Should I buy a new electric car?
More than two million new cars are sold in the UK each year, so the fact that 2461 electric cars were registered here in June 2019 might not seem like big news, but it represents a 61.7% year-on-year increase. That’s a pretty spectacular growth, especially when you consider that a decade ago there were no mainstream electric cars on the new-car market. We’re talking here about cars that run purely on electricity, so they’re not plug-in hybrids, which sell in much bigger quantities and are electrified rather than electric.
If you’re confused by the difference between electrified and electric you need to read our previous article on the different types of electrified vehicles as well as our piece on the basics of electric cars plus another article called 10 things you should know about electric cars.
An increasing number of us are choosing to go electric, but many new-car buyers won’t even consider an electric vehicle (EV) for a variety of reasons. The key reasons for buying or dismissing an EV are typically usability, range, purchase and running costs, charging convenience and reliability; some of those fears are better founded than others.
Usability and range
How much and where you drive are key here, because if you do lots of high-speed long-distance journeys you’re better off buying a diesel rather than an EV. But if your driving is mainly urban or your daily mileage is relatively limited (UK drivers average under 30 miles per day), an EV should be perfectly usable.
Many potential buyers think that they’ll need to constantly charge from empty to full, when the reality is that they’ll just be topping up each night or potentially even less frequently. People often over-estimate how many miles they drive, but if you think about what your daily mileage is, you might just find that an EV is more than capable of providing you what you need in terms of range.
The other aspect of usability is carrying capacity. Cars designed as EVs from the outset tend to have bigger boots as the battery pack is usually underneath the cabin to aid packaging and lower the centre of gravity for a better driving experience. Cars converted to conventional engines don’t have this luxury and the battery pack often encroaches on boot space.
This is perhaps the most complicated aspect, as there are so many things to take into account. The initial purchase cost is greater for an electric car compared with its ICE-powered (internal combustion engine) equivalent, but the payback should come pretty much immediately. For starters, the only new cars exempt from road tax are electric models, unless they cost over £40,000 including options.
You’ll also pay less for electricity than for petrol or diesel. How much you pay for your electricity will depend on whether you use a public or private charging point, but you’ll typically get 3-5 times as many miles per pound using electricity than fossil fuels.
There’s also the spectre of Clean Air Zones being introduced across the UK, and while the latest petrol and diesel cars also tend not to be affected by these, you know that you won’t have to pay any charges if you’re driving electric. The same goes for London’s Congestion Charge – at least until the end of 2025, from which point EVs will also have to pay to drive in central London.
In theory the servicing costs should be much lower as an EV is so much simpler than an ICE car. Aside from the brakes there shouldn’t be much to replace – or even to inspect – although official dealers still seem to be charging quite large sums for the annual check over.
The final cost to consider is depreciation, which could be pretty stiff on the older generation of EVs as they were outclassed so quickly by their newer counterparts. But these newer models are much more usable in terms of range and as a result they should hold on to their value much better.
Our Government wants the UK to be a world leader in the adoption of EVs, but it’s doing very little to ensure that the charging infrastructure is in place to achieve those aspirations. According to ZapMap there are just under 25,000 charging points in the UK, spread across just over 9000 locations.
Some of these charging points will be on private premises and not all will be working. There’s also the very real spectre of turning up at a charging point to find that it’s already in use. As a result, if you’re able to be self-sufficient and charge at home or work you’re in a much stronger position – although in the case of the former, this probably isn’t practical for anyone who doesn’t have off-street parking.
An EV has around 80% fewer moving parts than an ICE car. With no fuel or ignition systems, no turbocharger and no cooling system in the conventional sense, there are far fewer bits to go wrong or have to replace. Of course there are electronics components that can fail, but overall the chances of problems are theoretically very low.
For many, the fly in the ointment is the battery pack. Not unreasonably, many potential EV buyers focus on this, thinking that if it fails it’ll effectively write off their car. In reality, so far battery packs are standing up very well to the rigours of everyday use. However, aside from some early Nissan Leafs and Teslas, most EVs are still less than five years old. Besides, battery packs tend not to fail; it’s the individual cells that make up a pack which give up, and these can usually be replaced quite cheaply.
Verdict So, should you buy a new EV? If you do, you’ll still be a relatively early adopter as the technology is improving so quickly. Over the next few years the number of really capable EVs coming on to the market is set to explode, and while some very desirable EVs are already available, things will swiftly improve. You’ll be able to drive further on a charge and purchase costs should come down thanks to greater economies of scale from bigger numbers of cars being sold.
If you do buy an EV, we’d recommend going for a model that was designed to run on electricity rather than something that’s also available in ICE form – and unsurprisingly, the newer the model, the more capable it tends to be. The most impressive EVs are models such as the Jaguar i-Pace, Audi E-Tron and various Teslas, while the BMW i3 is very desirable too. But if your pockets aren’t so deep the Renault Zoe is a more affordable option.
In terms of usability, many people who have bought an EV as a second car have found that it becomes their first car, because it does most of what they need. If you don’t have a second car though, and you regularly need to undertake long journeys, you may well find an EV too compromised.