Powering ahead? The take up of electric cars22 Apr 2013

Internal-combustion engines drive drop in carbon emissions

Sales of electric cars are set to fall far short of official expectations.

The Committee on Climate Change has previously said it would be “feasible and desirable“, to have up to 1.7 million fully electric and plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2020.

But most industry analysts predict the number will be significantly lower.

However average new car emissions in 2020 are still likely to meet the EU target of 95 gCO2/km because of the refinement of existing technologies.

Powering Ahead, a review by the consultancy Ricardo-AEA of a range of authoritative market forecasts, shows even the more positive assessments foresee only

200,000 plug-in hybrid and pure battery powered cars being sold each year in the UK by 2020.

Some experts think sales of these types of vehicle will actually be as low as 40,000.

To put these numbers in perspective, just over 2 million new cars were sold in the UK in 2012.

In total there are about 29 million cars on the road in the UK.

Powering Ahead – which was commissioned jointly by the RAC Foundation and the UK Petroleum Industry Association – analysed the predictions made in 14 other major studies for the take-up of low-carbon cars.

Recognising the varying assumptions made in the other reports, and after discounting the most extreme projections, Ricardo-AEA still found widely differing assessments for the scale of green car sales in 2020:


Market share in 2020

Volume (based on the number of cars sold in 2012)

Market share in 2030

Volume (based on the number of cars sold in 2012)



100,000 – 400,000


400,000 – 1m

Plug-in hybrids


20,000 – 100,000


300,000 – 600,000

Pure battery electric cars


20,000 – 100,000


100,000 – 400,000

Range-extended electric cars


20,000 – 40,000


100,000 – 400,000

Note: Figures based on analysis of 14 major studies into the take-up of low-carbon vehicles. In 2012 2,044,000 new cars were sold in the UK. Figures in the table are based on a rounded number of 2,000,000.

The report says:

“In the longer term, the likely mix of technologies is extremely difficult to predict. The speed with which plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles achieve significant market shares is highly dependent on their total cost of ownership in comparison to that of more conventional alternatives. This is, in turn, dependent on factors such as oil prices, further battery and fuel cell cost reductions, and government policies.”

Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said:

“Estimating future sales of electric cars is not quite like sticking the tail on the donkey, but not far from it. There are so many variables to factor in that even those paid to predict the future of low-carbon vehicles cannot agree on what is in store. The only common ground amongst the experts is that we are unlikely to see as many electric cars sold as politicians might like.

“It is more than two years since the government introduced the plug-in car grant. Yet even with subsidies of £5,000 per vehicle available only 3,600 cars have been purchased through the scheme.

“This report concludes that the key to making electric cars a commercial success is a major advance in battery technology. Until then these vehicles are likely to remain too expensive and too impractical to penetrate the mass market.

“Eventually there will need to be a step change in the type of cars we drive. To help achieve this, the RAC Foundation believes a target for new car CO2 emissions of nearing 60 g/km is needed for 2025. This challenging goal would help preserve the impetus car manufacturers are already demonstrating in terms of technological advancement. Electric cars might eventually come into their own: but there is no guarantee that they won’t be beaten at their own game by other low-carbon technologies.”

Chris Hunt, director general of the UKPIA, said:

“The key conclusions of the publication are that conventional petrol and diesel cars are expected to remain the dominant technology in the overall vehicle fleet until at least 2030 and that advances in fuel economy will be primarily achieved by continuing improvements to existing engine technology and greater focus on vehicle efficiency through reduced weight and drag.

“The study also suggests that about 60% of vehicles in 2030 are likely to be powered, either in part or in full, by internal-combustion engines. Although, the factors which appear to have the strongest influence over all predictions are, firstly, future policy, and secondly, the likely speed with which breakthroughs in technology will be achieved.”



RAC Foundation:

Philip Gomm – Head of External Communications

[email protected] | 020 7747 3445 | 020 7389 0601 (ISDN) | 07711 776448

Notes to editors:

The RAC Foundation is a transport policy and research organisation that explores the economic, mobility, safety and environmental issues relating to roads and their users. The Foundation publishes independent and authoritative research with which it promotes informed debate and advocates policy in the interest of the responsible motorist.

UKPIA represents the interests of nine member companies engaged in the UK downstream oil industry on a range of common issues relating to refining, distribution and marketing of oil products, in non-competitive areas. UKPIA’s role is to inform its members of proposed legislation and related developments, and to help form and advocate the industry’s position. UKPIA is also an authoritative source of information or reference on the UK downstream industry.

The cost of the report was met jointly by the RAC Foundation and the UKPIA.

The full report is available to download under embargo by following this link:


The executive summary is available here:


The report will be on the Foundation website – www.racfoundation.org – and also the UKPIA site – www.ukpia.com – from the date of publication.

As of 31 March 2013, 3,633 cars had been bought with the help of the government’s Plug-in Car Grant: