Electric vehicles are ready for Europe, but is Europe ready for them?
Driven by emissions regulations and incentives, electric cars are starting to flood the European market. Yet many buyers who would otherwise make the switch to electric are holding back. Cost remains an issue, but concerns about the public charging network loom equally large.
"Charging is one of two key factors that drives consumer sentiment, along with affordability," said Martin Koehring, senior manager for sustainability, climate change and natural resources at Economist Impact, which has studied EV readiness among nine western European countries and China.
Koehring said 38 percent of all British consumers have expressed dissatisfaction with the charging network, and "that is clearly one of the reasons why only a quarter of UK consumers actually are considering switching to an EV."
A scathing report in May from the European Court of Auditors on the EU's support for public charging infrastructure found that "on top of higher vehicle purchase costs, the lack of charging and refueling stations is holding back the market development of alternative fuels."
The EU, which has made improving the charging network a pillar of its European Green Deal environmental strategy, is far from reaching its policy objective "to make electric vehicle charging as easy as filling a conventional vehicle tank," the auditors said.
"The EU is still a long way off its ambitious Green Deal target of 1 million charging points by 2025, and it lacks an overall strategic roadmap for electromobility," the report found.
It's not necessarily the number of charging points that is lacking, Koehring and other analysts say, but that the existing network does not meet consumers' needs in terms of charging speed, reliability, ease of use, location and a seamless payment experience.
"If you’re not a Tesla owner, then you have this struggle where you drive somewhere and either the chargers are busy or they don't work, or you have different payment systems," said Arturs Smilkstins, a partner at Boston Consulting Group in London, citing common complaints.
Tesla owners benefit from the company's own network of fast-charging stations, which was free for early buyers and until now has been limited only to Teslas. The automaker has just started a pilot project in the Netherlands to open the network to other EV brands.
A consumer-friendly charging network may have an impact on EV uptake, experts who have studied the issue say. Interest in buying an EV is generally highest in countries with the most charging points, the most points per vehicle and the most powerful network. (see charts, below)