I recently tried to restart my car after having left it completely untouched in my parents’ garage for about 5 months. Safe to say, it was in a sorry state – the battery was dead, the wheels had seized, and the driver’s window was somehow stuck half open. After the first 40 minutes of trying to resurrect the car, I started to consider whether I really even needed one in these new times, and if I did what that car might be?
Like many others over the last year, I have noticed the quieter, calmer roads, and read the news about the reduction in air pollution and carbon emissions due to less surface transport. So, I have decided that when I do start travelling more regularly again, I want to make sure that it is in a way that continues to contribute to these benefits. This could mean choosing to cycle and walk more regularly, but it could also mean swapping my beloved but severely battered VW Polo for an electric car…
As it turns out, a lot of other people have been thinking in the same way. 2020 was a record year for the sale of electric vehicles. In the UK, electric car ownership jumped up by 53% last year, and by December, electric and hybrid cars were outselling diesel cars by two-to-one.
And it’s not just individuals who are behind the growing momentum of EVs, organisations and companies, like Siemens, are also big drivers (excuse the pun). Siemens recently signed up to the EV100 initiative. This initiative brings together the world’s leading companies to commit to a fully electrified fleet by 2030. Siemens is the world’s second largest corporate fleet to make this pledge, behind only Deutschland Post DHL. For Siemens in the UK, this is a key milestone in our road to Net Zero. Our fleet alone accounts for over 60% of our direct carbon emissions, so making the switch to EV has never been more essential.
Despite the huge growth in popularity of EVs over the last year, I still found myself slightly unsure about the idea of committing to an electric car. Classic concerns about charging impracticality and expense were definitely up there. As a 24 -year-old graduate, I am a good few years off being able to buy a new car! But it was something more emotionally rooted that initially put me off the idea of an EV. I am by no means a car expert (I would say that my car knowledge is around that of regular Top Gear watcher) but I have always loved cars and loved driving them. My favourites are older car-cars, things like Jaguar E-Types, Mustang Fastbacks (Steve McQueen one), or even early VW Golfs. So, I think it is something about the futuristic sleekness of EVs that I find maybe just a bit… uncool?
But, I have to say that after a bit of research my views on EVs have changed quite considerably. In fact, an electric car now seems like an affordable, practical, and even ‘cool’ option…
EVs are really expensive.
Yes and no. At first glance, EVs do appear to be more expensive than an equivalent petrol or diesel car. They often have a higher purchase or monthly lease cost (although the government do offer a £2500 grant for people buying an electric car under £35,000). Despite this, it has been shown that overall, it is cheaper to own an electric car than a petrol or diesel car. In other words, the savings that you make by owning an electric car pay off the initial increased cost of buying or leasing one. This is for three main reasons: less tax, less fuel cost, and less maintenance.
Let’s start with tax. Unlike petrol and diesel cars, you do not have to pay road tax for EVs. This makes a big difference – a £546 difference if you’re deciding between a diesel Mercedes GLC Estate or its electric counterpart a Mercedes EQC. The same is found at the lower end of the scale. Leasing a 5-door Nissan Leaf (the UK’s best-selling electric car) can cost you about £177 a month. Compare this to a petrol VW Golf which costs £179 a month but, including road tax, is £193 a month. Overall, the VW Golf works out £192 more expensive a year, and that’s not even including the savings on fuel or maintenance – don’t worry, we’ll get there.
It is far cheaper to charge and electric car than it is to fuel a petrol or diesel car. EDF energy calculated that it costs, on average, around 4p/mile to charge an electric car, in comparison to 9p/mile for a petrol car. Basically, every mile you travel is twice as expensive in a petrol car than an electric. Add on to this that many public charging points are free to use, especially in places like supermarkets, as it encourages more business to the area. Imagine how nice it would be to roll up to your local supermarket and find a free petrol station…
EVs also need less maintenance than petrol cars. This boils down to the fact that they have fewer moving parts, so there is less to go wrong. Fewer trips to the garage, less cost. EVs also retain their value better than petrol or diesel cars: your average petrol car will retain about 40% of its value after three years, for an average electric car it is around 49%. You also have to bear in mind that petrol and diesel cars will become increasingly harder to sell, so this will only dampen their residual value further.
The financial benefits of having an EV are even clearer if you are a part of the Siemens Vehicle Plan. As with road tax, you pay very little Benefits in Kind tax for an EV. To show how this works in practice, consider a Tesla Model S and a petrol Mercedes S 450L AMG Line. For the Tesla you have to pay between 0-2% BIK tax a year equating between £0-£60. For the Mercedes on the other hand, you have to pay 37% BIK tax a year, that’s around £1100. To summarise, you will save over £1000 a year if you choose a Tesla instead of a petrol Mercedes.
