Will the Irish car buyer ever embrace the electric car?
The impact of electric vehicles on the Irish automotive market
Looking at new car sales statistics for 2015, once again, it was a year dominated by the diesel car. 71% of all new cars registered were powered by diesel. Even with the events of late 2015, where questions were raised about emissions testing procedures within the sector, which put traditional fuel and their engines into negative focus, what, if any impact, will these questions have on the demand for electric vehicles?
Sales of petrol cars have been declining since Ireland changed to a CO2-based taxation scheme in the middle of 2008 but what about electric cars? Why have they made such little impact?
Excluding hybrids, which have existed in the Irish market for some time, the pure electric car accounted for just 466 units in 2015 and the overwhelming majority of those were Nissan Leafs (405 or 86%).
Against the backdrop of Volkswagen only registering 6 E-Golfs last year, Renault registering 30 Zoes and 5 Twingos and BMW registering 18 i3 models, the Nissan Leaf on the other hand, experienced its best year, with a 115% increase in sales on 2014 (188) and an 841% increase on its 2013 numbers (43).
In total, according to SIMI (Society of the Irish Motor Industry) figures, just 945 electric cars have been sold since 2008, with last year being the busiest year for the technology. With 466 units sold last year, this represents ten times the number registered in 2011 (46) but it is way short of the numbers that would have been expected at the onset of the technology.
So what has held things up?
It certainly hasn’t been the infrastructure, which is pretty impressive in Ireland. There are currently 1,200 public charging points available nationwide in locations such as on-street, shopping centres and car parks. Every town with 1,500 inhabitants or more will get a charge point installed in their area. Fast-charge points are located along main inter-urban routes at service stations to cater for those on longer journeys.
It was reported back in November that the ESB would introduce a €16.99 per month fee for customers using the low-speed one-phase charging points and 30 cents per minute cost for using the high-speed three-phase charging points. This equated to €9 per charge, which in a car that does 160km at best, seemed very expensive. There was huge customer backlash to this and now it would appear that this has been shelved for the moment, with a message on the ESB eCars website saying:
“Following consultation and recent discussions with the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), ESB will be deferring user fees for EV Drivers until the CER has completed a review of the EV Pilot Project.
Access to the EV charge point network will continue to be made available to new EV customers at no cost. ESB cars will also continue to provide a free home charger to qualifying purchasers of a new EV up to at least April 2016.”
What is interesting is that less than half the number of electric cars have been registered than the number of free domestic charging points that were promised. 2,000 free home chargers were promised to qualifying purchasers and only 945 cars have been registered since 2008.
The most significant barrier for the Irish motorist in embracing the electric car still appears to be performance and ability issues. At the moment, 160km seems to be about the maximum range of most electric cars, although Nissan has announced that their car is to get an upgrade of their 24kWh battery to a 30kWh unit, which will provide additional range. Potentially, there are significant savings to be made in buying an electric car, if you live within a reasonable range. However, buyers, for now, still seem hesitant to dip their toe into the new technology for fear of being left stranded, or the fact that there can be quite a degree of uncertainty about the resale value of EVs.
What is clear, is that electric cars simply haven’t made the impact that it was hoped. Back in 2010, the Government announced a target that 10% of all vehicles on Irish roads would be electric by 2020. In 2015, it was 0.37%, so there is some way to go.