Is Motoring Getting Greener in the UK?


Feb 16, 2015 by Alex

Many Britons love their cars and in particular, it seems, their new cars; 2,476,435 new vehicles were registered in the UK during 2014, the largest number since 2004. Of these just 51,733 were completely electric or hybrid vehicles, i.e. the types of car most widely considered as being 'green'.

Given that hybrid cars have been around for a while now - the Toyota Prius was launched in 1997 - that might seem rather surprising. After all, aren't we all supposed to be saving the planet? It's not as though electric cars and hybrids are beyond the reach of the average motorist - they have been around for almost 20 years now, so are entering the second-hand market in droves - but the UK simply doesn't seem to have taken to them very much.

Contrast the British situation with that of Norway, where the authorities offered great incentives (including free parking and the right to drive in bus lanes) to people investing in greener vehicles. Norwegians responded enthusiastically and by early 2014, more than 10% of all cars sold in Norway were hybrids or electrically powered.

However, even these figures may not be as impressive as they first appear. Norway is the world's fourth richest country, and some commentators claim that many of the Norwegians buying 'green' vehicles are buying them purely as a second vehicle in which to commute - because electric vehicles are not liable for road tolls, can fill up on free 'fuel' at the abundant charging points and their limited range (up to 100 miles per charge, on average) is not an issue on a commute. Meanwhile, the family saves its primary, petrol-driven, vehicle for most other purposes.

Things will get even more interesting in Norway when the government removes many or all of the incentives to buy 'green' cars - which seems to be imminent. Perhaps anybody thinking of buying a second-hand electric car would do well to visit Oslo when that happens.

In the UK there are even more problems facing would-be greener drivers. When did you last see a charging point for an electric car? There are relatively few in this country and that, combined with the limited mileage per charge, seems to be a sticking point for many Brits.

Perhaps in the end, the UK will look to other means of making its driving more environmentally friendly. The driverless car looks set to take up the mantle of Next Big Thing from the hybrid/electric, and that too offers possibilities for greener, as well as safer, driving. With a computer-driven car, driving techniques can be optimised for fuel efficiency and environmental impact - these can make a surprisingly large difference.

Thus, the world of motoring is not yet environmentally friendly, but there is still reason to hope. In 2013, the UK Government committed £37m of funding for the installation of electric car charging points, and improvements in battery technology seem likely to extend the driving range of electric vehicles in the near future. Electric, hybrid and driverless technology is all evolving - and is likely to have a huge impact on the way we drive our cars in the years ahead.