THERE’s still a lot of suspicion around pure-electric vehicles (EVs), and for some car buyers they’re still not the answer. But the number of electric cars on sale is increasing rapidly, and so is their appeal, meaning many drivers are taking the plunge.
In March 2021, electric cars made up 8% of all new cars sold, up from 5% in the same month the year before. Improvements in battery technology are reducing cost and charging times, as well as increasing energy density (and therefore how far they can travel per charge).
So on Earth Day 2021, and ahead of the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2030, we ask: is now the right time to buy an electric car?
How much does an electric car cost?
Electric vehicles are still more costly to buy new than internal-combustion alternatives. A Vauxhall Corsa e, for example, is around £5,000 dearer than an equivalent Vauxhall Corsa with a petrol engine. This is because battery packs are costly to manufacturer, at present.
However, car makers are offering great deals on new electric cars (Vauxhall covers electricity costs for the first 30,000 miles, for example), and eventually there will be cost parity: according to Bloomberg, a battery pack today is responsible for 30% of an electric car’s cost, down from an estimated 57% in 2015.
A few years ago, buyers were also put off by the expected rapid depreciation of electric cars, with their value plummeting further in the first few years of ownership than internal combustion engine (ICE) cars. However, this has proved not to be the case because battery packs are not deteriorating as fast as expected, and because electric cars are still relatively scarce. By some estimates, electric cars now retain their value better than ICE cars, and premium models such as Teslas, which are some of the most popular electric cars, are holding their value extremely well.
Some in the car industry believe incentives to encourage drivers to buy electric cars aren’t as strong as they could be. In order to end what a Whitehall source labelled the “Tesla subsidy”, the government last month reduced the scope of its Plug-in Car Grant (PiCG). The total that buyers are able to claim off the cost of a new electric car has been reduced from £3,000 to £2,500, while the grant is only applicable to cars costing under £35,000, rather than £50,000 as before.
However, there are still a number of vehicles covered by the grant, and they’re not just from quote-on-quote “budget” car makers — there are models from more premium car makers like BMW, DS and VW on which you can get a discount.
What are the running costs of an electric car?
Ownership of electric vehicles affords other benefits. Electricity costs vary depending on supplier and tariff but generally, if you charge up at home the cost per mile is much less than that of a petrol or diesel car.
In addition, electric cars don’t attract any Vehicle Excise Duty (VED, often referred to as “road tax”) for the first year of ownership, and if you live in London you’re exempt from fees in the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) and Congestion Charge zone.
If you’re considering getting an electric model as your company vehicle, it’s also worth bearing in mind that Benefit-in-Kind tax is just 1% on electric vehicles. That’s compared to at least 14% on cars with more than 50g/km of carbon emissions.
Maintenance costs should be significantly lower because an electric car is relatively simple. Aside from checking the brakes regularly 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 and no transmission to fail. So far, electric motors themselves seem to be very reliable — there’s effectively only one moving part.
It’s the cost of a replacement battery pack that puts off a lot of potential EV buyers, but there might be little to worry about on this front, too. Some EVs come with leased batteries, so they’ll just be replaced if necessary. When bought, most batteries have a warranty of around eight years years or 100,000 miles (whichever comes first).
What’s more, problems with battery packs might be traced to the failure of individual modules, which can be swapped out at minimal cost.
If you do need to fit a whole new battery pack you’ll potentially have to stump up some eye-watering amounts of cash. Manufacturing the 80.5kWh battery in a Tesla Model Y reportedly costs Tesla $9,250 (£6,670). Smaller batteries will obviously be cheaper to replace, but you’re still looking at £4,900 to replace the 40kWh battery in a Nissan Leaf hatchback.
But again, reliability after years of use seems to be pretty good and owners generally don’t complain of significant fade from older models.
How far can electric cars travel per charge?
There’s no escaping the fact that electric cars can be less convenient than internal combustion-engined alternatives. They often have a shorter range before they have to be refuelled (recharged), and that process takes significantly longer.
Those two are expensive electric cars but even the Peugeot e-208, which costs from £27,225, can manage more than 200 miles per charge.
How quickly can electric cars recharge?
More important for many owners than how far their car can travel on a single charge is how fast it can recharge. There are an increasing number of ultra-rapid 350kW chargers that will top up compatible cars like the Porsche Taycan and Hyundai Ioniq 5 from 10% to 80% in under 20 minutes.
But even an e-208 with charge to 80% in 30 minutes, and a Mini Electric, with a range of up to 145 miles (more like 120 in the real world) will rapid charge to 80% in 36 minutes. With more “destination chargers” popping up at pubs, supermarkets and cafes, it’s surprisingly convenient to top up while getting on with other activities — you don’t need to sit in the car twiddling your thumbs.
Charging point location service ZapMap says that there are more than 40,000 connectors in the UK. Not all are operational all the time, and some networks are more reliable than others — electric car drivers become used to having back-up plans for recharging while away from home, in case a charger is out of service or being used.
If you can charge at home the power supply is slower, but cars spend hours sitting on driveways and in garages not moving anyway – they may as well be charging up. Car makers will often install a home charging wall box at your house for little extra cost, charging at 7kW or 11kW, which can take around five to 12 hours to recharge from flat, depending on the size of the battery. Generally speaking, when most electric car drivers get to their car in the morning it has a full battery.
So should I buy an electric car?
An electric car can make sense for a lot of people, even today. We tested a Mini Electric for six months, relying entirely on public charging infrastructure (no home charging), and found that it is possible (though can be a fair bit more expensive).
Buy new and the costs are still high, but they’re becoming more reasonable, and with low running costs you may find you actually save money over three years.
- Read our latest electric car review here
- Visit Electric car UK public charging point maps for more information on charging your car publicly.
Case study: The electric minicab operator
N.b. Interview conducted in 2015
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.
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.
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.”
– If you want to find out what it’s like to live with an electric car, read our extended test of the 2020 Mini Electric
– If you answered yes to the question “Should I buy an electric car?”, click here to find out about all the car makers’ electric car plans
– Want to know which electric cars can travel the furthest between charges? Take a look at the top 10 electric cars for range