is going to affect public perceptions, especially among those already doubtful of the benefits of EVs. Talk to those who already have an EV and they’ll overwhelmingly say they’d never go back, but this needs to be communicated more. Indeed, one of the key messages of the Lords’ report is that the government needs to do more to counteract inaccurate negative reporting and highlight the positives of electrification.
Context and costs
But a bad press isn’t enough to explain the slump. There have been suggestions that pushing the petrol and diesel ban back to 2035 is instead to blame. These, however, seem wide of the mark too.
Easing the timetable might make some buyers think again, especially in coming years, but given the lead times on many EVs, Rishi Sunak’s comments in September will have had little impact on sales figures in November and December.
Perhaps more important is the broader economic uncertainty and cost of living crisis. Homeowners are finding their mortgages have shot up by hundreds of pounds as interest rates climb. Drivers have seen car insurance costs rise an average of 25% in the last 12 months. And grocery and energy bills remain stubbornly high compared with three years ago.
All this means people have less income to spend on big ticket items like cars. January’s figures show that it wasn’t just EV registrations that fell back. Private registrations were down across the board as people hold off amid rising bills and job uncertainty.
Nonetheless, EV sales were down more than ICE and, sadly, that’s most likely down to the additional cost. As much as we love EVs, there’s no denying that they cost more up front than an equivalent ICE car – another issue highlighted in the Lords report. When that difference can amount to hundreds of pounds a month on a PCP or lease deal, it’s perhaps not surprising that those who are buying new are more likely to go for the cheaper option. Even if the long-term running costs are higher.
The relevance of cost is evident in the shift in the used car market. While overall demand for second-hand cars was up 5% between January 2023 and 2024, used EV sales rocketed 91%. Such strong growth suggests there’s a growing appetite for cheaper EVs, which the used market can supply.
Hopefully, new models coming in 2024 will also help address the cost issue. This year will see the UK launch of Europe’s cheapest EV – the Dacia Spring – which is likely to cost less than £20,000. We’ll also get the Citroen e-C4, expected to come in at under £25,000 and an entry-level version of the BYD Dolphin, which should be similarly priced. Beyond that the Volkswagen ID.2, Fiat Panda and Renault 4 are among a wave of similarly priced small models coming in 2025.
So no, it’s not all Blackadder’s fault. Comments like his add weight to a depressing anti-EV narrative but, as with any issue, there are multiple factors at play and plenty of nuance that we at EV Powered aim to reflect.