Auto manufacturers remain bullish over EV prospects

Motor manufacturers are predicting healthy sales of electric and hybrid vehicles next year, despite a new survey revealing that just five per cent of people purchasing a new car would consider its environmental impact.

A number of high-profile electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids are set to hit UK forecourts next year, including the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i-Miev, and a new Prius plug-in, all of which will be backed up by new £5,000 government incentives for ultra-low emission vehicles.

However, a survey of 1,000 motorists from Bosch found that while around 80 per cent of motorists drive less than 20 miles each day, placing firmly in the target market for electric vehicles, car size, design, style, brand and safety all came ahead of green credentials in the list of purchasers’ priorities.

Moreover, two thirds of respondents ranked price as their chief consideration when buying a new car, meaning many will be ill-disposed towards electric vehicles that are initially expected to cost over £20,000.

The survey also revealed gender, age and geographical disparities in people’s approach to green cars.

For example, women were more likely to weigh-up environmental performance, while men tended to pick EVs over hybrids and 18-24 year olds were the most likely to buy an environmentally friendly vehicle.

Cornish drivers bought the cleanest cars with average CO2 emissions of 138g/km, while perhaps unsurprisingly, Jeremy Clarkson’s home county of Oxfordshire was the worst performing, belching out 168g/km on average.

However, the manufacturers behind the imminent wave of green cars downplayed the report’s implications, insisting there was a sizable market for low emission vehicles.

Nissan said it expected the launch of its electric Leaf to help meet pent up demand for EVs, predicting that EVs will make up 10 per cent of the company’s global sales by 2020.

“The Leaf has already sold its first quarter allocation,” a spokeswoman told BusinessGreen. “We’ve been clear that the Leaf isn’t for everyone and we’re not expecting everyone to ditch their internal combustion engines for EV, but we’re pretty confident that people will be turning onto EVs over the next decade.”

Toyota was equally positive that the hybrid Prius, along with its new plug-in cousin, would maintain its stellar sales performances that has seen around 2.5m cars purchased globally since its release in 1997.

As of 21 November, 9,873 of the bellwether hybrid cars had been sold in the UK in 2010, compared to 6,941 in the same period last year - a 42 per cent increase - and the company expects equally positive figures next year

“We’ve sold more Prius’s this year than last year and we’ve still got a month to go,” a Toyota spokesman said. “We’re going to sell 10,000 units this year and it looks like a similar year in 2011.”

He went on to emphasise that while the prices are higher for green vehicles, motorists save money in the long-run as the cars have a better fuel economy and can qualify for exemptions from road tax and London’s congestion charge.

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