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Why electric cars could be sold like phones

Selling electric cars in the same way as mobile phones could boost sales, says Simon Donohue.

Time for an upgrade? Academics and industry experts agree that understanding the success of the mobile phone market could be key to tackling sluggish electric car sales.

Only 3,600 vehicles have so far been bought through the Government’s Plug-In Grant scheme, which provides £5,000 towards the cost of an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle.

Powering Ahead, a report published in April by the RAC Foundation and UK Petroleum Association, suggested sales will remain as low as 40,000 per year by 2020 – a pinprick compared to the two million new cars sold in the UK in 2012.

Admittedly, electric car buyers don’t have a huge range of cars to choose from, with only 12 models currently eligible for the Plug-In Grant. But that number is going to rise rapidly, with new electric and plug-in hybrid models due from most of the major manufacturers over the next couple of years.

Do manufacturers need to change the way these cars are sold, though?

Nissan has adopted a different approach with the Sunderland-built version of its all-electric Leaf hatchback, which was launched in April.

You can still buy the car outright, from £20,990, but a new “Flex” ownership plan means that buyers pay as little as £15,990 (after the £5,000 plug-in grant) up-front, and lease the battery separately from £70 per month, depending on the length of the contract and mileage covered.

Just as hardly anyone pays up-front for an iPhone, the deal makes the Leaf more affordable. Renault sells its new Zoe electric supermini in a similar way.


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