Prices of used fully electric cars (EVs) are falling in the UK, even though prices of used internal combustion engine (ICE) cars are rising. According to Auto Trader (see the first two articles below), in February 2023 the average price of used petrol cars rose by 3.3% compared with January and the price of used diesel cars rose by 1.4%. But the price of used EVs fell by 9.1%. This follows a fall of 2.1% in January.
But why are used EV prices falling? After all, the last few years has seen a drive to replace ICEs with EVs and hybrids, with many consumers preferring electric cars to petrol and diesel ones. What is more, vehicle excise duty is currently zero for EVs (and will be until 2025) and the sale of new ICEs will be banned from the end of the decade. The answer lies in demand and supply.
On the demand side, many existing and potential EV owners worry about the charging infrastructure. The number of EVs has grown more rapidly than the number of charging points. In 2020 there was one charging point per 16 cars; by 2022 this had worsened to one per 30 cars. Also the distribution of charging points is patchy and there is a lack of rapid and ultra-rapid chargers. Increasingly, people have to queue for access to a charger and this can substantially delay a journey and could mean missed appointments. There were many pictures in the media around Christmas of long queues for chargers at service stations and supermarkets. Poor charging infrastructure can be more of a problem for second-hand EVs, which tend to have a smaller range.
Also on the demand side is the price of fuel. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the rise in oil prices, the price of petrol and diesel soared. This increased the cost of running ICE vehicles and boosted the demand for EVs. But the war also drove up the price of natural gas and this price largely determines the wholesale price of electricity. With government subsidies for electricity, this constrained the rise in electricity prices. This made running an EV for a time comparatively cheaper. More recently, the price of oil has fallen and with it the price of petrol and diesel. But electricity prices are set to rise in April as government subsidies cease. The cost advantage of running an electric car is likely to disappear, or at least substantially decline.
Another substitute for second-hand EVs is new EVs. As the range of new EVs increases, then anyone thinking about buying an EV may be more tempted to buy a new one rather than a used one. Such demand has also been driven by Tesla’s decision to cut the UK prices of many of it models by between 10% and 13%.
The fall in demand for used EVs is compounded, at least in the short term, by speculation. People thinking of trading in their ICE or hybrid car for a fully electric one are likely to wait if they see prices falling. Why buy now if, by waiting, you could get the same model cheaper?
On the supply side, EV owners, faced with the infrastructure problems outlined above, are likely to sell their EV and buy an ICE or hybrid one instead. This increases the supply of used EVs. This is again compounded by speculation as people thinking of selling their EV do so as quickly as possible before price falls further.
In many other countries, there is much more rapid investment in charging infrastructure and/or subsidies for purchasing not only new but used EVs. This has prevented or limited the fall in price of used EVs.
- Auto Trader diagnoses used car sector’s ‘robust health’ after February value rise
AM-online, Tom Sharpe (20/2/23)
- Auto Trader: Used car prices UP AGAIN in February but EV prices continue to tumble
Car Dealer, James Baggott (20/2/23)
- Used electric car prices caught in vicious downward cycle as experts warn of trouble ahead
Car Dealer, James Baggott (13/2/23)
- Used EV market needs more support in Spring Budget, says Vehicle Remarketing Association
Car Dealer, Jack Williams (15/2/23)
- Middle classes cannot afford electric cars, warns Vauxhall owner
The Telegraph, Howard Mustoe (23/2/23)
- British drivers are hurtling towards the electric car cliff edge
The Telegraph on msn, Ben Marlow (23/2/23)
- Cars Drivers should be ‘cautious’ when buying a used EV before 2030 car ban – ‘still an issue!’
Express, Felix Reeves (12/2/23)
- Motorpoint revenues accelerate but dealership group issues profit warning as used electric car prices crash
This is Money, Camilla Canocchi (27/1/23)
- Tesla cuts prices by up to a fifth to boost demand
BBC News, Lucy Hooker (13/1/23)
- Draw a supply and demand diagram to illustrate what has been happening in the market for used EVs.
