Incomprehension feeds the Belgian’s bias against EVs

A new spring announces itself; a such-and-such new ‘mobility barometer’ is showing up. For just over half of all Belgians (51%), there is little to no belief in a new dawn the electric car could provide by 2035. 36% even think it won’t happen before 2045-2050, and 17% say ‘never for me’.

Still, 48% (+7% compared to last year) of Belgians say their next car will be electric. The yawning gap between ‘believers’ in e-mobility and non-believers couldn’t be more pronounced. Yet there is one thing Belgians (71%) agree on: they can’t live without their car.

1,000 surveyed in Belgium

The figures come from global assistance provider Europe Assistance, which started publishing its own ‘mobility barometer’ in 2022. For this online survey, 8,000 people were questioned in France, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Belgium. In Belgium, some 1,000 people, a representative sample between 18 and 80 years old, participated.

While still waiting for the European 2024 mobility barometer to be published, the Belgian branch of Europe Assistance has already shared part of the results, particularly for Belgium. This confirms what other studies have shown: Belgians – along with Germans – are the most ‘petrolhead-minded’ and reluctant to adopt EVs.

Not to happen before 2050?

According to the latest figures, 24% of Belgians don’t believe the switch to electromobility will happen before 2035, the date the EU has fixed when new ICE cars may no longer be sold. Yet, in Belgium, the Flemish regional government already stated in 2021 that only zero-emission passenger cars and vans will be allowed to be sold beyond 2029.

Initially, the liberal party Open Vld proposed the end of ICE in 2027, but that was pushed back under pressure from the dominant Flemish N-VA party in the government, which is known for its restraining influence on implementing the European Green Deal. They think it’s going too fast, and people can’t (financially) cope.

Grist to the mill

The Europe Assistance mobility barometer is again grist to the mill of those who want to jam on the brakes. 69% of Belgians (mostly 55+ and living in the countryside) experience transitioning to sustainable mobility as a restraint on their daily mobility needs. So it’s no surprise this group is not itching to buy themselves an electric car.

The 48% saying their next car will be electric probably has to be taken with a pinch of salt because chances are high this will be a company car. Belgium has decided at the federal level that only zero-emission vehicles will benefit from tax exempts from 2026 onward.

Restricted choice

As another barometer, the one from Acerta, showed, in 2023, almost one-quarter (23,5%) of white-collar workers owned a company car last year – slightly more than in 2022 (23%), and five years ago, this was 19,6%. Figures from the car services federation Traxio proved 65% of all new cars registered in 2023 as B2B company cars (companies, leasing, VAT liable), and only 35% by private buyers.

Company cars remain attractive as a tax reward. In addition, the war for talent plays a role. By offering a car, companies want to position themselves attractively as employers. As all studies prove, EVs are, beyond doubt, the best option for companies when taking into account the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). So, employees often have no choice other than to go electric.

Headstrong prejudices

When asked what the main reasons are for not owning an electric car (privately), it’s crystal clear that headstrong prejudices against the EV are surfacing repeatedly, fed by a continuous stream of misinformation eagerly shared on social media. And – while regretting having to tell you – stirred up even by car journalists who hate to offend their all-time public of petrolheads.

So what holds the private buyer back? Number one is still the purchase price of an electric car compared to its sibling on fossil fuel (75% and increasing). Most EVs sold here are indeed 20% or more expensive because the battery offers a range that most won’t need daily. Range anxiety is still a major concern for 39%, although it is declining.

Still, the Acerta study showed that Belgians live an average of 20.8 km from work. The commuting distance is most significant among residents of the Walloon provinces, with Hainaut leading the way (27,76 kilometers).

340 days a year at ease

So, for 340 days of the year, the average Belgian could do with a standard (cheaper) range battery providing 250 km efficiently. But when it comes to that one holiday, range anxiety rules. This is again proven by the Europe Assistance survey, which shows that 47% of people do not plan a holiday trip by EV.

Back to the purchase price: 81% of Belgians would be prepared to spend as much or a little more for an EV as its current ICE car. Of them, 50% see €30,000 as a threshold, and the average budget is €32,500.

Chinese breathing down their neck

BYD, on the other hand, is proving in China with its latest price war that it can offer fully electric versions of its models at even lower prices than their ICE siblings. The good news is that European carmakers, after only pushing high-end EV models because they earn them more money, are now – feeling the Chinese breathing down their necks – rushing all to develop an EV alternative below €25,000 by 2026.

And you don’t have to wait for 2026 to make a profit. It’s a pity most private car buyers have never heard of TCO, which leasing companies and businesses always use. Several comparative studies have proven that the actual cost of an EV can be on par or lower than that of an ICE car, and also for private buyers who tend to keep their vehicle longer, seven to nine years.

These studies could be presumed from an unimpeachable source, like Belgian traffic institute Vias, consumer organization Test Aankoop/Test Achat, or mobility organization VAB n its yearly ‘ Family Car of the Year ‘ competition.

Lack of charging stations?

Finally, the other prejudices heard before that are hard to eradicate are the lack of charging stations (42%) and the impossibility of charging at home (42%). These are the number two and three reasons not to buy an EV in Belgium, respectively.

Charging at home is a problem in most major cities, but finding a public charging station shouldn’t be a disaster. That might be rather the case in the Walloon region and, to some extent, in Brussels, but not in Flanders, which is racing to catch up with countries like the Netherlands.

Are EVs catching fire more often?

Last but not least, there is the ineradicable belief among Belgians (21%°) that EVs are more prone to catch fire than cars with a combustion engine. Still, data compiled from the National Transportation Safety Board in the US about the risk of an EV catching fire show the opposite.

Hybrid vehicles had the most fires per 100,000 sales at 3,474.5, followed by 1,529.9 fires per 100,000 for ICE vehicles and just 25.1 fires per 100,000 sales for EVs. It’s correct that EVs with current liquid-based lithium-ion batteries are more difficult to put out as they must be submerged to prevent flaring up again.

But even that becomes less of a danger with new generations of battery packs and will be a thing of the past, most probably with the event of the solid-state battery.


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