Is the throaty roar of a decent petrol engine worth destroying the planet for? Or should you hang up the keys to your cherished GTI and cross the forecourt from the fuel pump to the plug in point? Here we take a look at the pros and cons of buying an electric car.
Is electric really the future of motoring?
They still account for just 6% of the cars on the road today, but electric cars are almost certainly the way motoring is going. Forget ever-improving battery technology for a second, the real driver of the switch to electric is coming from HM Government which announced last year that sales of conventional petrol and diesel cars will cease by 2040.If that seems like a long way away, try this figure: The Committee on Climate Change estimates that in order for the government to reach its emissions targets, three-fifths of all cars will need to be electric by 2030. With about 38 million cars currently on UK roads, that’s a lot of new electric vehicles.
And we’re already seeing the impact of the government’s commitment to its target. Last year, new legislation enabled local councils to mandate the installation of electric charge points. Equally importantly, it set in law the move towards standardisation of electric-plug in points – a big step in improving access to charge points for motorists.
And then there’s the subsidy. Buy an electric car and you qualify for a £4500 hand out to help pay for the car, plus the installation of a home charging unit. Yes, the future really is electric.
What’s better – hybrid or fully electric?
The Toyota Prius is the UK’s best-selling electric vehicle, and that’s a hybrid. A small petrol engine recharges the battery as you’re driving, removing the need to remember to plug the thing in. You’ll always make it from A to B without running out of charge, although with the car’s comparatively small fuel tank, you’ll have to stop to refuel more often.
One of the big drawbacks with electric cars has always been the “range anxiety” they provoke. But the new model Nissan Leaf surely banishes such worries. Its 40kW lithium-ion battery is the same size as that of its 30kW predecessor, but with a 235 mile range – a 50% improvement – the Leaf should easily get you home.
But what about recharge times? While it’s true a full home charge takes several hours, 50kW service station rapid chargers take you to 80% of battery capacity in 20-40 minutes. But here too, things are set to improve with the guys responsible for the App, Zap-map claiming there are 150 kW and 350 kW DC charge units on the way.
If you’re worried about declining battery life – don’t be; the industry standard battery life warranty is eight years or 100,000 miles – longer than most of us keep a new car. Our verdict: If you need the distance capability right now, you’re probably better off sticking with hybrid, but increasingly, fully electric gets the nod.
What’s the cheapest electric car?
Depending on the model you go for, an electric car is cheaper than you might think. A brand spanking Renault Zoe – Europe’s most popular electric car, offers a range of up to 250 miles and decent performance, and costs around £14,000 after you include your plug-in grant.But you can’t compare the economy of electric against petrol or diesel based on initial cost alone. The biggest saving you achieve by going electric is on fuel. According to research quoted in the FT, it costs about £570 per year to charge an electric car against £1400 to fuel a standard petrol car.
The savings don’t stop there. According to the FT, “After breaking down an electric Chevrolet Bolt into its component parts… there were 16 moving pieces inside the car, compared to 136 in a petrol-driven VW Golf.” That’s a lot less to go wrong, plus you won’t get stung for the London congestion charge, there’s no road tax for electric cars under £40k, and you might even get cheap car parking.
But you can’t beat the spine-tingling excitement of a petrol powered muscle car, right? Wrong. Check out the upcoming Porsche Tayan whose performance the guys at Car Magazine claim will be “incendiary…think Carrera, Carrera S”. And it’s not only speed this supercar will offer, but a 20 minute charge time for 250 miles.
Not bad. But nowhere near as good as Elon Musk’s frisky new Tesla Roadster. Coming in 2020, there’s plenty of time to get yourself some driving shoes while you’re waiting for your name to move up the list. This vehicle, the maverick tycoon says, will be the fastest production car ever. With a top speed of around 250 mph doing 0-60 time in 1.9 seconds, you’d better pack a neck brace. It’s range? 600 miles. Roadworks permitting, it’ll be lunch in Edinburgh, afternoon tea in Exeter. If you prefer not to wait to get your hands on a high performance electric car, Tesla’s Model S gets you from 0-60 in 2.5 seconds and is available now.
You’d think with all the green hype, that the electric car was the answer to all our greenhouse gas woes. But while electric cars do offer emissions-free driving, they still need charging, and electricity generation remains a potent source of emissions.And then there’s the thorny issue of the battery. The ‘lithium triangle’ refers to the salt flats of Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina, and it’s from there that the bulk of our Lithium comes. Lithium-rich brine is sucked from under the salt flats and pumped into evaporation pools where it dries, and concentrates.
But it takes a lot of fresh water to refine the Lithium from the salt – about 500,000 gallons per tonne. That’s water normally used to grow crops.
Lithium-ion batteries also contain quantities of cobalt which comes almost entirely from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Think lethal mines, appalling exploitation, child labour, and toxic runoff.
Still, we have to start somewhere…
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