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Electric vehicles: Is it time to join the charge?

By 2030 anyone hankering after a new car will need to look beyond petrol or diesel motors, because they will be obsolete. Electric vehicles – called EVs – will be the norm. Here’s why.
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Back to the Future style DeLorean DMC-12 car - what will you be driving in the future?Electric vehicles: Is it time to join the charge?

What are the rules on petrol and diesel cars?

Fast forward a decade and the streets will sound quieter and smell cleaner, as by 2030 the production and sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans will have ceased. 

While older models will be able to roll along the streets, tax and other pro-green incentives will see their popularity steadily decrease over the next 10 years. 

The government’s ambition to phase out non-fully zero emission new cars and vans is well known. Initially it was designed to come into effect by 2040, but in 2020 the government shifted the goalposts.

  • Step one of the government’s green vehicles plan will see the sale of new petrol, diesel and some hybrid cars stopped by 2030

  • Step two of the government’s zero emissions plan will see sales of all new cars and vans that do not meet the criteria for fully zero emission at tailpipe stopped by 2035. This means only new electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles can be sold after this deadline

  • The government has earmarked £1.8bn to support the roll-out of fully green vehicles. New measures include discounts off the costs of installing chargepoints in homes, on streets and motorways.

What electric cars/vans/motorbikes are available?

Until relatively recently electric vehicles (EVs) were largely seen as toys for millionaires who could always get their chauffeur to shunt the car to the next garage if it ran out of juice.

It explained why few people were willing to invest in one, and if they did consider the option, they’d probably look no further than the inimitable Tesla. That all changed in 2017 when the government introduced policy to ban the sale of all new diesel and petrol cars by 2040. 

Just as the public became more aware of the environmental damage caused by emissions, so traditional manufacturers, such as Audi, Nissan, Jaguar, VW, Renault and Porsche went into overdrive, producing EVs at speed. 

What electric cars are on the market?

A raft of new electric cars, vans and motorcycles have been appearing in UK showrooms, and on retailer websites, in the past few years. Unsurprisingly, the so-called higher end models are often very pricy, although other cars are closer to what you’d pay for a diesel or petrol equivalent.

At the top end of the price scale you can expect to spend from £80,000 for the basic model of a popular top-end e-car.  

High-cost electric cars

Exclusive models, especially those that have captured the public’s imagination, such as Tesla, can cost a small fortune. 

Examples include:

  • Tesla Model X – it’s been around for a while, yet is still at the forefront of EVs. The Model X has a maximum range of 348 miles, a top speed of 155mph and it can do 0-62mph in 4.4mph. Costs start at £87,980

  • Porsche Taycan – there are three models in this sports range, starting with the 4S, which has a top speed of 155mph, will do 0-62mph in 4 seconds and a range of 242 – 258 miles, depending on the model. Costs start at £83,580, but rise to £138,830 for the Turbo S

  • Jaguar I-PACE – a performance SUV (sport utility vehicle), that can do 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds and has a top speed of 125mph. It’s range when fully charged is 292 miles. Costs start at £65,195

More affordable electric cars

Midsize, small and supermini cars may lack the storage space of SUVs and saloons, but what they have enough room for the average family, plus luggage. More recent models are arguably closer in price to what you’d expect to pay for a fossil fuel equivalent.

Examples include:

  • Hyundai Ioniq – the Ioniq will do 0-62 in 9.9 seconds and has a top speed of 168mph. It has a battery range of up to 193 miles, and can be 80% recharged within an hour. Prices start from £27,759

  • Nissan Leaf – as with several of the most popular electric cars the Leaf is not new, but the latest version incorporates several upgrades, such as increased driving range – now from 168 miles, or from 239 miles for the Leaf e+. Prices start at £26,845

  • Mini Electric – the three-door hatchback has a driving range of up to 145 miles, and has a top speed of 93mph. Prices start at £28,100

How much do electric motorcycles cost?

Many bikers will doubtless be relieved that the motorcycles are not included in the 2030 ban on new fossil-fuel vehicles. But even though e-motorbikes cost more than their petrol equivalents this is a reprieve, not a pardon, so it’s worthwhile checking out the cost differentials.

