Driving and accelerating electric vehicle adoption

  • 2020

Transport is a major source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In the UK alone the sector accounts for around 28% of all GHG emissions, more than any other sector. 


Alongside a transition to more active travel, greater public transport use and human-centred urban planning, the large-scale adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) is a key pillar of the UK government’s efforts to create a carbon neutral economy by 2050. 


Towards the end of 2020 the government announced plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030. This new urgency makes the question of how to accelerate uptake of EVs more pressing than ever. At its heart this a behavioural issue and therefore one where behavioural insights can and must play a major role if we are to achieve these GHG reduction targets. 


In our work in this area we’ve diagnosed barriers to EV uptake, such as:


  • Do people perceive them as viable for their needs? Public knowledge must be accurate, and perceptions of EVs positive if this is to occur.


  • Are EVs affordable? Affordability is currently a major barrier, in particular upfront costs which loom large in the mind despite cheaper running costs. Since most people never buy a new car, a critical component of this is the penetration of EVs into the second hand market. Increasing this, for instance through short-ownership commercial fleets, is vital.


  • Is charging convenient? Charge points must be rapid and ubiquitous. However the devil is in the detail – perceptions are often worse than reality, so initiatives to align the two are worthwhile.


  • Is the vehicle functionality adequate? This includes addressing concerns over range and confidence in long-term battery life, particularly among second-hand buyers.


  • And are EVs desirable? Do they fit in with common aspirations and mainstream identities?


Through workshops with a wide range of stakeholders, we’ve developed 65 behavioural policy options tackling these objectives. We’ve also tested many of them with private and commercial consumers to gauge public support and likely impacts.


We firmly believe that a holistic approach is necessary, to address all of these barriers. Though some big-ticket policies may be necessary to address cost barriers and improve infrastructure, there are also many finer behavioural points that will have outsize impacts – from the way in which pricing is communicated and grants are framed, to the way in which simple market mechanisms such as standardised tests could increase buyer confidence in second-hand battery life.