The accelerating popularity of electric vehicles

Electric vehicles have grown in popularity significantly in recent years – but can they ever really compete with petrol and diesel cars?

In this article you will learn:

  • The history of electric vehicles
  • How electric cars have grown in popularity
  • The barriers to electric cars owning the market share

You might think that electric cars are a relatively new invention – but the first successful electric-powered car was unveiled back in the late 1800s. With a top speed of 14 miles per hour, William Morrison’s electric vehicle could hold up to six people. But it was outdone by Henry Ford’s Model T, which was significantly cheaper. As the availability of cheap gasoline rose and the rapid construction of roads began, electric vehicles had all but disappeared by 1935.

But, as the global population becomes more environmentally aware, electric vehicles have come back onto the motor scene and, in the last four years, have seen a surge in demand. During the first half of 2014, just 500 electric vehicles were registered per month in the UK. That rose to an average of 5,000 per month during 2017, and so far in 2018 the UK has seen an average of 5,000 electric vehicles registered each month.

This year has seen electric vehicles account for 2.4 per cent of all new cars sold in the UK. But what is accounting for their rising popularity?

Read: How Virgin Atlantic is travelling smarter on the ground and in the air


Due to their use of new technologies, people often view electric vehicles as unaffordable and assume that they would not be able to purchase one. However, according to research from the University of Leeds, electric vehicles actually work out as cheaper to run in the UK, US and Japan than their petrol or diesel counterparts over a four-year period.

The researchers said in 2017 that the cost was cheaper partly because of government support to encourage people to buy electric vehicles, but that they expected the cars to become the cheapest option without subsidies within a few years.

The team of researchers analysed the total cost of vehicles over four years. They looked at purchase price and depreciation, fuel, insurance, road tax and maintenance – and were surprised to discover that pure electric cars came out cheapest in all four markets they looked at: UK, Japan, Texas and California.

Charging points

Another concern that many people have is the limited range of electric cars and the reliance on finding available charging points. But, according to Zap-Map, as of November 2018 there are 18,681 charging points in the UK at 6,633 different locations. And that number is rising – in the last 30 days alone, another 678 charging points for electric vehicles were added.

Envision Virgin Racing has also recently partnered with ChargePoint to introduce charging points at their Silverstone Park base, which will be available for local residents and commuters to use outside of normal business hours.


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