Electric cars have been around since, believe it or not, the 1800s. The first production electric car was built in London in 1884 by inventor Thomas Parker, who was also responsible for electrifying the London Underground and overhead tramways in some cities.
In recent years, not least due to the effect of smoke and pollution in urban areas, electric cars have seen a massive increase in our towns and cities, with sales rising massively as people want a piece of the cleaner living action.
Different types of electric cars
The main three types of electric cars are as follows:
- BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) – Run entirely on batteries and electric drive train, without a conventional internal combustion engine.
- PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) – Run mostly on batteries, but are also equipped with an internal combustion engine that can recharge the battery and / or provide replace the electric drive train when the power has run out or is low.
- HEV (Hybrid Electric Vehicle) – These have a conventional engine and an electric motor and battery. The engine and motor simultaneously power the car and their energy comes from fuel and regenerative braking. HEVs cannot be plugged in to recharge.
Who’s using electric cars?
Company car fleets are a big user. Figures show that fleet demand for PHEVs from January to June 2016 was up 45% on the same period in 2015. Over 15,000 PHEVs were added to fleets in this time, which accounts for 72% of demand, whilst private buyers account for the remaining 28%.
This fleet increase has been helped along by a new government initiative called Go Ultra Low, which encourages companies to choose low emission fleets. In return the company receives Go Ultra Low status and a host of related benefits if 5% of their fleet is made up of electric vehicles by 2020. Any vehicle that qualifies for the government’s plug-in car / van grant is classed as an eligible vehicle for the scheme.
Of course electric vehicles cost more than their petrol / diesel equivalents. However, as mentioned above, the government have a 25% grant scheme (20% for vans) in place towards the cost of a new plug-in car, capped at £5000. They also offer a grant worth 75% (£500 cap) towards the installation costs of a charge point at the owner’s home.
The more complicated drivetrain system on electric vehicles however, means that presently the upfront costs are more than a more traditionally powered vehicle. Battery costs are dropping every year though, so the future prediction is that costs could even out over time.
Running costs and daily use
First of all, the vehicle will need charging! If you’re planning a long journey it’s useful to know that service stations across pretty much all the UK motorway network now have charging points installed and A roads and some large stores are now getting these pumps installed too. Using a rapid charger, a typical car would take around 30 minutes to charge to 80% full, which would allow a range of between 50 – 120 miles, depending on the car and driving conditions.
The cost of the electricity to charge the car depends on the price per kWh for electricity, which varies by location. As an example though, the bestselling Nissan Leaf is estimated to cost 1.75p per mile when charged with an off-peak electricity rate, compared to over 10p per mile for an equivalent petrol powered car. A typical “fill-up” should cost between £1 – £4 for around 150 miles of travel.
The benefits of electric over conventional vehicles are most significant in city travel. They do not emit harmful particulates such as carbon monoxide and particulates. However, the benefit may only be local as the locations used to recharge the batteries may use electricity generation methods that produce air pollutants. This is known as “the long tailpipe” of electric vehicles.
A UK study, conducted in 2008, concluded that even taking into account the emissions surrounding electricity generation and production and disposal of electric vehicles, they had the potential to reduce greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide by at least 40%.
There certainly are electric vehicles out there that offer a pretty good range, are fast and comfortable and very practical. However, the costs can be huge for these range toppers. Looking at the more realistic models available, such as the Renault Zoe and Nissan Leaf, price is, unfortunately, still a massive issue.
The viability of an electric vehicle really depends on your own circumstances; if you don’t do many miles per year, the equivalent petrol or diesel models will save you thousands on purchase costs and even spending that difference on fuel will save money in the long run.
If you do high annual mileage, on relatively short journeys and can afford the initial cost, an electric vehicle may be perfect for you, however if you need to travel over long distances, possibly under time constraints, the current offerings simply don’t have the range capabilities yet. Having to stop for at least 30 minutes’ part way through your journey miles wouldn’t be a practical solution for most people.
In the long run greener more affordable motoring is a prospect that electric vehicle could bring, saving money on rising fuel costs. The more electric vehicles sold, the more development will go into them, hopefully resulting in improved technologies, costs and that all important range.