So you’ve been thinking about making the switch to an electric car, but you’re still unsure whether the time is quite right. After all, the Government keeps on providing fiscal incentives to go electric, while seemingly clobbering drivers of petrol and diesel cars with taxes, so the financial case is already strong.
The thing is, are electric vehicles (EVs) good enough, is the charging infrastructure widespread enough, and do the financial incentives really offset the higher initial price of an electric car? With this advice guide, you can make an informed choice about whether or not the time is right for you to make the change.
- Electric cars are more expensive than conventional ones
- But a range of grants and subsidies are available
- Electricity is cheaper than petrol or diesel
- There are some very compelling tax breaks, too
- An EV could well save you money overall
- Driving an electric car is enjoyable
- They’re usually fast and very quiet
- Also very easy and relaxing to drive
- They usually come with lots of equipment and technology
- And obviously, they’re good for the environment
Low running costs/subsidies/grants
It’s true that electric cars are expensive to buy compared with petrol or diesel cars, but that’s not the full story. If you think about how much your car will cost overall during the lifetime of the car, then the reduced running costs could well make up that difference, and then some. The good news is that an electric car can save you cash in a wide variety of ways, and once you add them all up, the cumulative savings can be really compelling.
Obviously, the first saving you’re going to make is on fuel. An electric car might not be able to travel as far as a combustion-engined car when they are both fully filled/fully charged, but charging a car up with electricity is much cheaper than filling it with petrol or diesel.
How much cheaper? Well, that depends on a number of things. If you’re charging at home, what sort of electricity tariff are you on? Are you charging overnight or at peak time? Or, if you’re regularly relying on public chargers, what are you paying in terms of subscriptions to providers, and in terms of power costs? Also, how much charge can your electric car hold? The variables are numerous.
Take a Nissan Leaf as an example, research suggests home chargers (around 90% or electric cars are charged at home) should bank on paying between £4 and £7 for a full juice-up, depending on what time of day the charging takes place, giving you a theoretical range of 168 miles.
If you think about the cost of sufficient petrol or diesel to take you the same distance, you’re currently looking at a cost of about £20 from a 45mpg petrol car. And if you regularly drive in central London, electric motoring is a complete no-brainer because it earns you exemption from the Congestion Charge.
These are benefits that all electric car drivers can enjoy, but depending on the circumstances by which you drive an electric car, there are more incentives to be had. To help with the higher purchase prices on electric cars compared with regular cars, the UK Government provides electric car buyers with a grant – known as the Plug-in Car Grant, or PiGC – of £3,000 to help towards the cost of their vehicles, provided the car costs less than £50,000. This incentive is included in the price you pay for the car. You don’t have to haggle for it – the dealer will automatically include it in the price.
If you’re a company car driver, there’s only one equivalent benefit to be had, but it’s an absolute whopper. For most company car drivers, one of the biggest costs you face is Benefit-In-Kind (BIK) tax. But, as of April 2020, you’ll pay no BIK whatsoever if you go for an electric car. The year after, you’ll pay tax on just 1% of the car’s value, and 2% the year after that. This means that, for the next three years, you stand to save thousands of pounds each year. So, if ever the time was right for a company car driver to go electric, now’s the time.
What EVs are like to drive?
It’s likely you’ll enjoy driving an electric car, because they have a few very desirable characteristics. First of all, they tend to feel pretty quick, and that’s due to the way an electric motor delivers its power. While an ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) has to be spinning at several thousand revs to develop its maximum power, the electric motor that drives an EV (Electric Vehicle) can deliver its maximum force the very instant it starts moving. This means immediate acceleration as soon as you hit the pedal. So, great fun scooting off the traffic lights, then!
But just how fast are electric cars? Well, that depends. An affordable option like a Renault Zoe goes from 0-62mph in ten or eleven seconds, but the performance actually feels much faster than that because of the all-at-once nature of the acceleration.
A top-of-the-line Tesla Model S (a P100D with ‘Ludicrous Mode’), meanwhile, is one of the fastest accelerating cars on the planet, doing the same sprint in just 2.5 seconds.
If you want to see how a Tesla Model S fares against a Lamborghini… take a look at the video below.
As well as being fast, electric cars are also exceptionally quiet. There’s no engine noise, obviously, and electric motors barely make any noise at all, so all this acceleration comes accompanied by very little sound.
This quietness and easy performance usually gives an electric car a very relaxed nature, and that’s helped by how easy electric cars are to drive. Driving one is much like driving an automatic, in that you simply stick the car into ‘Drive’, and off you go.
Manufacturers tend to build on this by giving other aspects of the car a similarly easy-going character, so expect steering that’s light and direct, and pedals that are responsive and well-weighted. With some, you even find that you barely ever need to touch the brake pedal at all because the amount of regenerative braking that occurs when you lift off the accelerator slows you down enough on its own.
And what about the comfort of an electric car? Well, electric cars run the full gamut of capabilities and characters. By and large, you’ll find that more affordable options like the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe focus on comfort rather than being fun to drive around corners. As we’ve said before, this plays to the naturally relaxed nature of electric motoring, and with the considerable weight of a battery pack to contend with, it’s much easier to engineer a comfortable car than a sporty one.
