Should you join the electric car revolution?

27 August 2019

Now a common sight on the UK’s roads, electric cars are gaining momentum and offer many advantages – not least to the environment. We look at the pros and cons of owning one

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Sales are of electric cars are rising dramatically. Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show that sales of new electric cars in July 2019 were up 158% compared to July 2018. As a result, the government has committed £2.5 million in extra funding for local authorities towards on-street charge points.

Read our guide to government incentives, models available and find out whether you’ll be better off switching to a plug-in vehicle.

Will the government chip in?

The government remains pro electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs ), but has reduced the grant it gives motorists towards buying what remains an expensive purchase compared to regular combustion engine cars.

Electric cars capable of travelling 70 miles on a single charge come with a 35% government grant, up to a maximum discount of £3,500, reduced from £4,500 in 2017.

You don’t even need to apply for these grants; they’re automatically taken off the price by the car dealer – although you can only get the discount on new cars, and not on second-hand models.

Is distance still a concern?

The distance you can travel on one charge is getting longer for pure electric cars. For example, the Renault Zoe (£18,420 after the grant) now has the option of a larger battery that will let you travel an estimated 186 miles on one charge.

The Nissan Leaf (£27,995 after the grant), the UK’s best-selling pure electric car, offers a range of up to 168 miles for the basic model and up to 239 for the E+ model.

If you are away from home, you can charge at one of 25,162 charge points at 9,312 locations across the UK, according to the latest Zap Map figures (Zap-map.com/statistics). Both the number of charging points and where they are located has doubled since 2017.

Some are free, while others require membership, such as the Polar Plus subscription (Polar-network.com), which is £7.85 a month with the chargeable electricity on top at 9p per kWh per hour.

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Should I lease the battery?

Renault is now the only car manufacturer that still leases its batteries separately from the cost of the car, with Nissan having dropped its equivalent battery leasing scheme in 2018.

Renault splits the battery from the price of the car, thus cutting the entry level list price (£25,020) of that Renault Zoe to £18,420 (after the government grant). You then pay £59 a month for the battery if the car is bought on a hire-purchase agreement, or £69 a month on a personal contract purchase (PCP).

These monthly fees are based on 4,500 miles a year for hire purchase or 6,000 miles a year on PCP. Any more than this, and you’ll pay 8p per mile for the battery.

If the battery drops below 75% of the original charge capacity, Renault will repair or replace it.

Renault’s Zoe also comes with a free wall-mounted, 7kW home charger station fitted by BP Chargemaster at no extra cost.

How much more will I pay for household electricity?

By using home chargers, your electricity bill could rise by between a third and two thirds depending on how much you use it.

It will be cheaper than fuelling a petrol or diesel car though.

Nissan quotes the Leaf as using 0.3kWh per mile, so that’s 3,000kWh for 10,000 miles. According to UK Power, an average household uses 3,100kWh of electricity a year, so that means your electricity bill would almost double. Assuming an average electricity price of 14.37p per kWh, the Nissan Leaf would cost £431 a year to charge.

By comparison, a Ford Focus Style petrol car achieving 49.6 miles per gallon will cost £1,142.94 in fuel over the same distance, based on the average supermarket price of 124.7p per litre of petrol.

The annual cost may increase because a small amount of electricity is wasted in charging losses, and electric cars rarely achieve their claimed mileage range (124 miles on the cheaper Leaf model). Electricity consumption could increase by more in winter when the car uses more energy to keep the battery at the required temperature.

However, combustion engine cars don’t achieve their claimed economy figure either, so by going electric you’ll still be slashing your fuel costs.

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What other savings will I make?

Cars classified as ultra-low emission, which means all electric cars, are exempt from London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone charge.

Pure electric cars are also exempt from vehicle excise duty (road tax), and company car drivers will also receive a reduction in their benefit-in-kind taxation bills if the company is buying the car.

Some councils – Milton Keynes, for example – also offer free parking for electric cars. Other councils offer free residents’ parking for street-parked zero emission cars, while others are now installing charge points in lampposts.

Do I need a charger?

For home charging, car companies recommend a dedicated wall-box rated at 3kW or the faster 7kW. If the car company doesn’t include a home charger in the price of a new car, the government offers a grant of 75%, up to a maximum of £500, towards the installation cost of one chargepoint per household. However, it is worth noting that homes without off-street parking are not eligible for the grant.

To give an idea of cost, a 7kW BP Chargemaster charger starts at £449 after the government grant. But the final cost of a home charger will vary depending on your model of car.

A fast 22kW home charger is also available, but that requires an upgrade of your electricity supply to a three-phase system – commonly found in offices or blocks of flats.

Tesla owners can access the company’s 120kW Supercharger network, although these cost 24p per kWh (around £4.90 per mile).

Zap Map says there are 1,640 rapid charger locations in the UK, with some near motorways so you can take recharge breaks on longer journeys. However, lots of rapid charging can damage the battery due to the heat involved.

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“I drove my Tesla 150 miles – not on a full charge”

Charlie Taylor (above), a 30-year-old marketing account manager from Leicestershire, explains the things he’s had to consider on his journey to becoming the owner of a fully electric car.

“I have recently become the proud owner of a Tesla and made the leap into the world of electric – two years and 216 days since I reserved a Model 3! It was a long wait spent jealously watching American YouTubers drive theirs around.

“Tesla’s prices fluctuate regularly, which is unlike any car company I have dealt with before. This was a good thing – I wasn’t considering the performance model initially, but a price drop swung it for me. It’s not the cheapest car in the world, but for a Tesla, where the rest of the range starts from £77,000, it’s half the price at just over £36,000.

“I live in Fulham, where the council is quite good at green initiatives. There are a lots of charging points dotted around the borough from companies such as Source London and Polar. Some require a membership, while others can be used pay-as-you-go.

“Another option is to get a home charger, bought with the help of a government grant. However, to my dismay, I discovered there are some stipulations before you can be eligible for this grant. For example, if you don’t have off-street parking – which many households don’t – then you can’t get the grant.

“It is also worth noting that the government applies a ‘luxury tax’ on all vehicles above £40,000, even electric ones after the first year, which for me would be £310 a year for the next five years.

“I have rarely considered range in a traditional car as you can fill up at a petrol station and be on your way. I have had my first road trip in the Tesla and am still learning its capability, but range anxiety is not a huge concern for me.

“I completed a 150-mile trip without any problems on my first weekend with the car. I didn’t leave home on a full charge and I had luggage and four people in the car.

“Practicality is not an issue either: I can fit in just as much if not more due to its accommodating front boot (dubbed a ‘froot’), thanks to the lack of combustion engine.”

Electric cars eligible for government grants

The following vehicles are eligible for a government grant. The cars are classified as having CO2 emissions of less than 50g/km and can travel at least 112km (70 miles) without any emissions at all:

  • Audi e-tron
  • BMW i3 and i3s
  • BYD e6
  • Citroen CZero
  • Hyundai IONIQ Electric
  • Hyundai KONA Electric
  • Hyundai NEXO
  • Jaguar I-PACE
  • Kia e-Niro
  • Kia Soul EV
  • Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive
  • Mercedes-Benz eVito Tourer
  • Nissan e-NV200 (5-seater and 7-seater)
  • Nissan LEAF
  • Peugeot iON
  • Renault ZOE
  • Smart EQ fortwo
  • Smart EQ forfour
  • Tesla Model S
  • Tesla Model X
  • Tesla Model 3
  • Toyota Mirai
  • Volkswagen e-up!
  • Volkswagen e-Golf

The grant will pay for 35% of the purchase price for these vehicles, up to a maximum of £3,500.

First published on 25 September 2015