Despite strict regulations and testing, internal combustion engines (ICE) are still the main cause of air pollution. Even the newest ICE vehicles still pump out huge amounts of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter into the air. However, electric vehicle uptake is slow. Last year, just 2.53 percent of the cars on our roads were electric.
As hotbeds of innovation, many people expect universities to be early adopters of electric vehicle technology and drive progress from the front. Around the world, universities are taking great strides to clean up their fleets. In April, the University of Georgia invested in 20 electric buses, eliminating 4.5 million pounds of carbon emissions annually. Florida State University is following suit, transitioning to a purely electric bus fleet.
But how are UK institutions performing? Are our universities driving an all-electric revolution or persisting with ICE vehicles?
Over the past six months, we have compiled data on the fuel composition of the fleets of 110 UK universities obtained through Freedom of Information requests. In this report, we have highlighted five interesting findings from our research. While some points seem disheartening, others have sparked hope for positive change.
Diesel still reigns supreme.
The UK government has banned the sale of petrol and diesel cars after 2040 and there is substantial pressure to pull the date forward to 2035 or even 2030. Time is ticking to make the switch to an alternative fuel vehicle.
While EV adoption in the UK is increasing, diesel remains the dominant fuel type in most fleets. Across all universities investigates, diesel cars made up 69.9 percent of the fleets in 2018/19, down 1.6 percent from 2017/18. For both 2017/18 and 2018/19, we discovered that nine percent of universities only had diesel cars in their fleets.
Our data shows that diesel is still the clear favourite fuel choice for university fleets but there are signs of a slow decrease.
- Diesel powers 69.9% of UK university fleet vehicles.
- 9% of the universities have an entirely diesel fleet.
- The number of universities with no diesel cars increased by 1% since 2017.
Confidence in diesel is falling.
Our data shows that diesel is slowly falling out of favour with UK universities and the same can be said for the UK public as a whole. In fact, sales of diesel cars plummeted by 37 percent between March 2017 and March 2018, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
"Although diesel is still the reigning fuel type champion across UK university fleets making up 69.9%, our research shows that the popularity is in decline," says Will Craig, Founder of LeaseFetcher
- Since 2017, the number of diesel cars in university fleets decreased by 1.4%.
Electric car uptake is growing — and fast!
While electric vehicles still make up a very small part of the UK market, uptake is accelerating.
Since 2017, there was a 6.5 percent increase in the number of electric cars in university fleets. Moreover, the number of electric cars as a percentage of the whole fleet increased from 14 percent to 14.9 percent.
"Electric car popularity and uptake is growing - and fast. With a 6.5% increase in EVs across all university fleets from 2017/18 to 2018/19, the higher education sector is skipping ahead of the 2.53% EV uptake across the general UK market," says Will Craig, Founder of LeaseFetcher
- Since 2017, the number of electric cars in university fleets increased by 6.5%.
- 26.3% of universities possessed no electric cars.
Universities are more willing to buy electric than individuals
Our data shows that universities are far more willing to adopt electric cars than the UK public as a whole.
"University electric vehicle adoption exceeds the general consumer adoption by a staggering 12.37%. We need to find a way to break down the barriers for regular people too," says Will Craig, Founder of LeaseFetcher
In 2018, the electric cars made up just 2.53 percent of the UK automotive market. For universities, however, 14.9 percent of the entire fleet was electric. Universities are speeding ahead of general UK EV adoption by a staggering 12.37 percent.
But why the divergent figures?
The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee examined the roadblocks in the way of consumers transitioning to electric vehicles.
Vehicle cost is the primary stumbling block. Unlike nations like Norway, where the government invests heavily in subsidies, the UK's plug-in car grant was slashed in November 2018. It formerly covered 35 percent of the cost of the car.
Battery capacity and underdeveloped charging infrastructure are also key concerns for individuals. This investigation into charging infrastructure maps out the distance needed to travel to charging points. In rural regions in particular, consumers are generally not within a comfortable distance from charging points.
Universities, on the other hand, are predominantly based in urban areas, which have access to public charging points. Additionally, most universities also own land or buildings, which allows them to install their own charging stations.
"We know for a fact that internal combustion engines are the main cause of air pollution. Although there is still a very long way to go before we can move away from ICEs, it is reassuring that the higher education sector seems to have found a way to overcome the barriers that normal people face when it comes to electric vehicle uptake," says Will Craig, Founder of LeaseFetcher
- Electric cars comprised 2.53% of the UK automotive market in 2018.
- 14.9% of university fleet vehicles were electric in 2018.
- University electric vehicle adoption exceeds general UK consumer adoption by 12.37%.
Leading the way to electrification
So which institutions are making the greatest progress?
Based on a minimum of a 10-car fleet, we have identified the top five universities for electric vehicle adoption.
- Kingston University: 64.3% of 14 cars.
- Bournemouth University: 53.3% of 15 cars.
- Manchester Metropolitan University: 51.9% of 27 cars.
- University of Sunderland: 47.1% of 17 cars.
- University of Kent: 44.1% of 68 cars.
These leaders demonstrate that with the right approach, UK universities can keep up the pace with their international counterparts when electrifying their fleets.
We also examined EV adoption by country. Based on having a minimum of a 20% electric fleet, we found that:
- 49% of English universities were above the cut off.
- 45% of Scottish universities were above the cut off.
- No Welsh universities were above the cut off.
- No Northern Irish universities were above the cut off.
English and Scottish Universities are clearly leading the way, with English Universities pulling slightly further ahead. These findings make sense when compared with the chargepoint distance data mentioned earlier as it highlights a significant lack of charging points in Wales.
- Kingston University, Bournemouth University, Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Sunderland, and the University of Kent have the top 5 electric vehicle adoption rates out of all 110 Universities examined.
- English Universities have the highest EV adoption rates, with 49% of institutions with rates above 20% cut off.
Whilst the proportion of electric cars in university fleets is growing faster than diesel—and at a faster rate than the UK average—these fleets have a long way before they are fully green.
As other international institutions press forward with electrification, UK universities need to commit more firmly to switching if they are to keep up the pace.
LeaseFetcher is a leading car leasing comparison website. It automatically collects millions of prices from leading leasing brokers and allows users to search, filter and compare prices to find the offer that's best for them. For further reading on this research see https://www.leasefetcher.co.uk/blog/electric-vehicle-uptake-in-higher-education.
Survey Methods and Data
Results for this poll are based on online survey responses collected on 30th April 2019 with a random sample of 100 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the UK, who drive a vehicle 3 or more times per week. The sample for this study was randomly drawn from Pollfish's network of 570M consumers.
The data on UK university fleets was gathered by use of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. All data was gathered by our in- house team of marketers and can be obtained upon request.
Access to Data
To request a copy of our full report or a copy of the survey data, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on this topic see the IDTechEx report on Electric Vehicles 2020-2030.