- How has the price elasticity of (a) demand and (b) supply affected the amount by which used EV prices have fallen?
- Identify substitutes and complements for used electric vehicles. How relevant is the cross-price elasticity of demand for these complements and substitutes in determining price changes of used EVs?
- Draw a diagram to illustrate the effect of speculation on used EV prices.
- What is likely to happen to used EV prices in the months ahead? Explain.
- How are externalities in car usage relevant to government action to influence the market for EVs? What should determine the size of this intervention?
- Devise a short survey for people thinking of buying an EV to determine the factors that are likely to affect their decision to buy one and, if so, whether to buy a new or used one.
When did you last think about buying a new car? If not recently, then you may be in for a surprise next time you shop around for car deals. First, you will realise that the range of hybrid cars (i.e. cars that combine conventional combustion and electric engines) has widened significantly. The days when you only had a choice of Toyota Prius and another two or three hybrids are long gone! A quick search on the web returned 10 different models (although five of them belong to the Toyota Prius family), including Chevrolet Malibu, VW Jetta and Ford Fusion. And these are only the cars that are currently available in the UK market.
But the biggest surprise of all may be the number of purely (plug-) electric cars that are available to UK buyers these days. The table below provides a summary of total registrations of light-duty plug-electric cars by model in the UK, between 2010 and June 2016.
Source: Wikipedia, “Plug-in electric vehicles in the United Kingdom”
In 2010 there were nly 138 electric vehicles in total registered in the UK. They were indeed an unusual sight at that time – and good luck to you if you had one and you happened to run out of power in the middle of a journey. In 2011 this (small) number increased sevenfold – an increase that was driven mostly by the successful introduction of Nissan Leaf (635 electric Nissans were registered in the UK that year). And since then the number of electric vehicles registered in the country has increased with spectacular speed, at an average rate of 252% per year.
There is clearly strong interest in electric vehicles – an interest likely to increase as their price becomes more competitive. However, they are still very expensive items to buy, especially when compared with their conventional fuel-engine counterparts. What makes electric cars expensive? One thing is the cost of purchasing and maintaining a battery that can deliver a reasonable range. But the cost of batteries is falling, as more and more companies realise the potential of this new market and join the R&D race. As mentioned in a special report that was published recently in the FT:
The cost of lithium-ion batteries has fallen by 75 per cent over the past eight years, measured per kilowatt hour of output. Every time battery production doubles, costs fall by another 5 per cent to 8 per cent, according to analysts at Wood Mackenzie.
There is no doubt that more research will result in more efficient batteries, and will increase the interest in electric cars not only by consumers but also by producers, who already see the opportunity of this new global market. Does this mean that prices will necessarily fall further? You might think so, but then you have to take into consideration the availability and cost of mining further raw materials to make these batteries (such as cobalt, which is one of the materials used in the making of lithium-ion batteries and nearly half of which is currently sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo). This may lead to bottlenecks in the production of new battery units. In which case, the price of batteries (and, by extension, the price of electric cars) may not fall much further until some new innovation happens that changes either the material or its efficiency.
The good news is that a lot of researchers are currently looking into these questions, and innovation will do what it always does: give solutions to problems that previously appeared insurmountable. They had better be fast because, according to estimates by Wood Mackenzie, the number of electric vehicles globally is expected to rise by over 50 times – from 2 million (in 2017) to over 125 million by 2035.
How many economists does it take to charge an electric car? I guess we are going to find out!
- Using a demand and supply diagram, explain the relationship between the price of a battery and the market (equilibrium) price of a plug-in electric vehicle.
- List all non-price factors that influence demand for plug-in electric vehicles. Briefly explain each.
- Should the government subsidise the development and production of electric car batteries? Explain the advantages and disadvantages of such intervention and take a position.
The Office for Budget Responsibility has said that the UK Treasury will face a shortfall of £13bn in motoring taxes within a decade. Although car usage continues to rise putting increasing pressure on the road infrastructure, the greener and more fuel efficient cars being produced are driving down the tax revenues generated from motoring.
