Nissan Leaf

Opinion: electric cars are the future, so why are sales falling?

Nissan LeafNew car sales in March 2018 saw the 12th monthly decline in a row, with overall registrations plunging by a whopping 15.7 percent, according to latest data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Many are blaming the current demonisation of diesel for this, at least in part – but although rising sales of alternative fuel cars reveal some may be making the switch from diesel to electric, it’s plug-in hybrids, which combine electric with a ‘range-extending’ petrol engine, rather than pure zero-emissions EVs, that are benefiting.

Indeed, sales of pure electric cars actually fell in March, the largest and most important month of the year for new car sales, and by a not-insignificant 7.5 percent.

Plug-in hybrid new car sales, by contrast, rose by 18.2 percent.

Electric car wallbox charger

The decline in pure electric cars is a surprise, as the assumed trend has been that sales will accelerate as battery ranges increase, prices fall and buyers become more familiar and confident with the concept of an electric car.

But while more than 3,100 pure electric cars were sold in March 2017, little more than 2,900 were registered in 2018. This is despite Renault, one of the biggest brands for electric cars, offering some appealing £199-a-month deals on its all-electric Zoe.

Renault Zoe

One explanation for the fall in electric car sales could be Nissan’s launch of the new Leaf. Often, there can be a hiccup in deliveries as production switches from one generation to the next.

Ford very publicaly showed what happens when things go wrong last year, when Britain’s perennial best-selling car, the Fiesta, lost its top spot for a few months.

However, another explanation could be that, simply, the bulk of British car buyers don’t think they’re yet ready for electric. Early adopters already have one and it’s going to take the roll-out of the next-generation of electric cars to really rally the market.

Nissan Leaf

Again, the Leaf may well prove pivotal here, just as the original one did in establishing the idea of an everyday electric car in Britain. Fresh from scooping the 2018 World Green Car of the Year Award, can it deliver?

Analysts will thus be watching pure EV registration figures carefully over the next few months. Because surely it’s far too early in the life of the everyday electric car for a sales stumble to continue for long…