Electric dream or motoring nightmare?

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.

2020 Renault Zoe (Image: Renault)

2020 Renault Zoe (Image: Renault)

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.

However, range is also improving significantly: the new Mercedes EQS can manage 479 miles on a single charge, while Tesla claims that the Model S Plaid can achieve a staggering 520 miles.

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.


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