The Challenges Facing Electric Vehicle Uptake


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In the 1970s the UK had more electric vehicles than anywhere else in the world. These trend-setters were milk floats – a humble vehicle designed for reliability, durability, and quietness of operation. The pollution free ‘floats’ glided around towns and cities during the early hours with the only evidence of their existence being the appearance of a pint of milk on your doorstep. Now, some 30 years on, the UK has less than 3,000 electric vehicles.

Transport planner and engineer John Fewings discussed the challenges facing electric vehicle uptake during his recent discussion at the BMW Guggenheim Lab. John noted that the UK is aiming to have 2 million electric vehicles in use by 2020 and 9,000 e-mobility charging points by 2013. With 30 million non-electric cars already in use in the UK, and only 704 charging points, these are some ambitious targets.

John posed these questions for our consideration:

  1. Will electric cars encourage more people to drive to work?
  2. Will people ‘shift their mode’ from public and active transportation to travelling by car?
  3. Will e-mobility increase or decrease city congestion?
  4. Will centrally charging points result in more car sharing/car pooling?

Parking an electric car at home. 

The UK has 25 million homes of which 40% do not have off-street parking. 30% of all homes have more than one car and most homes with garages have filled the space specifically designed for their car with ‘junk’. Add to this the fact that electric car batteries are heavy to carry and residents already complain that they cannot park outside or close to their own home because there are too many cars in our cities.

So how will we re-charge electric cars if we can’t park outside our own home and if we don’t have any off-road car parking space?

Parking an electric car at work.

Around the western world the majority of workplace parking is relatively informal. Many people park in locations separated from their workplace; communal car parks, municipal car parks, residential streets and private parking spaces. So if you park your car in a commercial car park will there be allocated ‘charging’ spaces? Will you need to pre-book and reserve a time to re-charge your car in a city centre car park? Will you have to wait (for up to 8 hours) whilst your car is being re-charged? Who will pay for the re-charging costs – you or the car park owner? Will employers provide charging points at work?

Power supplies

The domestic European household socket output is around 3kw but faster e-mobility charging requires 7kw. So will we need to change our utilities? What will happen if everyone re-charges their car at 7pm when they get home from work – will this strain the power supply? Will we be able to choose how electricity is generated, thus ensuring the option of sustainability?

Fuel stations

Over recent years fuel stations have increased in size but reduced in numbers. How far will we need to travel to re-charge our cars if we can’t re-charge at home?


In recent years town and city planners have worked hard to de-clutter our streets removing unnecessary impediments and signage. Will we need re-charging points on our city streets, and will they add to street clutter? Could re-charging stations be subsidised by advertising or sponsorship, as seen with public bicycle hire stations? Could advertising agencies actually cover the costs of car re-charging?

Clearly, the challenges facing electric vehicles uptake are generating more questions than answers. So what do you think?

Images courtesy of exfordy, frankh, Paul Krueger and hotzeplotz on flickr

  • Mark Minkjan

    Amsterdam has created a dense infrastructure of re-charging points over the past years, together with two large energy companies. This investment attracted Car2Go to deploy a 300-car fleet of electric Smarts, creating a wonderful car sharing system. There are going to be 1200 of them by the end of 2012.
    Also, there are quite a lot of privately owned electric cars.
    I think Amsterdam can serve as an example for many other cities, although its density is a big advantage that other cities don’t have.

    • delivery van

      I think the car sharing will be the future of our generations. Amsterdam must to be an example for all other cities.