Driving Green: Are pure-electric cars suitable?

Electric dream or motoring nightmare?

Are electric cars any good?

THERE’s a lot of suspicion around pure-electric vehicles (EVs), and for many car buyers they’re not the answer – but they’re suitable for a lot more of us than you might think. Improvements in battery technology has reduced weight and cost, increased range and charging times have been cut too.

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EVs are still more costly to buy new than internal-combustion alternatives. They also shed value more quickly, which bumps up the running cost per mile. However, this heavy depreciation potentially makes an electric car a great used buy – not least of all because electricity is very cheap compared with petrol and diesel, there’s no road tax to pay and you’ll be exempt from London’s Congestion Charge too.

There’s no escaping the fact that electric cars can be less convenient than internal combustion-engined alternatives. They have a shorter range before they have to be refuelled (recharged), and that process takes significantly longer. You’ll also need an off-road parking space and a plug socket from which to charge the car (car makers will often install a home charging wall box at your house for little extra cost).

However, most people usually undertake only fairly short journeys – the sort that’s ideal for an electric car. A 50 or 60-mile round trip each day is well within the capabilities of an EV, and most of the time your car isn’t being driven so it may as well be charging up outside your house or office. And with the fuel costs being something like a third or even a quarter of what they’d be for a fossil-fuelled car, the appeal is easy to see.

But what happens when you need to go further? Well, you can either hire a conventional car, use public transport or take a bit more time getting to your destination by stopping every so often to recharge.

Zap-Map claims that as of July 2015 there are over 3,400 charging points in the UK, with almost 9,000 chargers between them. One piece of important advice, though: always do your research and call ahead if possible, to check that charging points are accessible to the general public and not out of order.

Maintenance costs should be significantly lower because an electric car is relatively simple. Aside from checking the brakes each year and filling up the screen wash, most EVs don’t require much in the way of routine maintenance – there are no oils or filters to replace, no turbochargers to go wrong, no cooling system to spring a leak. And so far, the electric motors seem to be very reliable.

It’s the cost of a replacement battery pack that puts off a lot of potential EV buyers, but there’s little to worry about at this stage. Some EVs come with leased batteries, so they’ll just be replaced if necessary. When bought, most batteries have a warranty of at least five years, but the battery packs fitted to hybrid cars seem to last at least 8-10 years before they need to be renewed. Besides, by the time significant numbers of EVs need replacement batteries, cheaper aftermarket replacements will almost certainly be available.

If you do need to fit a new battery pack you’ll potentially have to stump up some eye-watering amounts of cash if you stick with the franchised dealer network. Battery packs for cars such as the Citroen C-Zero, Peugeot Ion and Volkswagen e-Up are priced at around £14,000 while an e-Golf’s is £18,000 – plus the labour to fit it. But a Nissan Leaf’s is ‘only’ £4,920, less £1,000 for your old batteries. It’s possible that you’ll only need to replace modules from the battery pack at a cost of a few hundred pounds, rather than the whole thing, to keep it performing well.

The bottom line is that an electric car makes a lot more sense for far more people than you might think, in terms of usability. Buy new and the costs tend to be high because they’re scarce and due to the depreciation factor. But buy used and you can enjoy motoring at a lower cost than you’ll find anywhere else.

Visit Electric car UK public charging point maps for more information on charging your car publically.


Case study: Premier Cabs goes electric

Jon Cutler, Premiere Cabs, Blackpool with his electric Nissan Leaf taxis

John Cutler hasn’t bought just the one electric car; he’s splashed out on 14 of them. That’s because John runs Premier Cabs in Blackpool, which has 130 cars on its books, a portion of which are pure-electric.

View the used Nissan Leaf electric cars for sale on driving.co.uk

In fact, they’ve proved so successful that another dozen EVs are on the way, including more Leafs and e-NV200s, Nissan’s large MPV, and seven of the company’s drivers own their own Leafs.

“We got our first Leafs in March 2015 and so far each one is covering around 1,000 miles each week,” said Cutler. “As a result, some have already got 20,000 miles on the clock, without a single problem so far. That compares very favourably with the Ford Mondeos that make up most of the rest of the fleet; with those, by now we would have expected a few issues.

“The cars are recharged after covering 70 miles, which equates to every six hours or so.”

“It’s the same with accidents; we’d have expected a couple of insurance claims by now but we’ve had none. That’s because our drivers feel more relaxed when driving the Leafs and because the cars have to be recharged, the drivers are forced to have a break. We’re finding it best to do this after the cars have covered around 70 miles, which equates to every six hours or so. Using Premier’s own network of eight rapid chargers, the Leafs’ batteries are revitalised at the rate of just over 2% per minute.”

With most of Premier’s fares wanting to travel just 2-3 miles, the Leafs are just the job. For any long trips, Premier also has 15 hybrids on its fleet. The eventual aim is to get to a fleet that’s purely hybrid or electric models, with Cutler claiming that many customers select Premier for its green credentials.

Premier Cars, Blackpool, Nissan Leaf taxis recharging

Cutler says he can’t see any downsides to his electric fleet at all; he’s a convert and so are his drivers. Of the 20 drivers who run the Leafs, 18 wouldn’t go back to an ICE (internal combustion engined) car. That’s just as well because Premier Taxis has invested £450,000 in the venture so far, including installing eight fast-charging points.

Cutler continues: “We’re much better off as a company as the Nissans have allowed us to make substantial savings. The Leafs cost less in tyres, fuel and servicing, while insurance rates are much the same – although we expect premiums to drop in line with the reduction of accident claims. We do our own servicing with our in-house mechanics and we’ve invested in all of the diagnostic equipment.

“In all, the Mondeos typically cost us £50-75 per week over the five or six years that we run them. The Leafs have cut this to no more than £15-20 per week and we don’t expect to dispose of the Leafs any sooner. Five years and 250,000 miles shouldn’t be any problem at all”.


Driving Green contents


Introduction to green driving

  1. What is a “green” car?
  2. What does Euro 6 mean when it comes to emissions?
  3. Why have green cars been developed?
  4. Nine tips for eco-driving

Choosing a green car

  1. What are hybrid cars?
  2. What are plug-in hybrid (PHEV) cars?
  3. What are extended-range electric vehicles (E-REVs)?
  4. What are hydrogen fuel cell vehicles?
  5. Are pure-electric cars suitable?
  6. Whatever happened to LPG (liquid petroleum gas)?
  7. What are biofuels?

Green car buying guides

  1. Driving’s top five electric cars
  2. Driving’s top five hybrids and E-REVs

Financial, environmental and practical implications of green motoring

  1. Electric car UK public charging point maps
  2. The truth about real-world mpg and fuel costs
  3. How much is VED (road tax) for green cars?
  4. Are electric cars expensive to insure?


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