The electric car, or EV (Electric Vehicle) to give it its modern name has been around for decades, but it’s come a long way since the much maligned Sinclair C5. These days many EVs look and drive as good as if not better than their petrol engine equivalents. Advances in battery technology and the introduction of public charging points mean they can be used for longer and longer journeys with less risk of running out of power.
At the same time as electric cars are becoming more viable, the petrol/diesel engine is becoming less so. Of course it is a long way from dead but with rising forecourt prices, tanker driver strikes, congestion charges and critical shortages a real prospect within a generation it is time to look seriously at the alternatives.
Electric Vehicle Performance Levels
People tend to think of electric cars of being poor, performance wise, when compared to combustion engines. It is true that they cannot reach the same speeds but they can achieve the national speed limit of 70mph and a bit more so anything faster is just plain unnecessary. In other respects performance levels could actually be better, for example EVs have better breaking speeds due to a regenerative braking system, which uses braking energy to recharge the battery and full torque is available from standstill giving them a “nippier” feel. They are quiet too, with the only noise being wind a slight hum.
Range is obviously a factor and is the biggest hurdle that electric cars have to overcome before they can replace petrol engines completely. A conventional car can travel much further on a full tank of fuel than an EV can on a fully charged battery there is an abundance of petrol stations if you need to refuel but the gap is narrowing. The Nissan Leaf now has a range of 90 miles on a full charge and BMW claim their i3, due to be launched in 2013, will do 100 – 130 miles. Most people will very rarely drive this far in a single journey so the range is certainly sufficient for day to day use. The Tesla Roadster claims a range of 220 miles. It has a price tag of £90,000 so it is well outside most ordinary budgets but it demonstrates that the technology to go further on a single charge exists.
As well as the continual improvements in range, more and more public charging points are cropping up around the country allowing electric cars to go further still.
Charging Your Electric Vehicle at Home and Elsewhere
Most of the time you’ll charge your EV at home. An ordinary, so called “slow” charging point will provide a full charge in 6 – 8 hours, so if you put it on charge overnight it will be fully charged and ready for the next morning. All that is needed is a standard domestic 3 pin plug with a 13 amp fuse (the same as would be used in a large appliance such as a washing machine or something with a heating element). Alternatively a dedicated charging station can be installed for around £250 – £1000. This is recommended for older properties where the electrics have not been upgraded for a number of years for safety reasons. You will need off-street parking as naturally, trailing a power cable across a public footpath would not be permitted.
If you are away from home, you can still use one of over 2000 public charging points (many of which are free while Government incentives last) across the UK. Although you are likely to only have a slow charger at home, there are actually two other types, “fast” and “rapid”. A fast charger takes 3 – 4 hours to fully charge a battery and a rapid charger can provide 80% power in less than 30 minutes, perfect for refuelling on the road. Just plug in, grab a coffee at the services and when you’re done your ready to hit the road.
Low Road Tax and Refuelling Costs
The major economic advantage of the electric car is the low running cost. There are three things to consider, fuel, vehicle excise duty and maintenance costs.
Electric cars are zero rated for vehicle excise duty (road tax) so there is an instant saving. The cost of the electricity needed to charge the battery works out around 2p per mile (though admittedly this would be more if commercial charging points were regularly used) meaning that in a 10,000 mile year you could save around £800 compared with a petrol engine.
Although the cost of repairs to an electric car may be higher for a while as there are less mechanics with the necessary experience, there should also be less breakdowns because it has less moving parts than a conventional engine so there is less to go wrong and less to wear out. Batteries are expected to last around 7 years before capacity drops below 80%.
If you regularly drive in the London Congestion Zone you will find that an electric car is exempt from the charge, saving you as much as £10 per day.
Cost of Buying an Electric Car and the Plug In Car Grant
Electric cars are more expensive to buy than their petrol equivalents. The Nissan Leaf for example, essentially a small hatch, will set you back £24,000. This is simply a consequence of electric cars not being mass produced to the same level as conventional vehicles. To redress the balance, the Government has introduced the “Plug In Car Grant”. This is a grant toward the purchase of a new electric car worth 25% of the car’s value up to a maximum of £5,000. There are no applications to fill in, the paperwork will be dealt with by the dealership and the grant will be deducted from the purchase price at the point of sale.
Although even with the plug in car grant buying electric is still more expensive, prices are falling. In fact Renault, which will be launching its Z E range this year, has said it will keep electric car prices the same as equivalent diesel properties (after factoring in the Plug In Car Grant).