Have you driven an electric car yet? If you haven’t already, the chances are, you will in the future. To help cut greenhouse gas emissions, from 2030, sales of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned in the UK, under current plans, with the expectation that electric cars will take their place.
While cars with combustion engines still dominate the roads, this is slowly changing. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, electric cars took 17% of the new car market in 2020, up from 3% during the previous 12 months.
But should you consider buying an electric vehicle (EV), even before the 2030 ban? Let’s have a look at some of the main arguments for and against going electric.
One common concern about electric cars is how far they can travel before they need charging. This so-called ‘range anxiety’ is a concern for 80% of people considering making the switch to electric, according to a survey.
There is sometimes distrust about the advertised range that manufacturers display on EV models and that these estimations don’t take into account whether drivers are using other features like air conditioning and heating, which can eat up the battery power.
However, while early EVs may have had a more limited range, the technology has improved drastically in recent years. There are now many electric cars offering claimed ranges of over 250 miles. The Model S Long Range is at the front of the pack, claiming a capability to travel up to 379 miles on a single charge. This is likely to be a key requirement for many drivers and probably the key to going electric.
The cars with the longest range tend to be the more expensive ones. But that’s not always the case. The popular Nissan Leaf, one of the most affordable EV options available, advertises a range of 239 miles.
In contrast, bear in mind too, that most people don’t often take trips that cover hundreds of miles. The RAC Foundation says the average commute length in England and Wales is around 10 miles. So, on a day-to-day basis, you’re unlikely to worry about battery range. It all depends on what sort of trips you are likely to take.
Also, linked to range anxiety is the availability of charging points for electric cars.
Charging an electric car at home is generally the easiest and most convenient option. If you have a driveway or garage, you can install a home charge point. There is also government financial support available for getting started, in the form of the OLEV grant which offers EV drivers a £350 grant for purchasing and installing a home charging point. The grant is available for most electric cars and plug-in hybrid cars, old or new.
Home charging isn’t possible for everyone though, as not everyone has driveway space, especially in the inner-city areas. But various solutions are being developed to enable more people to charge EVs at home. Among these are lamp-post charge points, you can also write to your local authority and ask if they will install a charge point in your street.
It’s also worth considering whether your workplace has a charging point you could take advantage of - this might be a free and convenient way to top up each day. Businesses and public-sector organisations can apply for funding for charge points through the Workplace Charging Scheme and the number of workplace charging points is on the rise: a 2021 survey of businesses found nearly half (46%) were planning to install electric vehicle (EV) charging points on their premises in 2021. More than a third of those surveyed (37%) had already installed charging points.
If you can’t charge at home or at work, you could use a public charge point, for example, at a supermarket or car park. The UK now has almost 20,000 vehicle charge points, up from around 1,500 in 2011. To find out where your local charging points are, take a look at this map.
Another way of charging is by using a rapid charging point. These are found at motorway service stations and can charge an EV to 80% in around 30 minutes. Convenient yet, but they are a more expensive option.
A new EV is likely to cost more than a new petrol or diesel car. As a result, four in five (81%) motorists think electric cars are still too expensive for them to purchase, according to a 2021 poll by the AA.
There is some financial help available to EV buyers and owners as the government and local authorities work to encourage take up of the vehicles. This includes exemption from road tax and government grants such as up to £2,500 off the price of any new electric car with a price tag of less than £35,000.
Fuel costs can also work in EV owners’ favour. The Energy Saving Trust has calculated that it could cost £568, on average, to charge an electric car battery at home for 10,000 miles per year, compared with an annual average fuel cost for a petrol Nissan Micra of £1,415.
EV drivers can also save money on maintenance and repairs, as battery electric vehicles simply have fewer parts than other cars. Research by automotive data provider KeeResources found that an electric car costs at least 30% less to service and maintain than an internal combustion-engined vehicle.
So, you need to weigh up the up-front price of an electric car against those ongoing costs that can often mount up.
On the plus side, there’s a greater selection of EVs than ever before, from small models like the Peugeot e-208 to SUVs like the Audi E-Tron.
Some car manufacturers have pledged to only sell electric or hybrid cars in the near future. For example, Ford says it will stop selling cars in the UK and Europe with any form of internal combustion engine by 2030, at which point Volvo expects to be fully electric globally.
However, in the meantime, there remain far more petrol and diesel cars to choose from for new car shoppers.
Impact on the environment
Another plus is that pure electric vehicles, such as the Nissan Leaf or Tesla Model S, are powered entirely by electricity. That means no diesel or petrol and no exhaust emissions.
However, there have been questions as to whether electric cars are as green as first thought, due to the emissions from manufacturing the vehicles and generating the electricity they need to run.
In answer to those fears, research published in 2020 by the universities of Exeter, Nijmegen and Cambridge found that electric cars lead to lower carbon emissions overall, even if electricity generation still relies on fossil fuels.
This was true for 95% of the world, the exceptions being countries where electricity generation is still mostly based on coal. In the UK, the research found, the average lifetime emissions from electric cars can be as much as 30% lower than petrol cars.
Electric car technology is constantly evolving and improving, and no doubt debate over the environmental benefits of EVs will continue into the future.
Taking to the wheel of an EV is very different to driving a car powered by an internal combustion engine, especially if you’re used to a manual transmission.
This is because the technology is very different. You certainly won’t get a traditional engine sound as EVs are much quieter than other vehicles. Also, as EVs generate near-instant torque, or turning-force, only one gear is needed, so there’s no shifting through multiple gears.
Another difference is that while EVs still have a brake pedal, taking your foot off the accelerator does much of the job of slowing the car down or bringing it to a halt.
Everyone has their own idea of what makes for a good driving experience, so some people relish getting behind the wheel of an EV, whereas others prefer the petrol or diesel experience.
What’s certainly clear is that more and more people will be taking to the roads in electric cars in the future.