UK consumers warm to EVs but remain cold on robocars

03 June 2021 4 min. read

More than half of UK consumers would now consider purchasing a fully electric vehicle in the future, according to a new study. However, compared to global averages there is still little appetite for autonomous driving in Britain, with seven-in-ten drivers saying self-driving cars would need to be significantly safer before they even thought about using one.

Recent studies have suggested that electric vehicles are set to become “so normalised in the coming decade” that most consumers will drop the word ‘electric’ from conversations involving them. Figures from Go Ultra Low showed that half of UK consumers thought they would become more used to the transport option as it becomes more common on British roads, with it becoming ‘the norm’ by 2030.

While that still seems a distant prospect at the moment, new research from OC&C Strategy Consultants suggests consumer attitudes toward the technology are indeed shifting fast. In the consultancy’s annual barometer of the automotive sector, the number of consumers willing to consider electric vehicles for their next automotive purpose has ballooned by more than 80% leading to 2020.


In 2020, just 31% said that they had considered electronic vehicles as an option when they last purchased a mode of transportation – but going forward, 57% will consider it during their next purchase. Whether this translates into sales in such an emphatic manner remains to be seen, but it means that perception of electric vehicles in the UK is now its highest anywhere other than China.

China was the only country to see consumer perception of electric vehicles fall – though this is likely due to how high it already was, reducing from 86% to 85%. In contrast, the US market still remains most resistant to electric vehicles, with just 45% of consumers saying they would consider one for their next purchase – though this still represents a rapid 61% growth in the popularity of such vehicles.

The same was certainly not true of the autonomous car market, which continues to stall across every market outside of China. In the case of the UK, while the number of consumers happy to be “first to try it” rose from 9% to 13% over the last year, the number who do not trust the idea and would be unlikely to use an autonomous car also grew from 33% to 34%.


One indicator that consumers may be beginning to warm to the idea comes from the fall in the number who said they would be “very cautious until lots of people were using them safely,” with that shrinking by six percentage-points. At the same time, the number who would be willing to be second in line to use the technology grew narrowly.

This means that the UK is now marginally more enthused by self-driving vehicles than the French market – but this is dependent on someone being willing to ‘go first.’ Without this, UK drivers who would be willing to purchase such a vehicle once they see it is safe are unlikely to encounter such examples in their everyday lives.

This is further illustrated by the attitudes of British drivers to the perceived safety of autonomous cars. Around 71% of consumers said that autonomous vehicles would have to increase their current safety standards by at least five-times, while a huge 34% said they would simply not feel comfortable using one, no matter what. It is the same story in the US.


On the surface then, while the UK and US have one of the highest percentages of consumers to say they are happy with the current safety features of autonomous vehicles (14%, behind China on 28%), they are also the markets with the most fear regarding the technology.

Without the buy-in of these two major markets, OC&C’s researchers concede that fully autonomous vehicles will not significantly impact the consumer market before 2030. Instead, they assert “the move will be towards increased tech that helps make the driver’s life more convenient and safer, and provides a welcome tailwind for Service, Maintenance and Repair Providers given the complexity of the technology.”

The findings echo a number of other studies which suggest consumers will take much longer to gain interest in automated transport. One poll from Roland Berger for example found that even though a global majority of 55% said they would use an automated taxi, the UK was also one of only four countries which still had a majority against their use – showing just how entrenched the UK’s hostility to ‘robocars’ and ‘robocabs’ still is. The other three countries to stand against the technology were the US – where the technology has consistently made the wrong kind of headlines, including a noted killing of a pedestrian during tests in Arizona in 2018 – the Netherlands and Japan.