I have heard that the Government is making grants available for EVs. Is that correct? If so, how do I apply?
View answer

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...
View answer

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.

I need a car for work and family and drive approx 10-12k miles p.a. Does it make more economic sense for me to buy a diesel, hybrid or electric car?
View answer

It depends where you live and drive, as well as how you prefer to buy a car. In general rule, battery EVs and plug-in hybrids are more expensive to purchase (even including the Plug-in Car Grant of up to £5,000 or the Plug-in Van Grant of up to £8,000). On the plus side, fuel costs for EVs are significantly less (by around 80%), due to electricity not being taxed as a transport fuel. With your average annual mileage, the whole life costs are most likely to be higher for an EV.

However, if you live or drive in London, or you are the recipient of a company car, then an EV could give you significant savings worth £2,000 from exemption from the London Congestion Charge, or by only attracting the 5% BIK rate (for a company cars) until April 2016. If the vehicle is for business use, under the Enhanced Capital Allowances scheme, EVs are eligible for a 100% write-down of full costs of the vehicle in the first year (excluding short-term hire and rental vehicles).

To reduce up-front capital costs, EV manufacturers (including Nissan and Renault) are increasingly offering new purchase options in which the vehicle is sold without the battery pack at the same price as a conventional vehicle. The battery is then leased over three or four years typically at around £70 per month.

In summary, for an EV to be right for you, you need to have: (1) access to home or workplace off-street parking for place to charge, (2) be looking to buy or lease a new or nearly new car, (3) be prepared to have a car with a 70-100 mile range between charges, and (4) be an early adopter who wants to have the latest gizmos – it’s going to get the neighbours talking for sure.

What sort of domestic parking arrangements and electricity supply do you need to be able to recharge an electric vehicle?
View answer

You need access to some form of off-street parking so you can get a cable to your car. Trailing cables over the pavement is not recommended under any circumstances; and it’s not currently possible for local councils to install an on-street charger near your home. So either a garage (with power) or a private drive is required. ONS Omnibus and English House Condition surveys suggest that around 80% of UK car-owning households already have access to a garage or other off-street parking facility (<50% urban, 70% sub-urban, and > 95% rural).

You should also know that the Government has launched the Homecharge scheme which provides up to 75% (capped at £700 including VAT) of the total capital costs of the charge point plus associated installation costs.  Eligible units include a single dedicated unit rated at 3 kW (Mode 2 ‘slow’, 16A, fitted with a domestic 3-pin socket) or 7 kW (Mode 3 ‘fast’, 32A, typically using a Type 2 'Mennekes'  connector). All current EVs are currently able to use either Mode 2 or Mode 3 charging units using an appropriate connecting cable.

For more info: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/plug-in-vehicle-chargepoint-grants.

Most battery electric vehicles will accept a 13 A 'slow' supply that will charge a typical EV in 6-8 hours. In theory this could be using a standard 3-pin plug. But the industry is getting a bit nervous about EVs being plugged into old sockets that haven't seen an electrician for a few decades (or more) and want to avoid any scenario which involves a garage burning down due to bad wiring.

So as a minimum, we'd suggest a modern dedicated 16 A socket with a circuit breaker that can deliver 3 kW power as supplied by a reputable supplier of EV home charge points. However, if you want to future proof your garage for EVs, then we recommend a single-phase 32 A, 7 kW unit which will allow 'fast' charging (taking typically 3-4 hours). It's also worth remembering that, if you buy an EV, most come with a deal from a charge point supplier who will install a high quality socket for your car – typically at a cost of £500-£1,000.

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?
View answer

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.

What is the average range of an EV?
View answer

The latest battery electric vehicles have a range and performance that is more than adequate for most private and business driving applications up to around 100 miles per day including: city driving, commuting, regular drive cycles (such as delivery routes), short range trips and where only zero or low emission vehicles are allowed access.

A word of warning, however, on the official driving ranges which are measures on the New European Drive Cycle test cycle. As this no longer represents real world driving, many EV owners report (and accept) lower driving ranges of around 15-20% less than the official figures. This would reduce the effective range to around 80 miles for most mid-priced BEVs.

Using heaters and air-con can further reduce range in cold or hot weather. That said, even a 60 mile range in the depth of winter with full use of on-board heater will still be sufficient for most urban based trips.

While most plug-in hybrids are capable of 15-40 miles in EV mode (depending on model), they have no range limitation as compared to conventional vehicles as the vehicle reverts to using the on-board engine if all the battery energy is depleted.

As part of the next round of EV launches, manufacturers are likely to offer different battery packages, with the option to pay less for a short range EV (<100 miles) or more for one with a higher than average range (>200 miles).

Why is there so little choice of EV models?
View answer

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.