Should your next car be electric or are they an expensive hassle?

Only 240,000 motorists have so far bought an all-electric car despite all the talk about how they represent ‘the future’ of motoring.

The fact is that TV adverts showing smug couples driving around the countryside helping to save the planet bare little resemblance to reality.

Although electric car sales rose last month to a record 22,000, about 30million motorists still prefer to sit behind the steering wheel of a petrol or diesel car.

Powered up: Toby Walne with the Mini Electric which has two socket options for charging

Most are unfazed about the 2030 deadline set by the Government when motorists will not be able to buy a new car powered by an internal combustion engine. Instead, they will have to choose an all-electric car, a hybrid, or one maybe fuelled by hydrogen.

The Government has not helped matters. Last month, it cut a discount for anyone buying a new electric car by £500 to £2,500. Simultaneously, it restricted eligibility for this ‘plug-in grant’ to cars priced at below £35,000 as opposed to £50,000 previously.

It means some of the most sought-after electric vehicles, such as the £42,500 Tesla Model 3, are no longer covered by the discount. Only smaller electric vehicles, such as the Peugeot e-208 (£28,995); Renault Zoe (£29,995); Volkswagen e-UP (£23,555); and the Mini Electric (£28,000) are eligible.

The Government’s move has been criticised. Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, says: ‘Slashing the plug-in car grant is the wrong move at the wrong time – making electric cars more expensive and limiting motorist choice. It also goes against a pledge made by the Government for Britain to have net zero carbon emissions by 2050.’

Long trips can prove to be a challenge 

Philip Gomm, of the RAC Foundation, says: ‘Electric cars are being sold on the premise they offer cheap motoring, but we still have a long way to go to convince many motorists to make the jump.’

Although expensive to buy, electric cars are cheaper to run and their owners do not have to pay road tax. The capacity of an electric car’s battery – measured in kilowatt hours – gives an indication of how far a car can be driven before it needs recharging.

It ranges from about 30kWh to 100kWh, typically enough power to travel between 100 and 300 miles.

Using a home electricity supplier, that’s around 15p per kWh, whereas a public charge point will cost about 30p per kWh – plus a connection fee of around £1. For less than £5 of charging at home – or about £10 at a public power point – you can get enough power to fuel most electric cars. It might work out at under 7p per mile.

There are more than 14,000 electric charge points across Britain. But because their speed varies, it can take anything from ten minutes to 20 hours to get your motor fully charged

There are more than 14,000 electric charge points across Britain. But because their speed varies, it can take anything from ten minutes to 20 hours to get your motor fully charged

In contrast, petrol costs about £5.46 a gallon (£1.20 per litre). So a traditional car managing an economical 40 miles a gallon could cost nearly 14p a mile to run – about double the price of electric.

Despite being cheaper to fuel, electric vehicles need to be refuelled more often than a petrol car. A petrol car can hold ten gallons, so may travel 400 miles before needing a fill-up – three times further than some electric cars. 

Keith Adams, editor of car buyer’s bible Parkers, says: ‘If you just drive around town or make short journeys, an electric vehicle can be great value. But long trips can be a challenge unless you plan ahead.

‘Hopefully, as technology improves, the distances they can be driven before they need recharging will increase.’

Electric car buyers should budget £500 for a professional car charger to be installed at home. This is the price net of a Government installation grant of up to £500. 

Parkers rates the Tesla Model 3 as the best family electric car for long journeys. Although expensive, it can do 353 miles on one charge. A popular alternative, such as the Mini Electric, only manages about 145 miles between charges.

There are more than 14,000 electric charge points across Britain – with almost 40,000 plug-in sockets.

This sounds impressive but they will not fit all cars as, infuriatingly, there are four different plug socket designs for vehicles. For example, about 1,150 rapid charging points are designed specifically for Tesla cars. 

Charge points also vary in terms of the speed at which they pump electricity. This means it can take anything from ten minutes to 20 hours to get your motor fully charged.

About 5,500 chargers are categorised ‘slow’ (in other words, awful); 13,300 ‘fast’ (really slow); and 3,400 ‘rapid’ (slow). Just over 900 are ‘ultra-rapid’ (OK).

Finding an electric charging point is still hit-and-miss, though smart phone apps such as Zap-Map can prove invaluable. 

Lovely car but I don’t need the ‘range anxiety’ 

Jabbing away at a confusing array of shiny buttons and colourful dials on the ultra-modern dashboard, it felt as if I was preparing the car for lift-off into space.

But all I was doing was desperately searching for the button that would kick-start my Mini Electric into life. All rather embarrassing given that unbeknown to me I had already pressed something that had turned on the car’s engine – quiet as a mouse compared to the growl of an internal combustion engine.

Putting my foot down on the pedal, there was a sudden whoosh of wind. The sensation is like squeezing the trigger of a Scalextric remote control – but instead of powering a toy, this is a full-size electric car.

Packed with plenty of punch, the motor puts many petrol-fuelled rivals to shame, managing zero to 60mph in a racy seven seconds.

My car came with a couple of recharging socket options – so I could use most paid-for charge points. It also had an adapter, allowing it to charge through a standard three-pin electric socket at home – though requiring an overnight charge of a dozen hours.

On the road, I soon suffered serious ‘range anxiety’. The 79 miles of charge showing on my high-tech dashboard should have been plenty to complete the 54-mile journey I was making from home near Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire to Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.

But towards the end of my journey, the words ‘electric range insufficient’ started flashing up. This inevitably triggered a panicky search for a charging point, a half-hour wait at a Texaco garage while two other electric cars were charged, and then an hour for my Mini Cooper to be recharged.

I also had to download the GeniePoint app in order to pay.

The result? A journey that should have taken an hour consumed three hours of my life.

Electric cars may indeed be the future, but I won’t be buying one just yet.


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