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 option for an large number of UK motorists.
This buying guide provides an overview of the key issues to consider when looking to buy an electric vehicle; which include whether an EV is right for you, the availability and choice of electric models, and the impact on vehicle ownership and running costs.
There 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? And are you looking to buy a new or nearly-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).
While it is never advisable to trail an electric cable across pavements or other public areas to connect a car parked on-street with your household electricity supply, 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 or nearly-new car – 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 more expensive than their conventional equivalents, a situation likely to remain the case for some time.
That said, there are some bargains to be had if you are looking to buy a two to three year old EV – see our EV Classifieds for the latest offers. Most of these will still be under warranties which cover the battery and power-train.
Although 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 consumer. This has involved increasing driving range and reducing vehicle price. A new recharging infrastructure is also being rapidly developed across the UK.
The key year was 2011, the year when the current EV revolution truly began as can be seen in the number of fully electric and plug-in hybrid models available in the UK. While only 9 EVs were available from the major manufacturers in 2011, this increased to 18 models in 2013, and now stands at 25 high-quality cars and vans (in early 2015) with more models due for launch this year and next.
Figures from late 2014 show that the Nissan LEAF maintains its position as the most popular electric car in the UK, with at least 5,838 vehicles registered by the third quarter of 2014, representing over a third of all EV sales. The registration data also shows the new Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV made a dramatic entry to the UK market in 2014; the electric SUV is already in second position with over 2,706 sales less than a year after its UK release.
Use the electric vehicle search for a list of all the electric cars and vans available in the UK.
In general, electric vehicles are more expensive to buy than their petrol or diesel equivalents. However, since 2011, the Plug-in Car and Plug-in Van Grants have subsidised the purchase of eligible cars by 25% of the cost of the vehicle up to a maximum of £5,000; for vans, the amount is up to 20% up to a maximum of £8,000.
Both private car buyers and fleets are eligible to receive the grants, which are administered by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) – no application 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.
To be eligible under the current grant scheme vehicles must satisfy demanding criteria including: it must be a new car; tailpipe CO2 emissions must be 75 g/km or less; pure EVs must have a range of at least 70 miles; plug-in hybrids must have an electric range of at least 10 miles; and vehicles must be able to reach a speed of at least 60 mph.
EV buyers should be aware of changes to the Plug-in Car Grant due to take effect on 1st April 2015, from which date buyers of eligible electric cars will be able to claim 35% of the vehicle's OTR price as opposed to the 25% currently offered. However, as the PiCG will remain capped at £5,000, these changes really only affect electric vehicles with an OTR under £20,000.
To take account of rapidly developing technology, and the growing range of ULEVs on the market, the criteria for the Plug-in Car Grant is also being updated. From April 2015, eligible ULEVs must meet criteria in one of the following new categories:
Category 1: CO2 emissions less than 50g/km & a zero-emission range of at least 70 miles;
Category 2: CO2 emissions less than 50g/km & a zero-emission range of 10 - 69 miles; Category 3: CO2 emissions 50-75g/km & a zero-emission range of at least 20 miles.
Under the scheme, vehicles in all categories will continue to be eligible for the full grant of up to £5,000, until 50,000 grants are issued or the end of the budget period, whichever occurs first.
As EVs tend to have a high purchase price but low running costs, leasing may be a better proposition – indeed, some models (or battery packs) are only available on lease for this very reason. Leasing also removes some of the uncertainty about the resale value after 3-4 years – although this uncertainty is reflected in the leasing prices which tend to be higher than for similar conventional cars.
Three significant financial incentives significantly reduce the costs of running an electric car or van: Zero-rated car tax (Vehicle Excise Duty); Zero-rated fuel tax (electricity also only attracts 5% VAT for private use); and the Ultra Low Emission Discount Scheme (ULED) which effectively exempts EVs from paying the London Congestion Charge.
While electric vehicles may be expensive to buy or lease, electric cars and vans are exempt from Vehicle Excise Duty ('car tax'). Owners of electric vehicles will therefore save around £145 per year compared to an average conventional petrol or diesel car (VED Band F).
Fuel costs are also very low due to the competitive price of electricity (fuel duty is zero-rated) and to the high efficiency of the vehicles themselves – fuel costs can be as low as 3p per mile (depending on tariff). For an annual mileage of around 10,000 miles, switching from a conventional to an electric car or van could save you around £800 in fuel costs alone.
For drivers in and around London, the other major running cost to consider is the Congestion Charge. All electric cars are currently eligible for the Ultra Low Emission Discount Scheme on the London Congestion Charge, giving them a 100% discount on the Congestion Charge (although vehicles need to be registered and pay an annual £10 fee). With a standard £11.50 payable daily charge without the discount, this could provide a potential annual saving of over £2,000.