When it comes to the bottom line, the BMW C-Evolution maxi-scooter, for instance, costs from £13,500, while its petrol equivalent, the BMW C650 Sport goes for £9,600. 

Also, even though it costs just £2 to fully charge for an 80-100 mile ride, compared with £15 for a full tank of fuel, you’d need to do some serious mileage before it all evens out. 

What’s the deal with electric vans?

Van manufacturers such as Nissan and Renault have been pretty canny in recent times, clearly mindful of the fact that diesel vehicle drivers are particularly vulnerable to any emissions penalties. 

The potential of this sector has drawn in big players from other areas, including VW, Ford and Vauxhall parent group PSA. Partly as it’s relatively easy to convert a conventional van into an EV due to the large amount of space to play with. 

Despite all this, electric vans are no different from e-cars and e-bikes in that they tend to cost far more than their petrol or diesel equivalents. The Peugeot Partner Electric, for example, costs from £32,965, while the diesel edition costs from £18,980.

Battery ranges tend to be low for vans. The Peugeot E-Traveller claims a range up to 148 miles, the Nissan E-NV200 from 124 to 187 miles and the Volkswagen Abt e-Transporter just 82 miles. As VW says, its e-van “is perfectly suited to many different business types, including local couriers, delivery drivers, and local businesses.” 

The one-day drive from London to Glasgow in a petrol or diesel van could easily take several days with stops to recharge.

What are the pros and cons with electric vehicles?

Electric vehicles represent the future because they are deemed better for the environment than petrol and diesel cars, and most importantly, they have the backing of the UK government. 

Take up is increasing, with an estimated 164,100 pure electric cars on the roads as of September 2020 and a 184% rise in registrations compared with the previous year.

But the number of EVs on Britain’s roads still lags way behind fossil-fuel cars, vans and motorbikes. So, where do the ticks and crosses fall when considering the merits or otherwise of electric vehicles? 

The pros of electric vehicles

There are several benefits and features associated with EVs that are winning over motorists. The main ones being:

Electric vehicles and the environment

EVs are so clean they don’t even have an exhaust system. This means they don’t emit pollutants such as CO2, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. 

The only caveat here is that the cobalt and lithium batteries need to be mass produced in factories and produce toxic waste that must be disposed of responsibly.

Tax breaks and MOT

Electric vehicles do not pay Vehicle Excise Duty, although drivers must still apply for an annual exemption.

New EVs must take a MOT test after three years, just like other road vehicles. But as they don’t have a tailpipe or emit fumes, there is less to check.

Congestion charges and electric cars

During the coronavirus epidemic the London Congestion Charge has been temporarily raised to £15 per day, with longer hours covered. Previously the charge was £12.50. Electric cars are exempt from this fee.

Government grants can cut the cost of EV ownership

The government provides grants to soften the blow of investing in an EV. The plug-in grant is available to manufacturers and dealerships selling new EVs. It offers a discount that is automatically passed to the buyer. 

The size of the government’s grant depends on the type of vehicle being bought. For example:

  • cars costing less than £50,000 that can travel at least 70 miles without any emissions at all are eligible for a discount of 35% of the purchase price, up to a maximum of £3,000

  • motorbikes that have no CO2 emissions and can travel at least 31 miles between charges are eligible for a discount of 20% of the purchase price, up to a maximum of £1,500

  • mopeds that have no CO2 emissions and can travel at least 19 miles between charges are entitled to a discount of 20% of the purchase price, up to a maximum of £1,500

  • vans that can travel at least 10 miles without any emissions at all can secure a 20% discount off the purchase price, up to a maximum of £8,000

Cheaper than fuel

It typically costs between £7 and £10 to charge an electric car or van to 80% battery capacity at a public rapid charger, of the type founds at service stations. It’s even cheaper if you have a slow home charger, where a full charge will cost around £5, according to the RAC.

In contrast, filling a medium-size family car, such as a Ford Focus, with petrol or diesel costs at least £62 on average, as of December 2020.

According to The RAC Foundation, the cost per mile of a Nissan Leaf is from 3p per mile. The government’s advisory fuel rates for a petrol car range from 10p per mile for a model with an engine of up to 1400cc, to 17 per mile for models over 2000cc. 

A growing electric car recharge network

As of December 2020 there were almost 13,000 chargepoint locations in the UK, offering more than 20,000 terminals, according to Zap-Map.

