Electric car buying guide

With several new electric models due to be launched during 2015, and the Plug-in Car Grant now guaranteed until 2017, the next few years promise to be exciting ones for electric cars. Buying an electric car is now a real possibility as a number of major manufacturers launch high quality, fully electric models onto the UK market.

Who should buy an electric car?

buying an electric carThere are three key issues that determine whether a battery electric car is right for you.

  • Do you have access to off-street parking?
  • Is your daily mileage under 100 miles?
  • Are you looking to buy a new car?

First, you need to have access to a garage, drive or other off-street parking area to be able to recharge an electric car overnight, the most common form of recharging method. Recent research suggests 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).

Unless proper provision is made with the permissions of your the local authority, it is not advisable to trail an electric cable across pavements or other public areas to connect a car parked on-street with your household electricity supply. However, if on-street parking is the only possibility, all is not lost. The latest Government funding allows householders to apply for a public on-street charge point close to where they live. Interested homeowners should contact their local authority who can apply for funding on their behalf and manage the installation.

Second, your driving mileage needs to be less than around 100 miles per day, preferably on a regular route that you know well. For example, regular commuting trips are well suited to electric cars – around two-thirds of commuting trips are less than 10 miles and, most significantly, they are routine journeys for which the driver knows what to expect with respect to distance, route, congestion, road conditions and parking.

Third, you need to be able to afford a new car – very few electric cars (as opposed to electric quadricycles) are yet available on the used car market. And, as is discussed later in the guide, electric cars are significantly more expensive than their conventional equivalents, a situation likely to remain the case for some time.

Recent trials have also made a useful observation regarding the way electric cars are used within multi-car owning households. While manufacturers initially thought that electric vehicles would be bought to replace a second or third car, research shows that once an electric car is purchased by a household, it tends to be preferred for all short local trips, with the other 'main' car only being used for longer journeys.

What models are available now?

electric vehicle pricesAlthough electric vehicles have been available for decades, only recently have the major manufacturers invested in high quality electric models to meet the needs of twenty-first century. This has involved increasing driving range and reducing vehicle price. A new recharging infrastructure is also being rapidly developed across the UK.

While a number of specialist companies had already developed small electric city cars (which are actually legally classed as 'quadricycles') – including the Reva G-WIZ micro-car and the MEGA City – more recently, mainstream auto makers are now offering proper electric cars, with most of the major manufacturers likely to follow suit in the next two years.

With this accelerated development, the price of electric cars is also falling. Although they remain more expensive than conventional cars, some new electric models such as the Nissan LEAF are now priced at around £25,000, supported by the recently extended Plug-in Car Grant worth up to £5,000 against the purchase of selected new electric vehicles in the UK. That said, a report by LowCVP clearly shows that (on average) electric cars will continue to have higher whole life costs at least until 2030 – see also EV costs.

The vehicles that qualify for the Plug-in Car Grant now include at least sixteen electric cars – with more to become eligible during 2015. Both private car buyers and fleets can receive the Grant, which is administered by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) – 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.

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