Eventually we’ll have little to no choice but to own electric cars, with the UK pushing for an entirely zero-emissions road network by 2040.
While that’s still more than two decades down the line, the transition is well underway, according to the latest data.
Last month’s car sales stats showed that electric vehicles secured their highest market share on record, making up 4.2 per cent of all new car registrations in August.
The big questions is: have these drivers jumped the gun by making the switch too soon? Or are they benefiting from a financial sweet spot by jumping on the electric-car bandwagon now? A new study claims it’s the latter.
Should you make the switch to an electric car? A new study by the University of Leeds suggest they’re already cheaper to own and run than conventional petrol and diesel motors
According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), of the 94,000 new cars bought last month, a record of just under 4,000 were plug-in models.
And a new report suggests that a significantly higher percentage of motorists should consider making this transition to an electric car well ahead of the government’s 2040 ban on models powered by conventional combustion engines.
The study, conducted by experts at the University of Leeds, reviewed the total cost of ownership of vehicles and found that electric cars are already cheaper to own and run compared to petrol or diesel models.
This was the case in the three countries assessed: the UK, US and Japan.
The analysis, covering the years 1997 to 2015, found that plug-in vehicle grants offered by the government in all three countries had made electric cars more affordable to buy and contributed to a lower cost of ownership over a four-year period when also factoring in depreciation, fuel bills, insurance, taxation and maintenance costs.
Efforts to encourage motorists to buy electric cars, which produce less climate-warming carbon emissions, have been accelerated by the Government in recent months in a bid to improve the nation’s illegal air pollution levels.
In urban areas in particular, one of the biggest contributors to the dirty air is believed to be diesel cars, with the VW Group’s dieselgate scandal in 2015 raising concerns of toxic nitrogen oxides outputs – which have been linked to premature deaths – from these vehicles.
Ministers have reacted in kind.
The Government has enforced changes to Vehicle and Excise Duty rates to increase the cost of diesel ownership, encouraged councils to introduce low emissions zones to be rolled out across the country, and set a deadline to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel models from 2040 onwards – all within the last 18 months.
This week, ministers even revealed plans for electric cars to use priority lanes and ‘badge of honour’ green number plates.
As a result of all these new restrictions, sales of diesel vehicles have plummeted by 30 per cent in the last year. In contrast, electric car demand has risen by 37 per cent.
But the Leeds University report claims there is a carrot to buy electric cars not just a stick beating those who choose not to.
Its report said electric vehicle costs initially dropped in 2001 when they became exempt from VED car tax.
Their ownership costs also began to fall comparatively when fuel prices increased in 2010 to make petrol and diesel vehicles more expensive to run.
However, it clarified that the biggest attribution to lower ownership costs was ‘mainly a result of the plug-in vehicle grant which allocates a larger subsidy to Battery Electric Vehicles (£4,500) than Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (£2,500)’.
While plug-in hybrids appear to be more expensive to run than petrol and diesel models, battery electric cars are the cheapest for all four regions reviewed
While this might have been true in the past and the present, it might not be the case for much longer.
The Plug-in Car Grant, which was introduced in 2011, is due to expire – in its current form – next month.
According to the Department for Transport, the grant has been used to purchase more than 150,000 vehicles in the last seven years.
But while the government has committed to offer the grant until 2020, it looks likely that it will be abolished in 2020.
The recently published Road to Zero document stated: ‘As the market becomes better established and more competitive, the need for direct government financial support will decrease.
‘We therefore expect to deliver a managed exit from the grant in due course and to continue to support the uptake of ultra low emission vehicles through other measures.’
Even if these incentives are terminated, the researchers noted that the cost of mainstream electric cars – such as the Nissan Leaf – will become as cheap to purchase as today’s petrol equivalent by 2025.
With the latest models promising ever-increasing ranges (the Leaf now claims up to 235 miles between charges and an upgraded version will go for 310 miles), should your head be swayed in the direction of an EV?
Here are some limitations that need to be considered before buying an electric car:
1. Electric cars are cheaper to service – but not all garages can work on them
The IMI says the independent garage network currently doesn’t have the skills to maintain electric cars, leaving owners with no choice by higher servicing bills from franchised garages
Another reason for electric cars being cheaper to own than petrol and diesel models highlighted in the study was the fact they are mechanically easier to maintain.
It said: ‘Costs were found to be cheaper for electric vehicles due to less wear on the brakes and fewer moving parts.’
While this might be the case, the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) has warned that, in the current market, few mechanics are trained to safely work on electric cars.
Steve Nash, chief executive at the industry body, said: ‘Over 80 per cent of vehicle technicians currently qualified to work on electric vehicles are in the manufacturer franchise network.
‘But this leaves a significant proportion of mechanics in the independent sector not yet suitably equipped to work on electric vehicles.
‘Whilst, at the moment electric vehicles are largely maintained by the franchise marketplace, as these vehicles mature they will move into the independent sector.
‘We are therefore urging independent dealerships and garages to invest in quality training to ensure their employees are equipped with the knowledge and skills to repair and service new technology.’
Nash added that the IMI has lobbied government over a regulatory standard being introduced for technicians to work on these vehicles, with the Road to Zero strategy acknowledging that adequate training must be provided to independent garages.
For today’s electric car buyers, it means – for the time being – you’ll have to pay higher servicing and maintenance fees charged by franchised dealer when it comes time for your electric car to have a scheduled check-up.
2. There aren’t enough public charge points to go around… though most owners charge at home
A recent report claims there is one UK public charge point to ever 9.87 electric cars. However, experts have pointed out that owners across Europe barely use them at all
A recent study by GoCompare found that the UK is one of the top five countries in the International Energy Agency (IEA) for the number of electric cars already on the road – but it has one of the worst infrastructures.
