Europeans having second thoughts about current EVs

After years of accelerating growth, Europe's electric car sales appear to be entering a go-slow zone as drivers wait for better, cheaper models that are two to three years down the road.

Riaan Doubts1

Fully electric sales in Europe were up 47% in the first nine months of 2023, but instead of celebrating automakers, including Tesla, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz, sounded a sombre note. High interest rates and a subdued market are putting customers off, they warned, with Volkswagen's EV order intake half what it was last year.

Dealers in Germany and Italy, as well as research by four global data analysis firms, say there is more behind the slower uptake than economic uncertainty, with consumers unconvinced that EVs are meeting their safety, range and price needs.

"The main problem is uncertainty," says Thomas Niedermayer, head of a 45-year-old family-owned Bavarian car dealership.

"Many assume that the technology will improve and opt to rather wait three years for the next model than buy a vehicle now that will quickly lose value."

Take Flavia Garcia and Tom Carvell in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Their 15-year-old hand-me-down Toyota Auris, nicknamed Martina, needs replacing. With a petrol and diesel car ban nearing, the couple would consider an EV, but are put off by a lack of charging infrastructure, battery-life fears and price.

AutoTrader says new EVs in Britain are still on average 33% more expensive than fossil-fuel models.

And most new models in the pipeline targeting entry-level consumers will not hit the market before 2025 at the earliest – by which time they will be contending with an expanded Chinese line-up from BYD to Nio in Europe.

"You want to do the right thing for the environment, but it feels like you're setting yourself up for a very expensive investment that will make your life that bit more complicated," says Garcia, a 29-year-old corporate media director.

"We'll probably get a hybrid first."

Critics have long warned that a lack of affordable EVs would eventually stall the steep sales growth boosted by early adopters and corporate fleets.

A weaker performance in September, consumer sentiment surveys and bleak commentary from carmakers and dealers indicate that a low-growth era may have arrived.

US automakers, though further behind on the transition to EVs, are also feeling the pinch. Ford and GM warned recently that they were delaying the launch of cheaper EV models and were pulling back on spending owing to weaker demand and higher costs in the wake of new United Auto Worker contracts.

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