The first problem to solve with electric cars is you have to get people to buy them. There are a few - very few - in London, mainly because they are congestion-charge-exempt. This is a very specialized and very small market, and now that the number of congestion-charge-exempt conventionally-fuelled cars is increasing, it's a shrinking market.
There are many problems with electric cars. They have a short range. They are expensive, even with the £5000 government subsidy. There's insufficient charging point infrastructure as yet - the UK currently boasts 200 charging points. In the eyes of the public, the technology is unproven. Although reliability is likely to be better than internal combustion engined (ICE) cars, the public don't know that yet.
The economics don't even stack up that well. Although the cost-per-mile of the electricity is low, this is offset by the high electric car purchase price, and depreciation is an unknown.
People who actually buy new cars are not, generally speaking, sufficiently motivated either by economics or by the environment for those considerations to overcome the factors that count against electric cars. The fundamental problem is that although most car journeys are less than 50 miles, the electric car with the best range, the Nissan Leaf (other than very pricey models like the Tesla) will only allow a round trip of 100 miles without recharging. So if I live in London and want to drive to the seaside for the day, I can't do it. Furthermore, research shows that 'range anxiety' sets in long before the maximum range is reached. Convenience, flexibility and freedom from worry have got to be key factors for car buyers. So key in fact that most people take them for granted. People assume that a car gives them the freedom to spontaneously make a journey without worrying about whether they will get there (and back). Most people won't buy a car that only has a range of 100 miles in the same way that they won't buy a lawnmower that can only mow half their lawn. A 2-car family is a potential buyer, where one car is used as a short-journey runabout. But is such a family likely to spend £24000 on their second car? Because that's the price of a Nissan Leaf including the Government's £5000 discount. £24000 would buy a brand-new Ford Focus diesel that is congestion-charge exempt and has zero VED, plus 10 years worth of fuel.
If the Government is going to persuade people to 'go electric', it's going to need carrots (incentives for EV ownership) and sticks (disincentives to ICE vehicle ownership). It seems to have ruled out sticks with its 'no more war on the motorist' agenda. The only carrot on offer is the £5000 rebate, but even with that the electric car is considerably more expensive than the diesel alternative. There are few special privileges that come with electric vehicle ownership, except for the warm glow that you're not destroying the planet as much as you would with a petrol car.
An additional alternative is the 'plug-in hybrid' which has a petrol motor that kicks in to give extended range when the battery runs down. However, these are likely to be even more expensive than pure EVs, so once again they don't stack up in economic terms. Plug-in hybrids are also heavier and therefore less efficient than pure EVs. Plug-in hybrids also have higher running costs (because the petrol engine needs regular servicing, and because you will be using the petrol engine on longer journeys) and are less reliable (because of the petrol engine).
So it's difficult to see EVs going mainstream unless a number of the following conditions occur:
- The Government build out enough charging infrastructure, knowing there will be little return on investment for some time to come;
- oil prices rise enough to shock people away from fossil fuels;
- electric car prices become competitive with ICE cars;
- battery technology improves enough to give better range at a reasonable price.
The Government have a programme to support charging-point buildout. An oil price shock will likely come too late: you cannot replace large numbers of ICE cars overnight. Electric car prices may well come down and battery technology may well improve, but there's no Moore's Law in operation.
In summary, it looks rather like the Government aren't doing enough to promote EV ownership.