Should you join the charge and buy an electric car?
Green motoring is becoming financially attractive thanks to a drop in leasing prices and lower running costs
Is now the time to buy an electric car? Falls in financing costs mean that switching to a zero carbon-emitting vehicle won’t just help the environment, it can be cheaper than buying and running a conventional car.
When Guardian Money last looked at electric cars, the price premium for most models meant they made most financial sense to central London drivers keen to avoid the £11.50-a-day congestion charge – but for other motorists the case for going electric was less obvious. However, a drop in leasing costs, plus much lower running costs, have made the financial package much more attractive.
The popular Nissan Leaf, with a large 30kWh battery, can now be leased for about £240 a month with a deposit of £2,000. This is just £70 a month more than the larger, petrol-engined Nissan Juke and many supermini class vehicles.
When you consider that someone who uses their car to commute each day could easily be spending £70 on petrol a month, the green option is starting to look as good for your wallet as for the environment. The cost of an overnight charge that delivers a typical 100 miles of driving is about £3-£4 depending on your electricity tariff. To go the same distance in a petrol car would typically cost £15 – more if your journeys are all around town. This in part is why there are now 100,000 electric cars on UK roads, and 2m worldwide.
“Once you’ve got used to living with an electric car, most people say they’d never go back to a conventional one. You are driving the future,” says Melanie Shufflebotham who runs NextGreenCar, a website dedicated to low-carbon vehicles. An enthusiastic Nissan Leaf owner, she says improvements to the charging infrastructure, a greater awareness of the benefits of going electric in cities, and the fact that the technology is now proven have all allowed electric cars to move into the mainstream.
“Range anxiety is largely a thing of the past. The newest Renault Zoe, with its bigger battery, now offers a range of about 180 miles from a single charge – more than enough for most users who drive to and from work or similar,” Shufflebotham says. “I wouldn’t necessarily want to drive to Edinburgh, but I regularly drive my Leaf from Bristol to London with one fast 30-minute recharge at one of the Ecotricity charging points on the motorway network. For that I pay £6 – a fraction of the cost of filling a tank with petrol.”
Although electric car technology is proven to be reliable, she says her website recommends that users lease their electric car as at the end of the term they can simply hand them back. If there were a breakthrough in battery technology that brought down the cost of new models, older electric car values would likely plummet.
Shufflebotham says one of the things holding back electric vehicle take-up is the fact that you need a space close to the house to charge it at night. People living in terraced houses and relying upon on-street parking are currently scuppered unless they have a regular charging option at work.
Other points to consider are that while insurance is generally pricier, annual servicing is cheaper – £99 a year is typical. There is no oil to change and any significant problems should be covered by the warranty. With a government grant, home-charging points cost about £300 to install, while several manufacturers provide them as part of the sales package. Choose a car that allows fast charging and consider having a faster charger installed at home. It’s also worth noting that your car’s range will go down significantly in cold weather.
So which electric cars should you go for? The Renault Zoe may have the longest range (only outdone by the hugely expensive Teslas), but they are relatively expensive and buyers have to pay at least £59 a month to lease the battery.
For the best all-round package the Nissan Leaf is hard to beat, says Shufflebotham. The BMW i3 is another to consider but is significantly more expensive – on lease from £346 a month for four years with £2,076 up front. The new Hyundai Ionic or recently updated VW e-Golf are also worth considering.
Another to bear in mind is the Kia Soul EV. This all-electric Korean car is set to be a bestseller, according to Adam Kemp of Drive Electric, which specialises in electric car leasing. His firm, which currently has 1,000 electric cars out on lease, offers one for a competitive £222 a month with £1,332 up front. Auto Express gave the Kia Soul EV four stars when they tested it.
Kemp says one thing to consider as a private buyer is whether you can persuade your employer to offer you the chance to buy the car via a salary sacrifice scheme, which can bring the cost down hugely if you are a higher rate taxpayer.
• The ZapMap website and app will direct you to your nearest public charging station. There are more than 4,000 locations and 12,000 points in the UK.
Kerry lawyer Tim O’Leary and family junked their gas-guzzling SUV for an all-electric Nissan Leaf.
“I can confirm that owning and driving an electric car is low-cost, no-guilt driving in a car that reverses all the clichés.
“People often ask me: ‘What happens when you run out of electricity?’ The answer is: ‘I don’t know because I never have.’ Range anxiety seems to exist with people who don’t have electric cars. Everyone who has them, like me, raves about them.
“There is a gauge that tells you your available range and you quickly get used to what it can do, which is most of your driving. Our family – we have four children – does about 13,000km a year with no problems. Nearly all our charging is done at home overnight. Longer trips do take a bit of planning but all public chargers in Ireland are free. It can also be fast-charged in about 20 minutes to 80% battery.
“I have also been asked: ‘Can you overtake in such a slow car?’ It is actually very quick as you have something like maximum torque available instantly and there are no gear changes.
“It is also low cost to run. A full charge gives you a realistic range in my car of about 60 to 80 miles and costs about £2 of night-rate electricity. There is nothing to service, bar brake pads and tyres, and it is reliable as there is basically a big battery and a small electric motor to drive the front wheels. It’s solid on the road.
“Most Leaf drivers will tell you it starts off as a second car but usually becomes the first car in the house, and it does 90% of the driving in our house. When I was doing exams, 90% was an A grade.
“My next one’s a Tesla!”
A car club that aims to have a fleet of electric cars across London is to be expanded, and will soon have 50 cars available for rent in the capital.
Owned by the same company that offers 4,000 electric cars for instant use in Paris, Bluecity has been offering the residents of Hammersmith and Fulham the chance to hire an electric car for as little as 20 minutes. The scheme, which started as a trial in April with 30 cars, aims to have cars all over London. It works in a similar way to the Santander bike scheme or purchase-by-the-hour car clubs such as Zip Car.
Once you have signed up, users log on to their phone to book a car, which they pick up from their nearest location with the swipe of a smart card. When they’ve finished they return it to the charging station nearest to their end destination and plug it in to recharge.
Residents of Hammersmith and Fulham, Merton and Hounslow are being offered a 12-month free subscription and free rental hours to encourage them to try. For others, membership is free for the first month and then £5 subsequently. Users pay 17p a minute for the duration of a rental. It means an hour-long drive would cost £10.20 (there is a 20-minute minimum charge) and insurance is included.
The cars should do close to 100 miles before they need to be recharged and can be dropped off at any of about 400 charging points across 16 boroughs. It’s a good option for anyone who wants to try out an electric car, or for those who might need a cheap car for short periods.
If you crash you have to pay the first £200 of a first claim, £450 of the second and £750 if you’re unlucky enough to have a third accident.
Anyone with a driving licence and a bank card can use the service, making it great option for 18-year-olds.