With new diesel and petrol vehicles set to be banned in the UK from 2040, is it time for us all to hop in electric cars and get on board with the electric revolution?
There are many myths surrounding electric cars and for many of us they’re still a bit of a futuristic mystery – so what do we actually know about them?
Electric cars – a brief history
It may be difficult to believe but interest in electric cars dates as far back as the early 1900s. Numerous cab companies both in the UK and the US made electric vehicles and even gasoline-electric hybrids were produced.
Unfortunately, lack of range, speed and overall technology meant that electric cars were soon dropped as an alternative to conventional cars – except for the odd milk float and gold buggy.
While occasional efforts were made to produce them again, it wasn’t until the energy crisis in the late 90s and early 2000s that a real push for a viable alternative to petrol cars was pursued.
Advances in technology and the pursuit of a viable electric car by companies such as Tesla and the Renault–Nissan Alliance saw all-electric cars become more and more popular.
By 2014 there was over 500,000 plug-in electric cars and vans in the world and by September 2015, it had passed a million.
As more and more car manufacturers joined the growing market the quality, driving range and overall performance of all-electric cars improved. The Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S and BMW i3 were all huge advances in the field.
Environmental concerns, arguably the driving force behind the growth of the electric vehicle market has now begun to influence government policies and so we can expect to see a greater focus on producing affordable electric vehicles.
How do electric vehicles work?
Essentially, electric cars work in the same way as a normal petrol or diesel car except that they’re powered by a rechargeable battery rather than a combustion engine. This battery pack powers an electric motor which turns the wheels.
Other differences include ‘regenerative braking’ – a feature which helps charge the battery when you brake. Regen, as it’s also called, is the process of capturing the vehicle’s momentum and turning it into electricity which powers the motor.
They also feature ‘idle-off’ which turns off the vehicle when it comes to a stop. This reduces the amount of wasted energy the car produces.
While there are features to extend the battery life of electric vehicles, you will need to recharge eventually. Most modern electric cars have a range of between 100 and 150 miles before they need to be charged.
Where can you charge an electric car?
You can charge the vehicle either at home or by using a public charging point. Charging at home is the easiest way as you’re able to charge overnight and don’t have to worry about being near a charging point.
All electric cars come equipped with a charging cable that can be plugged into your standard wall outlet.
While this is usually the easiest charging option, access to outlets and ensuring that your current wiring can handle the extra power mean that installing a dedicated charging point at your house is the best way to charge at home.
Charging at home can usually take around six to eight hours (for a 100-mile range) but can be quicker with a dedicated charging station. These will set you back around £1000* but are safer and will charge your vehicle quicker.
One of the downsides of the electric car market growing so quickly is that demand for charging points is quickly outstripping supply here in the UK.
While there are more and more charging stations being implemented, the infrastructure isn’t up to standard. Finding charging stations can be difficult and may require a subscription with costs on top of the electricity.
There are currently around 4,000 public charging points in the UK compared to 8,476 petrol filling stations†.
It’s hoped that as more electric cars are bought, the government will build more charging stations in public areas such as shopping centres and motorway service stations.
Are electric cars more expensive than normal cars?
If you’re looking strictly at sticker prices, electric cars are still a lot more expensive than a normal car. This is mainly due to the cost of sourcing and producing lithium batteries.
Depending on the model, they can you set you back between £20,000 and £40,000 with more premium models setting you back over £100,000.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to pick up a cheap little runaround anytime soon but it’s the cost of running and upkeep where you’ll see the big savings.
The cost of fuelling
When you compare the cost of charging an electric car with the cost of filling up at a petrol station, you can start to see where you’ll save money.
The average cost of electricity when you’re charging at home is around 10-14p per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Depending on the battery size, you can fully charge your car for just £3 or £4‡.
Yes, you will probably need to recharge more often than you would have filled up but it’s far less and in the long run, you could save around £900 a year§ in fuel costs.
Thanks to fewer moving parts and therefore fewer things going wrong, electric cars require far less frequent maintenance than a regular car.
You won’t have to worry about changing the oil and any parts that do break are simple to replace.
According to the RAC, drivers who switch to electric could see the cost of their annual service cut by £300.
One part of electric car upkeep that isn’t quite as cheap is the battery. While most lithium-powered batteries are expected to last at least 100,000 miles¶, when the day comes that it finally runs out of juice you’ll face a big bill to replace it.
Prices can range from a few thousand pounds up to £30,000, a cost you’d expect for a whole car, not just the battery.
Road tax and congestion charge
Electric vehicles have become extremely popular in London as you won’t have to pay to enter the congestion charge zone for free.
As environmental concerns begin to guide government policy, expect to see more city centres charge or ban petrol cars entirely, making electric vehicles the cheaper and eventually only option.
As of the 1st April 2017, owners of electric vehicles no longer have to pay road tax, another way in which an electric car could save you money in the long run.
What’s the top speed of an electric car?
It’s always been a big concern of petrol heads everywhere, it’s also one of the reasons why early attempts at producing a popular electric car failed miserably. Just how fast can electric vehicles go?
There is a wide range of different models available on the market. From concept cars with a top speed of over 200mph all the way down to ‘Low speed’ models with their, as you’d expect, low speeds of 25mph, there’s something for every situation.
The majority of the normal, everyday models will have top speeds of between 80 and 150mph. Here are some of the top speeds of some of the most popular models:
- Tesla Model S – 155mph
- Hyundai Ioniq – 115mph
- Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive – 99mph
- BMW i3 – 93mph
- Nissan Leaf – 93mph
- Fiar 500e – 88mph
- Renault Fluence ZE – 84mph
So, while you may not be able to reach Formula 1 levels of speed, there’s plenty of models on the market right now to satisfy most speed demons.
Are they actually better for the environment?
One of the most popular myths surrounding electric cars is that despite what you may think, they’re not actually very good for the environment.
Many critics of electric vehicles will site the high emissions produced during the manufacturing process. There are also concerns about the impact of disposing of the batteries when they run out.
The fairest way to compare the environmental impact of electric and gas-powered vehicles is to look at their emissions from their entire lifespan.
In a report published by Renault featured in Technology Review, you see that when you look at a “cradle to grave” analysis electric cars more than make up for any extra emissions produced during manufacturing. The report found that:
“The study found that while the environmental impact of making electric vehicles is greater than for making gas and diesel vehicles, this is more than made up for by the greater impact of gas and diesel vehicles while they’re being used.”
“This is true in terms of total energy consumption, use of resources, greenhouse gases, and ozone pollution. The electric vehicles were assumed to be charged from a grid that includes significant amounts of fossil fuels.”
In the long run, just as it could save you a lot more money, driving an electric vehicle is also far better for the environment.
So while the existing price tag may put you off, expect prices to gradually come down and more affordable models to be released. The electric revolution is in full flow and shows no signs of slowing down.
While you might not be interested or simply can’t afford to look at electric cars right now, it’s important to know the facts because in the not too distant future it could well be the only option available.