Still, for me, buying a new electric car is slightly out of reach. But I definitely would consider leasing one, especially when leasing options are becoming more and more flexible. I am particularly intrigued about the idea of a monthly subscription type scenario, as being trialled by Volvo, and Citroen are going even further with their Citroen Ami concept – think an electric car version of Boris bikes that is open to young teenagers. I don’t even know if it is exciting or terrifying.
The charging and range situation is impractical.
The main concerns surrounding EVs are about range and charging. These used to be legitimate concerns back in 2010, when electric cars could only travel between 70-100 miles on a charge, but not anymore. The Kia e-Nero, a family favourite, travels between 200-300 miles on a single charge. That is a lot when you consider that the average person in the UK travels around only 30 miles a day…
Home charging is undoubtedly the best way forward with an EV. Including the OLEV government grant of £350, home chargers cost around £550 to install. When we are talking about home charging, we’re talking about 7kW chargers. These chargers are much faster than plugging your car into a normal wall socket, like you would a kettle, but slower than the chargers you will find at a service station or supermarket. These home 7kW chargers are normally used to charge your car overnight. By using a smart charger, you can control what time you want to use your car in the morning, and the charger will work out when to charge your car at the lowest cost and carbon levels. To give you an example, it takes around 5 hours to charge an VW e-Golf, giving you 125 miles, and costing you about £1.75. These prices are even cheaper if you have an EV electricity tariff which gives you better rates overnight when you are charging your car. One could argue that being able to charge your car overnight at home is a lot more convenient than having to stop at a petrol station when you are out and about.
What if though, like me, you can’t install a home charger. You live in a flat, or a rented house, or you don’t have off-street parking – does this mean that an electric car is not feasible? Well, it’s a bit tricker, but not impossible. It also highlights why workplace charging will become so important. If it’s not possible to charge your car overnight at home, it makes your life much easier if you can charge it at your work instead. Siemens plc currently has 47 charge points across its UK sites, with a view to upgrading and adding more chargers soon.
The game changer for EVs has been the huge uplift in the public charging networks. There are EV charge points everywhere: supermarkets, shopping centres, service stations, even cinemas. In fact, there are now more EV charge points across the UK than there are petrol stations. Yep, you read that right. By using an app like ZapMap, it is extremely easy to find a charge point near you if you find yourself low on range. The majority of these public chargers are fast or rapid, meaning that you can charge your car to full between 40-60 minutes. Trust me, now you’ve read this you will spot public chargers everywhere.
Just as a final nail in the impracticality coffin, one could argue that charging an EV is even more efficient than refuelling petrol car. A car is stationary and unused for around 95% of the time. Being able to plug-in and leave your car to recharge while it is in this state, whether that is at home overnight or while you’re shopping, utilises time that was previously unused. Refuelling requires your time and presence, whereas recharging is an independent and unobtrusive secondary activity.
EVs are just a bit… uncool.
This was my last (and arguably least legitimate) concern with EVs, but I thought I’d put it out there in case anyone felt the same.
Now, of course, how ‘cool’ or ‘uncool’ you find a car is completely subjective and comes down to personal choice. Fortunately, there is a lot of room to choose when it comes to electric vehicles. In 2020, there were more than 130 different plug-in cars and vans available. These span from trendy hatchbacks and affordable family cars from like likes of VW, Kia, Nissan, Renault, Hyundai and MINI, to the more up-market cars from Tesla, Audi, Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar and Porsche. And there are more to come, including new electric cars from Volvo, Ford Mustang and even Lotus – their Lotus Evija will be the world’s most powerful production car ever made (Google it).
The main thing that struck me when I was looking through these new electric cars, was how inventive some of the purely electric designs were, for example the new Mercedes Benz EQS. It was at this point that I started to realise how electric cars are beginning to move away from the traditional concept of a car, morphing instead into their own unique form of transport (I’m looking at you Citroen Ami).
I said at the start of this blog that it was my love of older, gritty, car-cars that made electric vehicles seem too sleek, futuristic and even slightly nerdy in comparison. But I think that it is my attempt to compare EVs to ICE cars which is where I am going wrong. I don’t think EVs should be seen as an updated version of the ICE car, but rather, part of a new transport concept entirely. Therefore, I’ve realised that I can do both. I can love the traditional cars of the past, whilst also driving an innovative electric vehicle; both excited and proud of the fact that am choosing to be a part of a societal change to a more sustainable future. And that, I think, is very cool.
If you are interested in learning more about how to transition to an EV, I would recommend that you watch the YouTube series ‘Maddie Goes Electric’. In these videos, Maddie blogs the entire process of switching to an EV in an easy, quick and watchable format: https://fullycharged.show/episodes/maddie-goes-electric-supercut/
 Figures calculated using the CarWow price comparison website: https://www.carwow.co.uk/