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State of EV uptake in the UK vs Australia

The United Kingdom and Australia share a common heritage – and both seem committed to transitioning their Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) powered vehicle fleet to environmentally friendlier, sustainable electric vehicles (EVs.)

His Majesty’s Government has been more aggressive in targeting removal of ICE vehicles from the roads as opposed to the Australian Commonwealth; the UK under a centre-right government was touting the twilight of ICE vehicle sales by 2030 (though this has been since pushed back to 2035) while a centre-left government in Australia is experiencing extraordinary pushback floating a new tax to improve fuel efficiency standards, especially targeting utes (a sort of light commercial tray-truck unique to Australia) and SUVs.

Of course, the sale of EVs is much harder in the Antipodes. Australia is 7.7 million square kilometres worth of country; regional and rural travel, especially from country towns to capital cities can sometimes be upwards of 500km – one way. Higher price tags, range anxiety, and a lack of infrastructure are hard, fast, and real barriers to enter the EV market in Australia.

With all that said, how does EV uptake fare in the United Kingdom versus Australia? What parallels can we draw?

The state of EV uptake in the UK

The United Kingdom currently has (as of March 2024) over 1 million Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) on the road with another 645,000 plug-in hybrid vehicles to match. Almost 315,000 BEVs were registered in 2023, a 18% increase over the same period last year. This takes the total number of plug-in cars (BEVs, PHEVs, and others) to 1,730,000.

15.2% of all new car registrations in the UK were electric during March 2024, adding another 48,388 to the EV fleet. Note that March is an especially high month for new registrations, as March and September are known as “new registration plate months” in the UK. The proportion of all new vehicle sales in March 2024 that were a variant of electric vehicle was 22.9%.

During this year, the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate was made law, which mandates car makers must ensure that 22% of their new car sales produce zero emissions. By the statistics above – and of course, if this is uniform across all brands – it would seem that by and large the ZEV targets have been met.

The UK government, despite enforcing ZEV mandates have stopped Vehicle Excise Duty discounts for EVs, there’s a lack of financial incentives, a slow rollout of charging infrastructure, and new tariffs on foreign EV imports are set to drive some EV prices higher, especially those made in China.

The state of EV uptake in Australia

Over 2023, Australians purchased 196,868 electric vehicles (BEVs, PHEVs, HEVs) accounting for 16.2% of the overall new car market. EV sales down-under have continued to rise over the last few years, according to the Australian Electric Vehicle Council; 8.4% of new cars sold (June 2023 to date) were EVs, which represented a 121% increase over the same period last year.

Interestingly, Australians living in the outer metropolitan areas are the biggest buyers of EVs, with 43% of all EVs sold going to those who live in the suburbs. With longer commutes to and from CBDs or inner city offices, families are availing themselves of solar power to charge their EVs and pocketing the difference compared to soaring fuel prices.

According to the Australian Automobile Association, Australians spend 16.3% of their income on transport costs per year – and amid a cost-of-living crisis (which is also prevalent in the UK) any inroads into keeping costs down is always welcomed.

Unsurprisingly, rural and regional uptake of EVs sit at a combined 18% (9% respectively) as a lack of charging infrastructure and range anxiety contribute to choosing ICE vehicles over EVs.

To mitigate this, the Australian government has promised to install 42 ultra-fast EV chargers across major highways on the east coast of Australia, as well as new charging stations in Adelaide, Perth, and Tasmania. These will be spaced 150km apart at most and accommodate most light passenger and commercial EVs and be powered by renewable energy.

Though the UK is leading the way in EV take up, it’s mostly due to the ease of the transition and feasibility of the proposition. Selling EVs to farmers who routinely travel hundreds of km in a day to stop and charge for two to three hours just to get to the next town is a hard bargain. Still, the numbers look promising!