The electric vehicle (EV) revolution is reshaping the automotive landscape, promising a greener future and reduced carbon emissions. However, as the UK Government aims for a complete phase-out of new internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles by 2035, challenges and inconsistencies have emerged, particularly concerning motorists with a disability and customers of the Motability Scheme. This article delves into all of the key issues, shedding light on the many barriers faced by disabled motorists, Motability’s efforts to make EVs more appealing to their customers and the overall dynamics of the EV market.
Motability Operations, the organisation behind the Motability Scheme, plays a crucial role in the UK automotive market, purchasing around 13% of all new cars registered in the UK annually. The Motability Scheme is the largest fleet operator in the UK, and wants to make the transition to electric vehicles for over 700,000 of their disabled customers as easy as possible, through a comprehensive vehicle package that includes an EV charging solution, insurance, servicing, replacement tyres, and breakdown cover.
34,000 Motability customers already drive an EV, which makes Motability one of the largest EV operators in the UK, owning around 5% of all the EVs on UK roads.
Of course, not everybody with a disability or who has a mobility issue qualifies for the Motability Scheme. By 2035 the number of disabled drivers and passengers will increase to 2.7 million, so solutions need to be found for everybody who is affected, not just those individuals who receive a qualifying Mobility Allowance benefit.
While EV adoption is on the rise, economic barriers persist, especially for those with disabilities. Motability surveys suggest that around half (48.3%) of their customers are committed to their next vehicle being electric. However, financial constraints remain a significant hurdle, as 42% of Motability customers live on annual household incomes of less than £20,000 before tax. The added cost of EVs compared to ICE vehicles poses a substantial challenge for disabled individuals, who are already facing a 44% income gap compared to the wider population.
The Motability Scheme has so far provided £91.4 million of additional support for customers wanting to lease an EV, but 63% of surveyed customers still find the cost prohibitive. This highlights a potential risk of leaving disabled motorists behind in the transition to electric, if targeted incentives and support are not provided.
Despite the financial incentives, by regularly surveying their customers, Motability have been able to identify many of the challenges faced by disabled motorists. When asked about transitioning to an EV, respondents cited that supply issues, range anxiety, higher costs, the inaccessibility of public charging, smaller vehicle sizes, and the lack of suitable electric Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (e-WAVs) as reasons for not making the switch to an EV.
The availability and accessibility of public charging points present another obstacle, particularly for the 45% of Motability customers (around 280,000 people) who don’t have access to off-street parking at home. Customers who do have off-street parking can choose a complimentary fitted home EV charger as a part of the lease package.
National Grid research estimates that 40% of UK drivers will have to rely on public charging, and Motability say that 57% of their customers surveyed cite the lack of public charge points as a reason for not making the switch.
The Motability Foundation (who oversee the operation of the Motability Scheme and provide charitable grants to help people use it) is actively researching the barriers faced by disabled people when using EV charge points, emphasising the need for inclusive infrastructure development to accommodate diverse mobility needs.
The motor insurance market remains cautious about EV insurance risk, with lingering concerns about factors such as rapid acceleration and potential battery damage. Thatcham's assignment of higher risk groups to EV models compared to their ICE equivalents will contribute to higher insurance costs for disabled motorists who want to switch to an EV, and potentially push up the overall insurance cost faced by Motability as the number of EVs leased by customers through the Scheme increases.
For example, the insurance group for an electric Vauxhall Mokka starts at ABI group 21 (out of 50), whereas the ICE equivalent starts at group 14.
A unique challenge arises for wheelchair users, including the 33,000 Motability customers who lease a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV). The current markets limitations make it difficult to convert many small and medium electric vehicles into WAVs due to the location of the battery under the chassis.
B-Style's electric WAV conversion kit shows that it is possible to convert a popular EV into an e-WAV without having to make any adjustments to the vehicle's battery pack or invalidating the manufacturer's original warranty.
Motability is actively collaborating with industry partners and specialist converters, and investing in solutions to ensure that petrol and diesel powered WAVs, or electric WAVs, remain available to wheelchair users.
The Energy Saving Trust found that there was 'limited communication between the [WAV] conversion and adaptation industry and vehicle manufacturers'. This needs to change if the industry is serious about helping wheelchair users make the switch to an EV.
B-Style’s conversion kit means converters can create an e-WAV without affecting the battery pack.
Car dealerships, servicing networks, accident repair centres, breakdown services, and parts suppliers face challenges in adapting to the growing EV uptake. Logistics infrastructure, technician training, and the potential impact on dealership income from servicing and maintenance (EVs cost less to maintain than ICE vehicles) pose significant considerations.
There are varying levels of preparation across the UK motor industry, emphasising the need for clear messaging from vehicle manufacturers and consistent, targeted incentives to drive positive change.
As the UK moves towards a cleaner and more sustainable automotive future, it is imperative to address the diverse challenges faced by disabled motorists and carers in the transition to electric mobility. Motability’s insights provide a valuable perspective on economic, infrastructure, and accessibility barriers, urging policymakers and industry stakeholders to collaborate in creating an inclusive EV ecosystem. Through targeted incentives, infrastructure development, and ongoing industry preparation, the electric vehicle revolution can be realised with inclusivity at its core, ensuring that no one is left behind.