Electric cars: let’s get real

  26 November 2012

Two fine examples of marketing hyperbole have kept me amused this week and both of them relate to electric cars – or rather, I should say, sales of electric cars.

The first is the new tag line at the end of the TV advert for the Nissan Leaf. It proudly boasts of being “the world’s best-selling all electric car”. The second was the prediction by British Gas that there will be a “boom” in the take-up of electric cars in five particular regions of the UK.

Of course, the Nissan claim is factually accurate (and impressed Mrs Saunders). But let’s get this in perspective: total global sales of Leaf since launch two years ago are 42,700, according to Nissan’s own figures, with almost half of those (19,000) being in Japan itself.

Meanwhile, British Gas went on to say that “experts” are predicting electric cars could account for one-in-ten of all vehicles sold in the UK by 2020. That is just optimism gone mad – even allowing for BG’s rather loose definition of what constitutes an electric car (they seem to include hybrids, plug-in hybrids and range-extenders in that category).

The lack of consumer demand for electric cars is clear and the reason is not hard to find. In 2010, a survey by Nielsen for the Financial Times showed that 65% of Americans and 76% of Britons are not willing to pay more for an electric car above the price of a conventional car.

There have been just over 3,300 electric-drive cars have been registered in the UK to the end of September this year; that figure includes company demonstrators, press fleet vehicles and management cars.

It really is time we tried to bring some sense of reality to this debate.

Overstating the case will do the industry no favours in the long run, as demonstrated by the recent apparent reversal of the government’s incentives policy. Auto retailers and car manufacturers are right to call for stability and financial support if we are to reduce carbon emissions. But we do need to tone down the hyperbole if we are to be taken seriously.

Rupert Saunders

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