With new electric models due to be launched in 2018 and 2019, and the Plug-in Car Grant guaranteed until 2021, the number of EVs on UK roads is set to grow significantly over the next few years. As result of reducing battery production costs and growing competition between manufacturers, the price of EVs is also falling. Buying an electric car is, therefore, now a real option for a large number of UK car buyers.
Who should buy an electric car?
If you are thinking of buying a pure-EV, there are three issues that need to be considered that will determine whether this type of EV is the right vehicle for you: your access to a private off-street charging point, your daily mileage and your overall budget. Read on to see whether a pure-EV is suitable for your vehicle and travel requirements.
Given that plug-in hybrids and range-extended EVs are less dependent on these three issues, having off-street parking and your daily mileage are less important. However, if you are about to invest in one of these technologies, you will likely want to charge your car and drive in EV-mode whenever you can to reduce costs and emissions. The issues below are therefore still worth considering.
What is certainly advised is to go for a test drive. Many getting behind the wheel of an electric car are quickly persuaded by the driving experience. The performance, refinement, and ease of driving sway a great number of potential buyers, making it an essential part of the buying experience.
Access to charging points
To own a pure-EV, ideally you should have a garage or off-street parking area where a private charging unit can be installed, as the majority of charging is conducted overnight, when electricity is cheapest. This will also mean that your vehicle is fully charged each morning and ready to drive.
While slow charging can be carried out using a standard 3-pin socket, because of the higher current demands of EVs and the longer amount of time spent charging, it is strongly recommended that those who need to charge regularly at home or the workplace get a dedicated EV charging unit installed by an accredited installer.
Note that, for any type of EV charging, it is not advisable under any circumstances to trail an electric cable across pavements or other public areas to connect a car parked on-street with your household electricity supply. Doing so will be a safety hazard and will possibly invalidate your house, car, and public liability insurances.
The other consideration is the availability of public chargers in your area and on your regular driving routes. While driving range for pure-EVs is continually improving, there will be occasions where you need to recharge using a public point; on average most EV users use the public network once per week. Search Zap-Map to explore the level of network coverage in your area.
If buying a pure-EV, for maximum convenience, your driving mileage needs to be limited to around 120 miles per day, preferably on regular routes that you know well. This can expand to double that if charging is regularly available when the car is parked up during the day; at a workplace for example.
Regular commuting trips are well suited to electric cars as around two-thirds of these are less than 10 miles and, most significantly, they are routine journeys for which the driver knows what to expect in regards to distance, route, congestion, road conditions, parking, and local charging locations.
If you regularly drive more than 120 miles in a day, you may be better suited to a plug-in hybrid or range-extended EV. Both of these EV types typically offer 500+ miles in driving range using a combination of conventional fuel and electricity. They can operate in EV-mode for shorter journeys and call on assistance from a small combustion engine for longer journeys, so still offer great economical and environmental advantages.
Research has also made useful observations regarding the way electric cars are used within multi-car owning households. While manufacturers initially thought that electric vehicles would be bought to replace a second or third car, research shows that once an electric car is purchased by a household, it tends to be preferred for all short local trips, with the other car only being used for longer journeys.
Car buying budget
Overall, EVs of all types tend to be more expensive to buy than their conventional equivalents. This is in part due to the fact that most EVs are bought as new models, and also because manufacturers look to recoup their investment in developing electric powertrains. That said, a few car makers have set prices at the similar levels to some conventional models, and the gap in pricing is coming down.
Given that EVs have been available since 2011, there are an increasing number of used electric vehicles coming on to the market, making them more affordable for drivers not in the new car market. Despite this, prices are still not as low as used petrol and diesel cars. Since there is plenty of demand, EVs tend to keep their value, and the vehicles coming on to the used car market are not particularly old, less than 3 years old in most cases.
To help reduce the up-front price of an EV, some manufacturers offer battery leasing as a buying option. Battery leasing also insures the buyer against any battery issues which may arise in the future as the battery remains the property of the manufacturer until bought outright or sold on to the next buyer. The Renault Zoe, for example, is priced at around £14,000. The battery is then leased separately at around £60/month (depending on mileage). However, leasing is becoming less common as EV batteries become cheaper and have proved their reliability over time.
As the EV market develops, battery costs – and therefore vehicle prices – continue to drop. The last five years alone has seen battery production costs fall by almost 80%. The battery is one of the largest and most expensive elements of an EV, and with production costs dropping, the time when an EV costs the same as a comparable conventional model (or even less) is predicted by some in the industry to be only a few years away.
One other potential cost for EV buyers is the installation a home or workplace charge point. Typically a dedicated slow (3 kW) or fast (7 kW) unit costs under £1,000 to install by a qualified electrician. For buyers of plug-in grant eligible cars, the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme, which offers a grant towards the installation of a charge point, will typically reduce the total cost to around £300-£400.
Plug-in Car and Van Grants
To counter the higher purchase prices of most EVs compared to conventionally-powered models, the UK Government offers a range of grants: the Plug-in Car Grant and Plug-in Van Grant.
Current grant levels provide up to £3,500 off the cost of a new Category 1 model – essentially pure-electric models or range-extended EVs meeting the criteria. Category 2 & 3 models no longer receive any support, as of October 2018.
- Category 1: CO2 emissions <50g/km and a zero emission range of at least 70 miles
- Category 2: CO2 emissions <50g/km and a zero emission range between 10 and 69 miles
- Category 3: CO2 emissions of 50-75g/km and a zero emission range of at least 20 miles
Prior to the current PiCG funding available, Category 1 models received up to £4,500 off the cost of a newly bought EV, while Category 2 & 3 models received up to £2,500, provided the pre-grant OTR cost was not higher than £60,000.
Plug-in Van Grants cover up to 20% of the van’s cost to a maximum of £8,000. Both private buyers and fleets are eligible to receive the grant, which is administered by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) – no application forms are required as the dealership completes all the necessary paperwork on the buyer’s behalf and the grant is automatically deducted from the vehicle price at the point of purchase.
For more information, visit the Office for Low Emission Vehicles website.