CMA seeks to build UK consumer trust in electric car charging

The UK’s competition regulator is investigating electric vehicle charging to work out how to tackle “range anxiety”, one of the key factors holding back the move away from fossil fuel cars by 2030.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it wanted to build consumer trust in the availability of electric car charging as well as address any competition issues.

Building an extensive network of public charging infrastructure across the UK is seen as one of the main factors preventing quicker uptake of electric cars to meet the government’s goal of banning the sale of internal combustion engine cars by 2030 and hybrids by 2035.

The number of electric cars sold in the UK was increasing rapidly even before the ban on internal combustion engines was brought forward from 2040 to 2030. Sales rose by 169% in the year to October compared with the previous year to reach 75,000. The number of public charging points has also increased but only to 20,500, according to the data company Zap Map.

The CMA said on Wednesday that it would work on how to develop a competitive sector while encouraging private investment. It also said it would work out how to increase consumer confidence in chargers, comparing it with the ease of use of petrol stations. It hopes to carry out its study rapidly and expects responses from the market by 5 January.

A number of private-sector investors are racing to build their own charging networks, including BP’s Chargemaster, the German company Ubitricity, EDFs Pod Point and the US electric carmaker Tesla.

Some of the charging networks, however, rely on different membership schemes or payment methods, raising concerns in the industry and in parliament about a potentially fragmented system. It is also often more expensive to use a public charger than charge at home, a barrier for people who do not have their own off-street parking facilities.

The Guardian has also revealed the large disparities in charging facilities around the the UK. London and south-east England have a disproportionatenumber of new chargers.

The CMA’s chief executive, Andrea Coscelli, said: “Being able to easily stop off at a petrol station is a standard part of a journey and consumers must trust that electric charge points will provide a similarly straightforward service.”

Consumers cite a number of reasons for not yet buying electric cars, including that prices are still higher than for petrol or diesel cars and fears they will be unable to make longer journeys.

Data the car sales platform Auto Trader does not yet show runaway demand for electric cars across the broader UK market. Demand in the larger secondhand market has nearly doubled during 2020, with a 95% increase, but it has been outstripped by the supply of cars, which has grown by 105%.

That has meant that like-for-like prices for secondhand electric cars have actually fallen in recent months, unlike those for petrol and diesel models which have benefited from increased demand for alternatives to public transport during the pandemic.

The UK government may have to commit more money to accelerate the transition to electric cars if the pace does not increase. That could potentially come in the form of more generous subsidies to match countries such as France and Germany, or more investment in charging infrastructure.