Electric cars have been technically viable for decades, but the transition from conventional internal combustion engines has not taken off for a variety of reasons.

That is likely to change in the near future, with the Government signalling that the UK will not sell any more cars with conventional petrol or diesel engines by 2040. This will mean that the UK will move towards electric-powered vehicles over the next two decades. One of the issues that has held back electric vehicles is the availability of charging infrastructure and what is known as ‘range anxiety’.

This is the fear that the owner of an electric vehicle will run out of charge too far away from the nearest charging point, resulting in a cycle where there are not enough electric vehicles to make a business case for more charging points. The development of hybrid vehicles that make use of both battery and internal combustion engines has helped to combat this to some extent, but it does not realise the full benefits of electrification.

There is a clear case for public sector investment to correct this market failure and it has been the policy of successive governments to provide funding for charging infrastructure. There has also been significant progress in the cost and capacity of batteries in recent years, which has increased the range of electric vehicles.

From 2010 to 2016, battery pack prices fell by roughly 80 per cent. Also since 2013, the estimated range for many electric vehicles has increased significantly. For example, the range of base models of the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S expanded from 75 and 208 miles per charge in 2013; to about 107 and up to 249 miles in 2017, respectively. 

Electric vehicles are more efficient than conventional engines and have lower maintenance costs, as electronic motors are significantly easier to maintain and less likely to malfunction than petrol and diesel engines. These factors are likely to accelerate uptake in the coming years, as are recent government policy changes. The decision to charge more Vehicle Excise Duty on new diesel vehicles and the announcement in the recent spring Statement that the government intends to review incentives for cleaner vans illustrates the Government’s direction of travel.

One of the key benefits of electrifying vehicles is the elimination of tail pipe emissions. They don’t eliminate emissions entirely as the generation of electricity may still produce emissions, and brake and tyre wear will still produce particulate. However, electric vehicles can be used to move emissions away from populated and congested areas. Part of the problem with diesel emissions is the ‘canyon effect’, where congested roads between tall buildings trap emissions.

Electric vehicles will help with this and significantly reduce the overall emissions transport produces. The LGA will be working with the government to look at ways we can spread best practice on rolling out charging infrastructure. We asked the experts who attended our Economic, Environment, Housing and Transport Board seminar back in December 2017 to contribute their views on the emerging technological agendas we have highlighted.

The Society of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), Atkins, The Freight Transport Association (FTA) and the Transport Technology Forum (TTF) have all contributed their views. We have highlighted key insights but each organisation’s full contribution can be accessed on our website.