Something as simple as having differentiated, colored license plates could help boost electric car sales — at least, that’s what a new government proposal claims.

Could a small move like this have a big impact?

In the UK, electric and other low-emission cars, vans, and buses could be given special green plates to encourage more people to buy such cars, and boost awareness for “clean” cars.

As strange as it may seem, there is some reason to believe that something as small as this could make a big difference. Already, similar ideas have been implemented in Norway, Canada, Latvia, and China — and the results have been encouraging.

Elisabeth Costa, director of the Behavioural Insights Team — a company partly owned by the government which studies how to use behavioral science for better policy — explains:

“Simple changes based on behavioral science can have a big impact. Green plates would be more noticeable to road users, and this increased attraction can help normalise the idea of clean vehicles, highlighting the changing social norms around vehicle ownership.”

The British government will decide this on consultation right as Prime Minister Theresa May will be addressing the first ever zero-emission vehicle summit — and impetus for having more “green” cars on the streets is growing. Hybrids and electric cars accounted for 5.5% of the cars sold in the UK in the first half of the year, compared to 4.2% for the same period in 2017.

However, colored plates can only go so far — at the end of the day, you need strong, concrete measures if you want to support a market like electric cars. The UK already has generous subsidies for electric cars, but a study for the RAC Foundation found that the lack of reliable, easy-to-use charging points is the main roadblock to people purchasing more electric cars. This was echoed by separate research from AA, the UK’s largest motorist association, which found that although 1 in 2 young drivers want electric cars, 8 out of 10 drivers feel that the lack of sufficient electrical chargers is the main reason not to buy an electric car.

Yet this all shows that more and more people are nearing a tipping point where they are willing to buy electric cars — and a small PR stunt, the “coolness factor” of the colored plates could end up making a difference. Similarly, having red plates for the more polluting cars might also play a role. A spokesman for the Environmental Transport Association said:

“While green number plates will be positive PR for low-emission car makers and early adopters of the technology alike, to be truly effective any such initiative will need to at the same time shame the drivers of the most polluting vehicles; an electric or hydrogen-powered vehicle might sport a green plate, but the biggest gas guzzlers should have theirs branded red.”

 

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