:: Data challenges notion affordability is main barrier to sales
New car buyers are still shunning electric vehicles despite most being able to afford to make the switch.
The number one reason buyers say they cannot switch to electric is price but sales figures tell a different story.
More than half of new car buyers last year could have afforded an EV but only 8pc opted to.
An Irish Independent analysis of the figures shows just over 60pc of purchasers could have afforded at least two of the EV models on the Irish market while 38pc had a budget that would have stretched to 10 models.
About 20pc could have chosen from a wide range of more expensive models.
The figures challenge the perception that affordability is the main barrier to new buyers making the switch to electric.
They raise the question of whether car dealers could do more to promote EVs.
A ‘secret shopper’ exercise by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) shows room for improvement.
Just over half (54pc) of the undercover customers rated their salesperson as knowledgeable about EVs.
They reported that 57pc of salespeople spontaneously mentioned EVs as an option in response to queries about buying a new car.
And after declaring an interest in buying an EV, 75pc of salespeople ultimately recommended an EV as the customer’s best option.
But purchase cost was the main reason salespeople gave against buying an EV.
SEAI said it was encouraged by the findings which were better than anecdotal evidence had suggested.
“The key findings show generally good performance and positive outcomes and represent a strong base from which to build,” Tom Halpin, SEAI head of communications, said.
The secret shopper exercise comes amid plans by the Department of Transport to set up an office for low-emission vehicles to support EV use. A report prepared for the department says the way car dealerships approach sales will be “pivotal in increasing EV penetration”.
“Direct advice from dealers at the point of sale is an influential factor in the customer’s decision-making process,” the report says.
“International research demonstrated that car dealers were often less willing to sell EVs compared to ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles, due to anticipated longer sales time, lack of knowledge or competence to sell, lower profitability for the dealership, less after-sale revenue from servicing, and inconvenience in installing charge points.
“Under the present bonus structure, it seems more attractive for dealers and salespeople to focus on ICE sales.”
Next to affordability, the most often cited barriers to buying EVs are car size and range anxiety.
Yet average household size in Ireland is just 2.75 people and the average number of children per family is 1.4.
Central Statistics Office surveying pre-Covid showed the main daily car journey for most motorists was just 11km in Dublin and 16km in the rest of the country.
Simon Acton, chairperson of the Electric Vehicle Owners Association (EVOA) and a dealer in used EVs, said the perceptions around EVs were frustrating.
“There are many more models available now and the running cost is much cheaper compared to an ICE car, especially now that fuel prices have increased so much,” he said.
“I’m the first to admit the public charging infrastructure is not what it should be, but probably 75pc of car owners could charge at home yet we’re not seeing anything like 75pc uptake.
“I understand that dealers are tied into distributors and automakers and most will still build ICE cars for at least another three to five years so it’s not in their interest financially to push EVs.
“But a new ICE bought today will be on the road for 20 years. That’s not sustainable if we’re serious about climate change.”
Figures from the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) show 104,932 new cars were registered in 2021, of which 8,646 were fully electric.
That was more than double the 4,013 EVs sold in 2020, and it is expected to rise again this year but it is still a long way short of the number needed to meet the Government’s Climate Action Plan target of having almost one million EVs on the road by 2030.
However, analysis of the sales figures and the 284 car models bought show more than 63,000 buyers spent at least €28,000, which would have got them a new EV.
If that proportion bought EVs every year, the goal of one million in a decade would be within reach.
Even accounting for motorists who must regularly travel long or unpredictable distances, or who need a large car for family reasons, the proportion buying electric is low.
Brian Cooke, director general of SIMI, said its members strongly supported the move to EVs but practical barriers remained.
“There is a huge appetite to sell EVs. Dealers have made huge investments in their showrooms, in putting in charging points, in specialist training for staff.
“The big issue is supply. Supply is not what it should be. But we will see an increase in EV sales this year. It doubled last year and we could see it double again this year.
“Many people are still blocked by upfront costs so we need to get more people to look at the total cost of ownership over a three- to four-year period when they take into account running costs.
“Destination charging is the other issue.
“You can charge up at home and maybe get 20 public chargers within a 10-mile journey but travel further out and they become scarce.”
Sinn Féin transport spokesman Darren O’Rourke said the State needed to take the lead in pushing EVs.
“There is a job of work to be done there to achieve the kind of cultural shift that’s needed,” he said.
“All state cars and public service fleet need to be electric.
“That sends a message but also, that fleet turns over quickly so you’re putting second-hand EVs on the market which reaches a lot more customers than the new car market.
“We also need to look at the growth in SUVs because they’re driving up fuel consumption and emissions.
“People say they can’t get an EV the size they want for the same price they’ll get petrol or diesel, but if they’re comparing it with an SUV, the question to ask is, do you really need an SUV?”
A new awards scheme run by SEAI will recognise dealers who are proactive on EV sales.
Companies can register for the scheme up to the end of this month and a fresh round of shopper visits will be carried out as part of the assessment.
SEAI also has an online cost comparison tool to help prospective EV buyers work out how various models stack up against petrol and diesel equivalents.
Mr Acton of the EVOA said it was working with the SEAI on proposals for a series of public roadshows to allow people to experience EVs in a non-salesroom environment.
Other ideas being considered by the department include introducing a green licence plate for EVs to help draw attention to them.