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Electric Vehicles: a question of weight

In December last year monthly sales of electric vehicles overtook those of petrol cars for the first time, according to data published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders: 42,284 battery electric vehicles (BEVs) were sold in December, compared to 42,091 petrol cars. A further 13,743 hybrid electric vehicles and 8,367 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles were sold.

But as sales of EVs rise, so does the risk to some of our ageing infrastructure. At least that’s what the British Parking Association (BPA) claims, in a story that was widely publicised in December 2022.

The BPA, which represents car park owners is urging local authorities to conduct urgent structural surveys on its older car parks. The association’s argument is that car parks were designed for much lighter cars and they may not be able to take the weight of heavier EVs, with joints between structural members being possible danger areas.

Structural engineer Chris Whapples, of Whapples Consulting, who is a member of the BPA and a car park specialist, is quoted as saying: “If a vehicle is heavier than the car park was originally designed for, the effects could be catastrophic. We’ve not had an incident yet, but I suspect it is only a matter of time.”

For comparison, a Ford Focus has a kerb weight (which allows for fuel and passengers) of between 1.3 and 1.6 tonnes, a Tesla Model 3 – the UK’s biggest seller – has a kerb weight of 2.3 tonnes and a Land Rover Discovery has a kerb weight of 2.5 tonnes.

Could heavier vehicles mean that our roads wear more quickly too? In theory, yes. EVs weigh more than their petrol or diesel equivalents so that when they brake, accelerate or change direction, they can exert more force on the road surface. However, EVs are constantly reducing in weight as battery technology progresses.

The problem could be if too many people in the UK start driving huge imported electric SUVs such as the Hummer Electric which weigh in at over 4.1 tonnes. Vehicles of this weight will most definitely cause additional wear to roads. In fact, in Norway – which leads the way in terms of EV adoption – the Government is considering a road tax based on weight to discourage the purchase of beasts such as this.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the Government has announced that EV owners will have to pay road tax on their cars from 2025. Zero emission cars registered on or after 1 April 2017 will pay the lowest first year rate and then move to a standard rate. The Expensive Car Supplement will apply to EVs from 1 April 2025 for new zero emission cars purchased after that date, with ‘expensive’ currently defined as above £40,000.

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