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Comment: A huge month for plug-in vehicles

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Melanie Shufflebotham, COO & co-founder of Zap-Map, on how soaring interest in electric vehicles and fast-rising public charging infrastructure are changing the face of the EV sector.

Melanie Shufflebotham, COO & co-founder of Zap-Map

September 2021 will be remembered as a turning point for electric vehicles, a crucial month for sales of any vehicle with a plug and interest in electrified transport. That’s the story told by the latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which show the highest-ever sales of EVs.

In addition, end-of-quarter charge point data from Zap-Map, the go-to app for EV drivers, indicates significant growth in key areas of public charging infrastructure. Zap-Map registered users now top a quarter of a million and Zap-Map usage has more than doubled since the beginning of the year.

Analysis of Google search data reveals that online searches for electric cars in the UK exploded 1,600% on 24th September, when petrol station fuel shortages became a widespread phenomenon across the country.

September – along with March – is a new registration plate month, and traditionally shows a peak in overall sales. Due to various supply issues this is not the case for the overall market, making the peak in sales of new battery-electric vehicles (BEV) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) more remarkable.

September 2021 saw a total of 46,605 new electric vehicle registrations, comprising 32,721 BEVs and 13,884 PHEVs. This takes the cumulative total of plug-in vehicles on UK roads – as of the end of September 2021 – to over 651,829. That total comprises around 330,991 BEVs and 320,838 PHEVs. This means the number of electric vehicles on the road has increased by 75% since the same time last year.

The month’s strong sales saw market share grow for plug-in vehicles, which made up 18.6% of overall vehicle sales, despite September being a new registration plate month when plug-in market share tends to fall. So far in 2021, this means that plug-in vehicles represent 16.1% of market share, with BEVs at 9.5% and PHEVs at 6.6%.

There is also good news from beyond the point of sale – especially for those using electric cars to get out and about. End-of-quarter charge point data from Zap-Map indicates that two key areas of the UK’s public charging infrastructure have grown significantly since the end of 2020.

Since the beginning of the year, the number of ultra-rapid charging devices in the UK has increased by more than 50%. There are now more than 1000 ultra-rapid charging devices in the ground in addition to 3750 rapid chargers. These ultra-rapid devices – which provide power at 100 kW or more – are prime examples of ‘en route’ charging, capable of adding 100 miles of range in as little as 10 minutes.

Ultra-rapid charging hubs from the likes of InstaVolt and Gridserve have been springing up throughout the year. With multiple ultra-rapid devices at each location, they provide a reliable opportunity for EV drivers to get a quick charge while undertaking longer journeys.

The number of slow chargers has also increased by 66%, from over 3,670 at the end of 2020 to more than 6,100 at the end of September. These devices are often found on residential streets or as part of community projects, and many act as a replacement for home charging.

The datasets from the SMMT and Zap-Map not only show that more people are buying EVs than ever before, but that investment in public charging infrastructure is beginning to show real benefits for those choosing to make the switch.

With these key advances to en route and base charging, EV drivers are increasingly able to get out and about for business as usual. While some issues remain on the reliability of older chargers, the new generation of ultra-rapid chargers and charging hubs not only provides a great opportunity for a quick charge, but also peace of mind for EV drivers depending on their next stop off.

Looking ahead, charging network Osprey has recently announced a £75m rollout of 150 rapid EV charging hubs, InstaVolt has pledged to install 10,000 new rapid chargers by 2030, and MFG has committed over £400m to installing 3,000 ultra-rapid chargers at roughly 500 sites by the end of 2030. These three announcements alone will affect a notable increase in installed charging capacity up and down the country.

In parallel, Gridserve has been busy upgrading the critical motorway service area chargers that comprise the Electric Highway. There are now over 200 ultra-rapid, rapid and fast Gridserve Electric Highway chargers live on Zap-Map, all of which include live availability status, which makes planning charge stops that much easier for EV drivers.

While there is still a lot to do by the 2030 deadline, and there needs to be continued focus on shifting the dial to make charging simple for everyone, as more and more people get EVs the focus needs to be not so much on the tech but on the EV driver.

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