Out of the 30 IEA member countries analysed, the UK is within the 10 nations with the fewest charge points per electric car.
In 2017 there were 133,670 electric cars in the UK, but only 13,534 charging points, it found.
That means there were 9.87 cars for every charging point.
However, insiders have argued that this is more than adequate when you take into account how electric car owners charge their vehicles.
Campaign group Transport and Environment argued that public chargers are only used for around five of charging events. It found that the vast majority of EV charging (among owners across Europe) happens at home or at work.
In Norway, which is the country with has the highest number of EV owners across the continent, the share of drivers relying on public slow charging on a daily basis was just two per cent last year.
3. Is your property fit for home charging?
Not all UK properties are suitable for home charging. Only half in London have off-street parking that is suitable to have a charger installed, according to a recent report
While the argument that 95 per cent of all charging events are carried out at home or the work place, many Britons simply don’t have the facility to boost the batteries of the electric vehicles at home.
A recent survey of properties for sale in the UK motorway.co.uk, a by car buying service, found that just half of London homes have off-street parking where charge points can be installed.
This is the case across major cities, where many live in apartment blocks and flats with little to no parking facilities.
And if you do live in a property that is suitable for having a charge point located, you’ll soon have to cover the full cost of having one installed.
The Road to Zero strategy said the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme – a £500 grant to help electric car owners cover the cost of charge point installations – will only exist in its current form until March 2019, or until 30,000 installations have been supported.
Like the plug-in car grant, ministers will review grant levels with a view to removing financial support for having plug-in points installed at homes as uptake increases and the market becomes self-sustaining.
Places with the fewest homes with off-street parking
1. London – 48.6%
2. Dundee – 50.4%
3. Hastings – 53.6%
4. Portsmouth – 55.9%
5. Brighton – 59.4%
6. Salford – 60.2%
7. Aberdeen – 60.7%
8. Liverpool – 63.6%
9. Blackburn – 64.0%
10. Hull – 64.6%
4. Can the grid cope with the surge in power demand?
The National Grid has called for a flexible charging structure to prevent electric vehicles from crashing the power supply in the future
Contrary to popular belief, the UK’s National Grid does have enough energy in its system to support a road network made up of entirely EVs.
However, it currently lacks the capacity to charge all of them simultaneously.
Energy regulator Ofgem has suggested the introduction of new incentives to encourage people to charge their electric vehicles outside of peak hours.
The National Grid has called for something similar – a flexible charging system that would halve the estimated additional energy generation needed to manage the demand.
Others have also identified ways to reduce the strain on the grid.
The Powerloop vehicle-to-grid consortium has revealed plans to turn electric vehicles into mobile battery packs that supply energy to the grid rather than extracting electricity from it.
Energy stored in a vehicle’s battery would be used to power a customer’s home and help balance the demand on the grid, especially during peak hours.
Off Grid Energy also claims it has developed modular technology that can be built into portable systems that can support the charging needs of large commercial fleets such as delivery or public transport to ease the strain on the grid.
5. Electric car prices – new and used – are at a premium
The price of a new electric car is still somewhat relatively higher than a conventional petrol or diesel model. And used values for popular zero-emission vehicles are on the rise
Even with a full grant subsidy of £4,500 – which we mentioned above could soon expire – a battery electric vehicle still won’t be cheap.
The latest Nissan Leaf starts from £29,690 once you remove the government grant.
For around the same price you could have a high-spec Volkswagen Golf with a petrol engine.
And it’s a similar story on the second-hand market. Recently announced surcharges for diesel cars – especially older models – has seen demand drop, and more buyers consider the idea of owning a used electric model.
However, with so few examples on the market and a surge in interest, values of some older EVs are – believe it or not – increasing.
In a recent report by car valuations expert HPI, it revealed that second-hand electric Renault Zoes had appreciated by 30 per cent in the last year.
It means the price of buying a new or used plug-in car isn’t likely to get more affordable any time soon.
There may be some new incentives available to motorists, though.
A new fund announced by Lloyds Banking Group this week will offer contributions of £1,000 towards the cost of 1,000 new pure electric vehicles.
The £1million fund is for the first 1,000 customers who sign up for a pure electric vehicle from Lex Autolease, the vehicle leasing arm of the Group, from January 2019.
If you are looking to buy a used EV, here are some things to look out for.
Theresa May pledges £106m funding boost for green vehicles
Prime Minister Theresa May speaking at the Zero Emission Vehicle Summit on Tuesday
Theresa May has set out plans for the UK to become a global leader in developing and producing zero-emission vehicles.
The Prime Minister used a speech in Birmingham on Tuesday to pledge a £106 million funding boost for research and development in the sector which also covers new batteries and low-carbon technology.
Mrs May told the Zero Emission Vehicle Summit the Government had an ‘ambitious mission’ to ensure Britain is a leader in the green technology field.
‘I have set this country an ambitious mission,’ the PM said.
‘To put the UK at the forefront of the design and manufacturing of zero-emission vehicles and for all new cars and vans to be effectively zero-emission by 2040.’
She added: ‘Today we have provided over £100 million of funding for innovators in ultra-low emission vehicles and hydrogen technology.
‘With a further £500 million of investment from key industries in this sector, creating over 1,000 jobs across the UK. So we are driving change, further and faster.
‘Together, all these measures will drive the design, use, uptake and infrastructure necessary for cleaner, greener vehicles – and in doing so, it will help us drastically reduce a major contributor to our global warming emissions, as we seek to meet the Paris climate change agreement.’
At the same event it was also confirmed that the UK’s largest independent vehicle battery manufacturer will open in early 2019 in Coventry.
The factory will be operated by a new joint venture named Hyperbat Limited as part of a joint venture between Williams Advanced Engineering and Unipart Manufacturing Group.
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