In Depth

What are the pros and cons of electric car ownership?

EV sales hit a record high in July, but do they beat combustion-engined vehicles?

The electric car revolution is racing ahead, with some of the world’s biggest manufacturers confirming their intentions of entering the EV market with exciting new vehicles.   

The most recent addition to the electric fleet is the critically acclaimed Tesla Model 3, the cheapest model that Elon Musk’s EV brand has to offer. Audi, meanwhile, launched its first mass-production electric car, the e-Tron - earlier this year, as did Mercedes-Benz with its EQC crossover.

Electric cars are proving to be a hit with buyers, too. Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reveal that 2,271 of the 157,198 vehicles sold in July were battery electric cars, representing a 158.1% increase on the 880 EVs sold during the same period in 2018.

So what are the pros and cons of personal electric vehicles

Pro: cheap to run

With no need to stop at a petrol station a few times a month to fill up with fuel, electric cars are far kinder to their owners’ wallets than their combustion-engined counterparts. 

According to The Sun, EV owners who charge their car at home will pay on average £3.64 to fill an empty battery. Using a rapid charger, a system that can top up batteries in less than an hour, is more expensive at £6.50 for 30 minutes of use, but that’s still far cheaper than filling a petrol or diesel car up with fuel.  

Electric car drivers aren’t just saving money on running costs, either, as the Government offers a £3,500 grant to buyers who purchase an all-electric vehicle. 

The figure had been £4,500, but the Department for Transport announced last October that the electric car grant would be cut owing to the “exceptional demand” around EVs, Auto Express reports. 

Plus, owners of EVs costing less than £40,000 are exempt from paying vehicle excise duty (VED), says WhatCar?. Cars with a price tag of over £40,000, such as the Jaguar I-Pace, are subject to a “fee of £310 for years two to six of ownership”.

Con: they’re expensive to buy

While electric car drivers don’t have to pay road tax or worry about fuel prices, EVs still carry higher price tags than their combustion-engined counterparts. 

For example, an entry-level Volkswagen Golf with a 1.0-litre petrol engine costs around £18,400, while the electric version – the e-Golf – has a price tag of £33,300. That makes the electric model almost £15,000 more expensive than the petrol car. 

It many not be the most accurate comparison, given that the e-Golf is crammed full of tech options that aren’t available on the petrol car, but there’s “still a hefty difference” in price between the two cars, says BuyACar.

Pro: almost silent running

One of the key characteristics of electric vehicles that make them appealing to car buyers is their near-silent powertrain. 

Starting an electric vehicle is a completely silent process void of the rumble and vibrations of a combustion-engined car, while tyre and wind noise is the only noticeable sound when on the move. 

“Car lovers really like the silence”, says Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Technology Review, but some argue that “extremely quiet” EVs may be dangerous for pedestrians. This is because people are used to “relying upon the sounds of vehicles” when crossing the road. 

However, some manufacturers are coming up with creative ways to warn pedestrians that a car is approaching while still retaining an EV’s almost silent characteristics.

Nissan, for instance, created a synthesised noise called Canto, Latin for “song”, for its all-electric IMx concept last October, The Daily Telegraph says. 

Con: not as clean as some think

As the name suggests, a fully-electric car is propelled exclusively by batteries and motors, meaning the car itself does not produce any carbon emissions. But that doesn’t mean electric cars are completely zero-emissions.

According to Autocar, the carbon footprint for electric cars is only marginally smaller than that of its combustion-engined counterparts. That comes down to the manufacturing process, as “nearly half” of the CO2 produced during an EV’s lifecycle results from the battery production.

However, based on the 300g/kWh of carbon gases generated during electric energy production in the UK, the magazine says EVs “still produce less CO2 during their lifetime than petrol and diesel cars”.

Plus, CleanTechnica reports that the lack of emissions produced by EV cars on the road makes up for the CO2 created during the manufacturing processing within the first six months of being driven. 

Pro: impressive acceleration 

Electric cars may prioritise clean driving over performance, but most EVs will embarrass most supercars in a sprint from 0-60mph.

That’s because electric motors deliver “instant torque”, which in short means that the car accelerates as soon as the driver steps on the accelerator, says Auto Express. Combustion-engined cars, meanwhile, deliver maximum torque once their motor’s rpm reaches a certain point. 

The result is that electric cars can deliver 0-60mph times of less than three seconds, the motoring magazine says. Bear in mind, EVs usually have special performance modes that allow them to accelerate quickly, which can have a detrimental effect on battery life. 

Con: range anxiety is still an issue

Range anxiety, the concern that a vehicle’s power or fuel capacity isn’t enough to handle long distances, is still an issue for car buyers. 

Research by consulting firm Deloitte found that one third of car buyers would prefer a car with a range of at least 400 miles, Forbes reports, while “another third would settle for 300 miles”.

On the surface, this doesn’t bode well for electric cars. For instance, the £14,000 Renault Zoe had a range of around 250 miles under the previous New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) system, says Auto Express

While the Jaguar I-Pace has a claimed range of 298 miles under the more accurate Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP), it’s around £50,000 more expensive than the Renault. 

The network of EV charging points is also “dramatically” outnumbered by the number of petrol stations in the UK, says Car magazine. 

However, the UK now has 13,000 charging stations, five times the amount that was available in 2011 and that figure is set to grow “at a decent rate” over the next few years, the magazine says.

Pro: ease of leasing

Consumers can spread the cost through a lease deal, notes consumer magazine Parkers.

With leasing, buyers make fixed monthly payments over a certain period, often two years or 36 months, in a manner similar to many smartphone deals. The lease agreement covers “all aspects of ownership except insurance and the electricity needed to charge the car”, including servicing and general maintenance, the magazine says.

Con: charging times

Charging an EV may be far cheaper than filling a conventional car with fuel, but the time it takes to top up a depleted battery can be a turn-off for some buyers. 

According to car comparison website BuyaCar, car charging times vary depending on the charger’s power output. For example, a standard three-pinned socket can fully charge an electric car in 12 hours, while Tesla’s growing network of public Superchargers can top up an EV to 80% in about half an hour. 

There are ways to improve charging speeds at home, such as buying a wall-mounted battery pack, the site says. These cost around £500 and provide “between 15 and 30 miles” of charge per hour, significantly more than the 7.5 miles of charge per hour offered by three-pinned sockets.

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