The government’s pledge to plough £1.3bn into the amount of chargepoints in homes, on streets and motorways should see this number mushroom.

Low maintenance

Electric cars are low maintenance. There’s no exhaust pipe, spark plugs, fan belt, oil changes to mention just a few of the irksome, and costly service costs that plague drivers.

Oh, so quiet

Electric cars have fewer moving parts and no exhaust units, meaning they are much quieter than traditional combustion engines. Of course, this does have its own issues, if pedestrians can’t hear an e-car coming and step off the kerb 

The cons of electric vehicles

Not everyone is convinced that EVs are right for them, with several concerns feeding into the reluctance to do trade in their old petrol or diesel motor for a new green option. Obstacles include:

Expensive to buy

Electric cars, vans and bikes cost more than their fossil fuel equivalents, and even though the gap is closing there is still some way to go, as the stats show.

New EV registrations have increased in recent times, but they form only a minority of overall sales. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, battery electric cars snatched 6.7% of the market, up from 2.2% over the same period in 2019.

Short ranges

VW’s e-Golf has a range of 144 miles and costs from £32,990. By comparison a 2018 VW Golf R will cover 319 city miles and 450 motorway miles on a full tank. This means the petrol Golf can cover 2.2 times more ground in a city or 3.1 times more tarmac on the motorway before you need to stop.

If your travelling takes you the length of the UK, an EV will extend your journey time significantly as you stop more frequently, and for longer, to charge up.

Long charge times

Whereas filling up with petrol at a motorway service station takes a few minutes, it can take anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes to recharge a car battery to 80% capacity. If you rely on a three-pin plug at home to recharge it can take up to 17 hours.

Chargepoint recharge times seems a problem now, and may well remain one if you’re going on a long trip, but as more chargepoints are rolled out at golf clubs, supermarkets, gyms and cinemas, it should become less of an issue for everyday local travellers.

The home charging problem

The ideal solution is to charging is to do it at home, and indeed the government as introduced the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme to address this very point (but only if you have off-street parking for your EV).

The scheme comprises a grant that’s available to homeowners who drive a qualifying EV. The scheme means drivers can get up to 75% (capped at £350, including VAT) off the cost of installing a charger at home.

This doesn’t help anyone who is a tenant or lives in a block of flats. Likewise, as the average cost of having a chargepoint installed can be as much as £800, according to the RAC, it’s an additional expense some drivers may not be willing to cover.

Limited battery life

The internal combustion engine has been around for more than a century, offering plenty of time to iron out any wrinkles that could cause problems for the average driver. However, EVs are relying on batteries which, the fear is, will burn out.

This can be a concern, and while manufacturers offer reassurances, they might not be enough for some drivers. For example, Nissan offers a five year or 60,000-miles warranty. Some are offering eight years or 100,000 miles. Of course, you would not want to be away from home when the battery fails.

You cannot change the battery yourself. The average car battery weighs 41Ib (18.6kg). The Nissan Leaf’s battery weighs in at 648lb (294 kg). The cost of a new battery can be very high – Renault reckons it costs around €8,100 (£7,500).

The future of EVs

What will clog up our roads in 10 or 20 years’ time? As petrol and diesels fall away, some hybrids may linger, but the future surely belongs to EVs and hydrogen-run vehicles, as offered by the likes of Toyota. 

We can expect to see more of the big players entering the market. Bentley, for instance, is planning to enter the market by 2025. Others are sure to follow. 

Elon Musk, head of Tesla, has pointed out that the company is moving toward producing vehicles that will have super-charged batteries, ending anxieties about potential queues to top up at service points.

What are insurers' experiences of EVs?

Electric vehicles can cost more to insure than conventional cars or bike, although according to the British Insurance Brokers’ Association the gap is closing. 

Where they are more expensive to ensure the reason tends to reflect the more expensive technology incorporated in EVs, which are pricier to repair and make the models more attractive to thieves. 

Additionally, LV= conducted research, shared with Uswitch, showing 52% of drivers surveyed worry about the lack of charging points, 48% fear being stranded if they run out of power and 45% find the cost of EVs prohibitive. 

Electric vehicles are an emerging market, with issues that will take time to resolve.

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