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Are we ready to switch to electric cars?

16 August 2017

An ONS visual piece looks at the volume of cars currently on the roads in Great Britain, and the sources of revenue raised by environmental taxes.

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The government recently announced plans to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040, which is part of a long-term plan to tackle air pollution. Emissions from vehicles contribute to pollution and climate change, as well as harming our health. As the UK’s plan for this notes: “Although air pollution has improved, it still poses an urgent health problem”.

Nearly all of the cars on our roads are diesel or petrol

There were 30.8 million licensed cars on the roads in Great Britain in 2016. This has risen by nearly 10 million since 1994.

In 2016, diesel cars accounted for 39.1 percent of licensed cars on our roads, up from just 7.4 percent in 1994. Meanwhile, petrol cars accounted for 59.7 percent of all licensed cars in 2016, down from 92.6 percent in 1994.

The rise in the sale of diesel cars in recent years is linked to a tax cut on diesel cars and a reduced vehicle tax on all cars with low carbon dioxide emissions, which encouraged people to trade their petrol cars for diesel vehicles.

There has been an increase in the number of alternative fuel vehicles, which includes electric cars, illustrating some willingness for consumers to adapt to new technologies. However, they still make up a tiny percentage (1.2 percent) of all licensed cars on the road today.

Motorists pay the bulk of environmental taxes

Environmental tax accounts for 7.2 percent of all taxes and social contributions to government. It includes transport, energy, pollution and resource taxes.

Government revenue from environmental taxes reached £47.6 billion in 2016. Revenue from the taxes that affect motorists – indirect taxes like the tax on fuel, and direct taxes like vehicle tax – make up a high proportion of the overall revenue from environmental taxes.

Few people are thinking about buying an electric car

Just 5 percent of adults aged 16 and over had thought about buying an electric car or van in 2016. Meanwhile, over half (55 percent) reported they had not thought about buying an electric car or van. Some 16 percent said they considered it, but decided not to buy one just yet.

The most significant barrier to buying an electric car, for many people, was related to the battery. This included the perceived lack of charging stations, and concerns that they won’t be able to recharge when they need to, or that the battery is limited to a distance that is too short.

The advent of new technologies, which can increase battery capacity and therefore the distance vehicles can travel on one charge, may convince motorists that electric is a more attractive option.

Source: Office for National Statistics licensed under the Open Government Licence v.2.0.


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