Are we plugged in for the electric car revolution?

Electric vehicles are everywhere. But challenges remain, explains Bill McCarthy.

Hyundai Kona electric
Hyundai Kona electric

Here’s a question. What do ET, the Extra Terrestrial, and an electric car owner have in common?

Answer: They both hope to make it home. A joke yes, but pertinent to another question: Would you buy an electric car at the moment? By 2035, there will be no choice in the matter, because after that date, all other forms of car, including hybrids, cannot be sold as new in the UK.

It would seem when you look around, electric vehicles (EV) are like rabbits at the beginning of spring.

One minute, no sign of any of them, and a short period later they are everywhere.

There has been exponential growth over the last few years, spurred on, perhaps, by improved range and slightly better infrastructure. Slightly being the key word.

A Tesla being charged, a more common sight. But with infrastructure still developing, how attractive is it to opt for electric?

I have driven a few and have enjoyed the benefits, but have also developed a few extra grey hairs when the power meter starts heading towards zero, there’s no charging point in sight and, you’ve guessed it, are hoping to get home.

Sales of fully electric new cars have risen from fewer than 1,000 in 2011 to nearly 100,000 in the first five months of 2022, which perhaps explains the Government’s shock move to scrap the electric plug-in grant incentive for cars.

The grant for EVs costing under £32,500 stood at £1,500, having gradually been reduced from £2,500.

The Department for Transport said the plug-in subsidy scheme was being closed with immediate effect and funding would now be “refocussed” towards improving charging infrastructure

A great idea, but let’s watch this space, shall we?

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said scrapping the grant “sends the wrong message” and the RAC also warned the decision could “stifle” the ambition to shift most people into electric cars.

Will it affect the EV market? Maybe, but the electric genie is now out of the bottle and EVs are here to stay and my guess is people will just suck the extra cost up.

So what are the advantages of electric vehicles? They include:

  • No congestion charge or clean air zone charges

  • Lower running costs

  • Renewable electricity tariffs

  • Reduced business costs

  • Free parking in certain areas

  • Reduced noise pollution.

Against that, there is another animal that springs to mind and it is called the elephant in the room. In other words, charging infrastructure, which is lagging chronically behind the boom in electric car usage.

In terms of reliability, EVs have been around for a while and there are some issues, just as there are with other cars. But batteries have proved generally robust with 100,000 miles and beyond regularly reported, pretty similar to conventionally powered cars. Also there are fewer moving parts to go wrong.

Performance can be, well, electric. All electric models are quick off the mark and a Polestar I drove recently could hit 60mph in under five seconds, That’s high-end sports car territory.

But they can also be badly affected by prevailing conditions and how they are driven. A petrol or diesel will use more fuel the heavier you are with your right foot and the use of electrical components like lights and wiper affects economy as well.

There is work to do to increase the number of charging points in towns

It is more marked with EVs. If it is pouring with rain, and dark and you have the heater, wipers and radio on the go, watch the power drain alarmingly.

Great efforts are going into improving the infrastructure of charging points and installing your own dedicated charger addresses many of the fears about charging availability. Generally, a full charge, de

pending on battery size, will take five to eight hours.

But if you live in a flat, or a terraced house, it may not be possible to fit one. Drivers then rely on the public charging network at dedicated charging stations, car parks in supermarkets, lamppost chargers in towns and cities and fast charging points at motorway series, which are more expensive. No surprise there then.

Charging points are now being installed at more supermarket car parks

There are also more dedicated EV-only charging stations, with Gridserve continuing to roll them out across the country.

We hear plenty from Government and manufacturers about rolling out more and more charging points. The trouble is they are not keeping up with the boom and there are other problems, including compatibility and reliability. Public charging points used to be relatively unused, but now you often have to queue.

When you do finally plug in, you can find the charger is not working or there is insufficient charge and there is a further delay as you wait for the power to build up.

I am speaking from personal experience over several years.

If you do not have a car with hundreds of miles of range, long journeys need careful planning, because it’s not like pulling into a petrol station and filling up within a couple of minutes. Charging can get down to around 20 minutes, but it is still time consuming and potentially costly, depending where you stop.

But should you buy or lease one now? There are vehicles now which claim a range of more than 400 miles on a single charge, so from that point of view, range anxiety has all but disappeared.

Let’s pick Tesla as an example, with the top model claiming over 400 miles range.

UK Tesla drivers spend £47 per month on charging, according to Eevee Mobility, whose driver app data was reported in Fleet News.

So with it now costing more than £100 to fill an average-sized car, the figures start stacking up.

Electricity prices are also rocketing, but on current figures, spending just £47 a month is a no-brainer when compared with the cost of filling with fuel.

At the time of writing this, petrol was hovering at around an eye-watering £1.90 per litre, with diesel nearer £2.

For business users, EVs are even more of a no-brainer.

Not only do EVs attract zero road or vehicle tax, but in terms of Benefit in Kind costs, attract only a two per cent levy for 2022/23.

For example, take the Hyundai Kona Ultimate petrol and electric version. The petrol will cost £26,525 new, but with emissions of 138 g/km it attracts a BIK rating of 32 per cent.

For a 20 per cent taxpayer, that amounts to an annual charge of £1,680.

The electric version costs over £11k more.

But with zero emissions, attracts a two per cent charge, which equates to just £149 per annum, according to the Comcar website

That’s quite a saving for a company car driver. Businesses also benefit. Cars with CO2 emissions of less than 50g/km are also eligible for 100 per cent first year capital allowances.

This means with electric cars, you can deduct the full cost from your pre-tax profits.

Employers could be exempt from being taxed as a benefit-in-kind when providing electric car charging points.

Most businesses probably already know this, but if they don’t they should sack their accountants.

It’s a big decision and costs are still high.

But with fuel costs rocketing, it’s becoming more and more attractive to potential EV owners, charging costs vary, so careful research needs to be undertaken before taking the plunge.

So would I buy one at the moment?

No. But get the infrastructure right and everything changes.

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