A report by the IFS has put forward the case for replacing the existing system of taxes on cars and fuel by a new road charging system. If no such change occurs, the IFS has forecast that with more electric cars and hence lower revenues raised from fuel and vehicle excise duties, the shortfall facing the Treasury would require an increase in fuel duty of some 50%. Instead of this, the solution could be to charge individuals for every mile of road they use, with the ‘price’ varying depending on the degree of congestion. For example, at peak times the price would be higher, where as for those in the countryside where roads are traditionally much quieter, charges would be lower. The IFS said:
‘Such a move would generate substantial economic efficiency gains from reduced congestion, reduce the tax levied on the majority of miles driven, leave many (particularly rural) motorists better off, and provide a stable long-term footing for motoring taxes without necessarily raising net additional revenue from drivers.’
Government policy across the world has been increasingly focused on climate change, with targets for emissions reductions being somewhat ambitious. However, many car manufactures who were told to reduce emissions significantly are on the way to meeting these targets and this success is a key factor contributing towards this new road ‘crisis’ that could soon be facing the government. The following articles consider the possibility of a road charging scheme.
The road ahead for motoring taxes? Institute of Fiscal Studies (link to full report at the bottom of the page) (May 2012)
Compelling case for UK road charging, IFS study says BBC News (15/5/12)
Fears tax shortfall may lead to road tolls Sky News (15/5/12)
Who’s going to pay to update Britain’s infrastructure? Guardian Business Blog (15/5/12)
Motoring taxes: a future headache for the Chancellor Channel 4 News (15/5/12)
For whom the toll bills – less traffic hurts M6 toll road owner Guardian, Ian Griffiths and Dan Milmo (14/5/12)
Charge motorists per mile, says IFS Independent, Nigel Morris (15/5/12)
Green cars to drive down tax receipts Financial Times, Mark Odell and John Reed (15/5/12)
- Illustrate the effect of a tax being imposed on petrol. What happens to the equilibrium price and quantity?
- Despite fuel duty pushing up the price of petrol, why has there been such a small decline in the quantity of petrol individuals use?
- Evaluate the case for and against a road charging scheme.
- Why are tax revenues from motoring expected to decline over the next decade?
- Climate change has become an increasingly important focus of government policy. To what extent is the current road ‘crisis’ a positive sign that policies to tackle climate change are working?
- If a road charging scheme went ahead and prices were varied depending on traffic, time etc, what name would you give to this strategy?
- Why would it be possible to charge a higher price at peak times and a lower price for cars using country roads?
- Is there an argument for privatising the road network? Is it even possible?
Market failure occurs when the free market fails to deliver an efficient allocation of resources. Pollution by cars is a prime example of a negative externality or an external cost. We pay road tax and face high tax rates on petrol, but another form of government intervention is due to come into effect. From the 1st January 2011, nine models of electric car will be eligible for grants of up to £5000 (although only three models will be immediately available). By subsidising certain electric cars, the government is aiming to give people an incentive to switch to these so-called more environmentally friendly cars, as they will now be cheaper.
There are concerns, however, that generating the electricity to charge these cars still emits carbon dioxide. The Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, said:
There’s no point in switching the car fleet to running on electricity if the electricity emits vast amounts of carbon dioxide.
So is the electric car the car of the future?
Nine electric cars will be eligible for subsidies BBC News (14/120/10)
Cash grants for environmentally friendly cars announced Telegraph (14/12/10)
£850,000 to kickstart use of electric cars in NI BBC News (14/12/10)
UK names nine electric cars eligible for subsidy Reuters (14/20/10)
- What is the purpose of a subsidy? Using a diagram explain how it will work and what the impact should be.
- Why is pollution an example of a market failure? Illustrate this on a diagram.
- Why could electric cars also be an example of a market failure? Illustrate this on a diagram.
- How will the subsidy aim to encourage more firms to produce electric cars and also more consumers to buy them?
- Is there an argument for increased investment in technology to produce electric cars more cheaply and more effectively?
- Why is there such a high demand for car usage?