I have heard that the Government is making grants available for EVs. Is that correct? If so, how do I apply?
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Yes, the Government’s Plug-in Car Grant subsidises the purchase of qualifying electric cars worth 35% of the cost of the vehicle up to a maximum of £5,000. For vans, the Plug-in Van Grant subsidy is worth 20% of the cost of the vehicle up to a maximum of £8,000.

To be eligible under the latest Plug-in Car and Van Grant schemes, vehicles must be available as new and must satisfy a number of criteria including:

  • Vehicles must emit less than 75 gCO2/km (on the official test);
  • Electric vehicles must be able to travel a minimum of 70 miles between charges;
  • Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles must have a minimum electric range of 10 miles;.
  • Vehicles must be able to reach a speed of at least 60 mph (cars) or 50 mph (vans);

Both private and business vehicle buyers are eligible to receive the new grant, which is administered by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) (https://www.gov.uk/plug-in-car-van-grants/overview) – no applications forms are required as the dealership completes all the necessary paperwork on the buyer's behalf and the grant is automatically deducted from the vehicle price at the point of purchase.

Note that the current Plug-in Car and Van Grant scheme is only guaranteed for the first 50,000 eligible vehicles. With almost 30,000 claims already made, the current funding is forecast to end by the autumn of 2015. While further grants are expected, they are likely to only be available at the current level for the lowest emitting ULEVs.

The Nissan Leaf is priced FROM £21,500 – that sounds horribly expensive for what is essentially a small hatch. I assume the industry expects only devout eco warriors and the well-heeled for next few years...
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Yes, the first owners of EVs are more likely to be well-off and have more than one car. However, having environmental concerns is less important than you might expect – the first sales suggest that early adopters are more likely to be pro-technology and want to get their hands on the latest cutting-edge gizmos.

The truth (at the moment) is that companies and fleets are buying more EVs than private buyers – in the first tranche of Plug-in Car Grant applications, around three-quarters were from fleets. However, this is predicted to change as more small car models become available designed specifically for city use and as more manufacturer offer the option of leasing rather than buying the battery, the rest of the vehicle effectively costing the same as a conventional vehicle.

EVs are already becoming cheaper to buy (whether through leasing or outright purchase). In addition, smaller and larger sized models are being launched – from city cars up to the highest spec executive class. For these reasons, they may very well become main-stream earlier than you might expect.

The latest market stats suggest that EVs are already entering the mainstream with over 1% of UK new car sales being electric. As of March 2015, more than 35,000 EVs are now on UK roads meaning that they are quickly becoming a common sight. By the end of 2015, it is highly likely that well over 50,000 EVs will be in use with the fleet size doubling every 12-18 months.

If I buy a new electric car, how many years will I get out of my batteries before they need to be replaced? And how much will they cost to replace?
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This is the question EV manufacturers would really like to know! It depends... on how you treat your electric car, the climate and terrain where the car is used, what type of recharging system is used and the vehicle's battery technology.

In general, the industry is betting on at least 7-10 years battery life from new at which point the battery will retain around 80% of its original capacity. If this is correct, the battery should still be usable, but the vehicle's range would be lower by 20%. To be fair to the manufacturers, most are providing extensive 5-7 year warranties to cover the battery pack alongside the more usual vehicle warranties available.

Replacement cost? For a typical lithium-ion pack, expect to pay in the region of £5,000. One option however is to lease the battery (as you can do with the Renault and Nissan) which means that if anything goes wrong with the battery pack, the manufacturer simply provides you with a replacement.

Why is there so little choice of EV models?
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While it was true that the first EVs that hit UK streets in large numbers were actually quadricycles (like the well-known G-Wiz), things have really changed since 2011 when the Plug-in Car Grant and a national network of Government funded charge points was launched.

As of Spring 2015, there are around 30 new electric cars and van models available in the UK, with more being launched in 2015 and 2016. The latest line-up of electric cars includes full sized cars with all the same interior adjustments as you would expect from a standard car.

Significantly, nearly all the main manufacturers and brands are represented meaning that most car buying tastes are catered for - ranging from the functional electric VW e-up! city car, through to the most popular EV, the family sized Nissan LEAF, to the more premium BMW i3 and Tesla Model S. Electric vans are also available and include the Renault Kangoo and the Nissan e-NV200.