Electric and hybrid cars are here to stay – we can tell by the swathes of top ten lists. It’s estimated that last year the number of registered plug-in vehicles hit more than 50,000 – that’s up from a measly 3,500 in 2013.
Whilst the number of electric and hybrid vehicles remains much smaller than their gas-guzzling siblings, they’re still the fastest-growing section of the auto industry.
The rise of the electric vehicle could be brought on by genuine environmental concern, or by the auto industry’s need to get a head-start on that fossil fuel-free future. Whatever the reason, the industry is in its most fast-paced, transformative period – and the UK’s roads are about to change.
What’s The Tech Like These Days?
Outside of the adorable, futuristic wonder that is the world’s first 3-D printed electric car, the majority of current electric vehicle technology research tends to focus on range; how far can our Nissan Leaf go before we need to use one of those embarrassing public plugs?
The big cars to watch this year all have ranges of around 200km, with the Tesla Model S standing out at 500km (and, at £89,435, standing much further than that out of most people’s price range).
Current technology might not quite have us driving from Edinburgh to London without stopping, but at least we can make that trip on full electric! There’s a constantly updating map of charge points available, with – at the time of writing – 3855 different locations in the UK to charge your car.
The wait time to charge your car depends on the size of its battery and the plug in your wall, but the average time to full charge using a standard, three-pin wall plug would be between six and eight hours. It’s much faster at the big public ones.
Does It Have To Cost So Much?
The UK Government has, following great success, extended its Plug-In Car Grant until 2018. If you go electric, the Department of Transport will give you up to £4,500 toward the cost. See whether the car you want is eligible for a grant here.
In addition to this there is a rapidly-growing network of free public charging points in Scotland, and grants for at-home charging stations handed out with most cars in England and Scotland. This should help ease the shame of those who’ve had to use public “trickle posts,” which some believe have slowed the sale of electric vehicles.
In Scotland again – the UK’s electric vehicle testing ground – there’s been an introduction of interest-free loans to buy the cars, along with a large and rapidly-growing network of free nationwide charging points; it’s looking like the beginning of an electric takeover up north, and a similar incentivising scheme could work just as well throughout the rest of the country.
Also, remember to factor in that using an electric car means paying low to no road tax – and soon you might even get to use bus lanes.
So Why Aren’t Electric Cars More Popular?
It could be the up-front cost. Buying an electric vehicle, even with the grant, is likely to cost more than £20,000. However, there’s little doubt that an electric car is better value for money once you have it: one Nissan Leaf’s fuel costs totalled £358 over two years, versus the £2,635 of a Skoda Fabia.
The answer could be more grants, or just more competition; with more automobile giants entering the electric game every year, there could soon be enough on the market for their prices to drop and use to become more widespread.
Investing in companies that are already changing the face of fuel, such as Nissan and BMW, could be one way to help fund research into making their products even more efficient, and therefore cheaper and more accessible to the mainstream marketplace.
How Long Until Electric Cars Are The New Normal?
Gordon Brown once predicted an electric takeover by 2020, and hasn’t backed down. Carlos Ghosn, the head of Renault-Nissan, has been similarly optimistic: unfazed by the inaccuracy of his prediction that his company would have sold 1.5 million electric vehicles by 2016, he recognises that the “price penalty” is the only real remaining barrier.
Renault-Nissan, along with other players in the auto industry, are working on dropping that price as quickly as possible – and if the government incentives work, then by 2018 when they stop, there should be enough infrastructure present to let the electric vehicle market blossom organically.