However, you often find that more expensive electric cars – such as the Tesla Model S, Jaguar I-Pace and Porsche Taycan – take on a far sportier character (although there are exceptions, such as the Audi E-Tron and Mercedes EQC). This will partly be to justify their considerable cost, and also because when the car is that much more expensive, it’s easier to justify more complicated, more expensive engineering solutions to the problem of dealing with all that weight. So, provided you have the money to spend, there’s an electric car to suit all tastes.
Electric cars currently available in the market vary hugely in terms of their price, size, range and a whole variety of other factors, but one thing they all have in common (aside from the fact they’re electric, of course) is that they’re all absolutely rammed with high-tech equipment.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, as they tend to cost a fair chunk more than a regular car to buy, (largely due to the amount of research and development that needs to go into the battery technology), the people who actually buy them need to feel like they’re getting something in return, and chucking in a whole load of luxury gadgets, safety kit and clever technology is one cost-effective way of doing that for manufacturers.
Also, the cleverer the kit included is, the more it’ll appeal to the early-adopters and progressive thinkers to whom electric motoring has been most appealing until now.
The other reason is that some of this kit is pretty important for the effective management of electric motoring. For example, it’s easy for a conventional car to live without satellite-navigation; if you need help, you can just use your phone’s navigation capability.
However, in an EV, the navigation system lies at the heart of an essential function for an EV. By cross-referencing the car’s position with its remaining available range at the position of nearby charge points, the sat-nav gives you a visual display of how far you can get with your battery in its current state, and where you’re able to charge it within that range.
Most electric cars also come with dedicated smartphone apps that allow you greater control over the charging process, too. For example, you can control what time you want your charging to start and finish (to make sure you draw energy from the grid at the cheapest possible off-peak time), and you can manage how much charge gets put into your battery (because topping up to 80% rather than 100% will help prolong the life of your battery).
Some apps can actually turn on the car’s air-conditioning ahead of you unplugging it and setting off. While that might sound like a ‘nice-to-have’ feature it’s actually pretty useful. Air-conditioning or climate control can use up a lot of power and therefore eats into the car’s range, especially if the weather is particularly hot or cold. If your car’s interior gets up to the required temperature while it’s hooked up to the mains, you don’t waste power on air-con when you set off.
Aside from the smartphone apps that come with the car, there are plenty of others that are – if anything – even cleverer. There are some that will not only tell you where you can charge up in the local area, but they’ll also tell you which provider operates any given charge point, how much it’ll cost you to charge up, how long a charge will take, and whether the charge point is occupied or available, all in real-time.
Up until now, we’ve talked about EV ownership in terms of the financial and technological benefits it brings. But let’s not forget that the whole reason behind electric motoring (and the very reason that the Government has put so many financial incentives in place) is that electric motoring is better for the environment.
Now, we won’t pretend that electric vehicles mean zero carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. There’s none from the car itself, granted, but the process of building an electric car causes plenty, and the power stations that produce the energy that charges them will put out plenty as well. However, it’s generally accepted that, overall, an electric car is cleaner than conventional petrol and diesel cars in terms of overall CO2 production, and also cleaner than hybrid or PHEV cars, too. And hopefully, once power stations start to utilise more renewable energy sources, this situation will only improve.
The benefits are more marked at a local level, too. More electric cars mean fewer combustion-engined cars coughing out CO2, along with nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, particulates and other harmful pollutants that could cause breathing difficulties for those in the immediate area.
So far, we’ve concentrated on the benefits of electric motoring, but the fact remains that no matter how appealing the idea, the limited range of an electric car means it might not suit your lifestyle. So, before making that leap, you need to ask yourself a number of questions.
First of all, what’s your daily mileage? Is it low enough that an electric car could cope, bearing in mind that the range you’ll get from the car might be cut by half in cold weather? Also, is it low enough that you could get away with only charging your battery to 80% on a regular basis, in order to conserve the life of your battery?
Secondly, how often do you do longer trips with which you EV couldn’t cope? And, do you have use of a second car to handle these, or will you have to find some other solution, like renting another car, for example?
Or, if longer trips are regular occurrences, but your daily commute is particularly short, maybe a plug-in hybrid – Volvo XC60 Recharge – could be a better solution for you, giving you an emission-free commute, but the ability to do longer distances as well.
Thirdly, do you have somewhere to charge it? It’s said that 90% of EV owners charge at home, which requires some form of off-street parking. If you don’t, and you’re dependent on nearby public chargers, then it’s possible that it could become much more expensive to charge your car, and that availability of the charge point would not be guaranteed.
If the answer to all those questions is a positive one, then electric motoring is definitely worth considering.
Should I wait, or buy an electric car now?
There’s no easy answer to that, but what we would say is that if electric motoring does fit your lifestyle, then there are some very compelling reasons – many of them financial – to take the plunge on an electric car.