‘32% of Belgians prepared to buy new car, but not electric’

Belgium has always been a ‘car-loving country’, and although the pandemic and the energy crisis made Belgians lose the appetite to buy a new (or used) car, 32% of them are getting that itch again. That’s double the percentage of 2022, and 12% more than last year, according to a Traxio survey.

But it won’t necessarily be an electric one, as the number of Belgians refusing to ‘ever’ buy an EV rises to 42%, compared to 35% last year. Widespread prejudices about range anxiety and high costs are an even more impregnable threshold for the private buyer. However, 85% of those getting an electric car from their boss are pleased with it. That’s what a BNP Paribas study proves.

The survey mobility and car service sector federation Traxio did with 2 000 Belgians on their purchase intentions for a ‘new’ car doesn’t say anything about the choice for EV or not. However, in the Flanders Region in Belgium, sales of new vehicles with combustion engines (ICE) will end in 2029, six years earlier than the EU ban (2035). And that EU-imposed ban, seven out of ten Belgians find a terrible decision.

Traditionally, Taxio surveys every year in January for buying intentions, as this month used to be the time of the year for the Brussels Motor Show, which in better times attracted up to 750 000 people to have a glimpse of the new cars on offer and benefit from the extensive rebates car dealers were giving.

The motor show has died and is replaced by a much smaller car event at Brussels Airport, but the rebates at dealerships are flourishing as before. According to the Traxio survey, the good news for the dealers is that more Belgians (32%) are looking for a new car or a second-hand one (20%), 32% say having no buying intentions, and 14% don’t know yet.

Interesting to see is the buying intentions in different age groups, with the young most eager to buy a new car /Traxio

Those percentages are pretty much the same in Flanders as in Brussels/Wallonia. In 2022, more than half (55%) of Belgians wouldn’t even consider buying a new car, and in 2023, the group of non-buyers (32%) and those not knowing yet (27%) combined were good for 65%.

A comforting thought for the dealers who fear they will become ‘dispensable’ in the future with more carmakers selling directly online, the number wanting to visit a dealership showroom has doubled from 12% to 24%. Another 24% use the ‘digital’ and ‘physical’ showrooms to define their choice, and 13% (up from 7%) buy purely digitally.

11% of household budget

Belgian households spend on average 11% of their total budget on mobility, a remarkable rise of 16,8 billion to 25,6 billion euros in twenty years (2002 – 2022). In most cases, the car is the lion’s share, the third biggest spending post after housing (30%) and food (16%).

The energy crisis made 40% of Belgian households adapt their mobility needs, with 20% limiting the use of their (ICE) car and 37% using more bicycles or opting for walking; However, 31% of die-hards refuse to drive fewer kilometers with their vehicle and aren’t thinking of lessening the next twelve months. Only one in seven said they used public transport more often.

Not eager for electric

And when you ask the average private car buyer in Belgium if they intend to buy a new one, it won’t be electric yet, according to the yearly BNP Paribas survey. That’s Belgium’s biggest bank and owner of Arval leasing company and mobility organization Touring, among others.

Another BNP Paribas study (CETELEM) over the whole of Europe even showed that more than half of all Belgians (55%) and 62% of French don’t believe the electric car (EV) will replace the combustion engine (ICE) entirely in the long term.

With the Flemish ICE-ban deadline of 2029 in sight, 37% of Belgians are considering buying an electric car by then. Still, 42% remain die-hard petrol heads and say they will never go electric. The resistance is growing, as that percentage was only 35% in the survey at the end of 2022. That was already a 6% percent increase compared to 2021.

67,4% are company cars in Belgium

The reason for this, BNP Paribas supposes, is partly because the ‘early adopters’ have already bought their EVs, influencing the bare figures. But most EVs are registered on company names, as 67,4% of all new car registrations in Belgium were company cars, as an alternative for higher taxed wages.

Of these company cars, 56,3% were somewhat electrified, with 24% BEVs, 27,7% PHEVs, and 4,6% plain hybrids (HEV), according to mobility federation Mobia at the end of August last year. In Belgium, the federal government decided all new company car sales must be zero-emission by 2026, which already caused a rush on EVs in 2023.

In the private car market, only 4,8% of new cars sold were BEVs, 4,8% were PHEVS, and 13,4% were HEVs. Most private buyers swear by all that is holy to gasoline cars (68%), and a shrinking minority with diesel (6.8%). The figures from the BNP Paribas survey confirm that the ‘fear of going electric’ is still growing. And that is probably fed mainly by misleading information on social media.

Range anxiety and high prices

‘Range anxiety’ or the fear of getting stuck along the road with an empty battery, is still the primary concern of Belgian car drivers (like elsewhere in Europe). The higher number of plug-in hybrids than BEVs in the B2B market is proof of this as long as PHEVs were 100% tax deductible. That changed, though, in July 2023, giving the BEV a severe boost in the years to come.

According to the BN/P Paribas survey, the three most heard disadvantages of an EV are autonomy, price, and the fact that it isn’t necessary /BNP Paribas

The tax benefits for electric cars and the fact that the employees don’t have to pay for these EVs themselves overcome the second most heard criticism of the electric vehicle: its high purchase price. One in three private Belgian buyers still says it’s too high for them.

Remarkably, a growing percentage (70%, up from 59%) is unaware of the government incentives. However, it has to be said that only the Flemish region, which is 60% of the Belgian population, has started to subsidize private EV buyers up to €5 000 for a new car and €3 000 for a used car.

Cheaper in energy cost and TCO

Still, several studies have repeatedly proved that when considering the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) linked to owning a car (purchase price, depreciation, insurance, taxes, and energy costs), most new EVs today are on par or cheaper than ICE cars.

And that even goes for second-hand EVs today, despite the limited offerings, as a recent British study by the  Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) proved. Used EVs bought now will be six times cheaper to run than gasoline cars by 2030.

They were comparing four popular electric cars available on the second-hand market today in the UK with their siblings, with a combustion engine on gasoline showing EVs to be four times cheaper in energy costs in 2023, despite soaring electricity prices last year. It presumes they will become 5,5 to 6 times more affordable by 2030.

Trying yourself is believing?

It’s typical. The BNP Paribas study also showed that of those Belgians with an electric company car today, 85% say they are ‘satisfied’ to ‘very satisfied’ with it. They especially appreciate the driving experience (83%) and the offered autonomy (62%), half (50%) are happy with charging times, and 62% have a wall box at home, but 38% still worry most about public charging infrastructure.

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