UK drivers are showing signs they are starting to embrace low- and zero-emission electric vehicles, according to the RAC.

Research conducted for the RAC Report on Motoring shows the number of drivers who say they will choose an electric car as their next vehicle has doubled in the past 12 months, with 6% of motorists – the equivalent of more than 2.5 million drivers – saying they intend to buy a pure electric battery-powered car when their existing vehicle needs to be replaced.

When looking at those planning to buy any form of zero or ultra-low emission vehicle next – including pure-electric, plug-in hybrids and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, the percentage increases to 15%. This is higher than 2018 when the percentage was 12%.

There is also an increased willingness to buy conventional hybrids, which use a combination of a traditional combustion engine and a battery charged by the engine, with up to 21% of drivers surveyed saying they would do this compared to 17% in 2018.

In London – where concerns about emissions are higher, incomes are on average higher and charging points more prevalent – far more motorists are likely to say they intend to buy an ultra-low emission car next, with 26% planning to do so versus a national average of 15%.

On average, drivers surveyed for the RAC Report on Motoring want the minimum range of an electric vehicle to be 368 miles before they would consider getting one when their current vehicle needs to be replaced – the most popular range was 300 miles which was stated by a fifth (21%). On average, drivers do not see themselves driving a pure electric vehicle until 2030.

Currently, less than 1% of all the cars on the UK roads are pure electric with 98,846 registered from new since 2010, 37,850 of which were registered in 2019.

RAC head of policy Nicholas Lyes said: “It is very encouraging there is an increased willingness among drivers to go full or part electric when they next change their vehicles. But, while this is positive, it is also concerning that the average driver doesn’t see themselves owning a pure electric car until 2030 – a point borne out by the fact that less than 1% of cars on the road are currently of this type.

“Drivers are also looking for a range that’s greater than all but one battery electric vehicle (BEV) on sale in the UK today. Despite this, the rate of take-up is beginning to accelerate with more than double the number of new BEVs being registered in 2019 than the year before. It was also the first time that more BEVs came on to our roads than plug-in hybrid electric vehicles which is an important milestone.

“This year will also see the launch of many more BEVs, including smaller hatchbacks, as manufacturers aim to dramatically reduce the emissions of the cars they sell. Many manufacturers have already set ambitious targets on electrifying their offering to consumers.

“Even though the high upfront price of electric cars compared to similar-size conventional vehicles is still a barrier to widespread take-up, concerns about vehicle ranges and nationwide availability of recharging points are, in reality, becoming lesser issues despite drivers’ perceptions.

“The Government has recently confirmed that its plug-in car grant, which provides up to £3,500 towards the purchase of brand new low-emission vehicles, may not continue after 2020 due to an expected rise in sales. This will inevitably be a blow to some would-be purchasers and may serve to hinder sales growth.

“We strongly urge the Government to keep the plug-in car grant in place in some form until at least 2022 to continue stimulating the market. We also call on it to abolish vehicle excise duty for ultra-low emission vehicles, effectively reversing its 2017 decision to start charging plug-in hybrid vehicles car tax.”

Poppy Welch, head of Go Ultra Low, the joint government and industry campaign to promote the uptake of electric vehicles, said: “The latest figures show that the electric car market grew an impressive 21% in 2019, as more and more people switch to low- and zero-emission vehicles. This continued growth in the EV market shows that individuals in the UK are increasingly aware of the financial and environmental benefits of electric mobility.

“Those considering purchasing an EV can rest assured that electric vehicles are more than suitable for everyday journeys and the average commute, which is less than 15 miles in the UK. Driving an electric vehicle is a great way to get around, while reducing your fuel costs and taking care of the planet at the same time.”

Melanie Shufflebotham, co-founder of the charging point platform Zap-Map, said: “This RAC report, showing a significant increase in awareness of and demand for electric cars, echoes the surge in interest in EV charging seen on Zap-Map.

“Over the past 12 months the number of public chargers has increased by 50% and there are now more than 10,000 charging locations across the UK – more than petrol stations. Not only are there more charging points, but also chargers are higher speed and easier to access with contactless payment an option at many locations.

“While the electric car is not yet mass market, the UK public is beginning to embrace new patterns of mobility - in view of the expansion of new electric models due in 2020 and the continued development of the UK charging infrastructure, 2020 looks to be a good year to go electric.”