Three issues will decide if an electric vehicle (EV) is the right choice of car or van for you: charging, price and range. With an increasing number of models from well-known brands, rapidly reducing prices and continually improving range, EVs already meet the needs of many drivers.
First, charging. To own a pure-EV, ideally you should have off-street parking where you can install a charge point, as the majority of EVs are charged overnight. This will also mean that your vehicle is fully charged each morning and ready to drive. A second option is to charge at work; many businesses are installing chargers for employees and for customer use.
Plug-in hybrid EV users will also benefit from having a home or workplace charger although it is obviously not essential as PHEVs have a conventional engine as back-up. If therefore you don't have access to a regular charging point, a PHEV would be a more suitable type of EV.
While slow charging can be carried out using a standard 3-pin socket (2-3 kW supply for 6-8 hours), because of the high current drawn by an EV, it is strongly recommended that EV owners install a dedicated charging unit by an accredited installer. Better still is to opt for a higher-powered unit (typically 7 kW) which can 'fast' charge most pure-EVs in half that time.
The second issue is price. Most EVs are only available as new as the electric vehicle market continues to grow. Where direct comparisons can be made, EVs typically cost around £2,000 more than conventional models, although lower tax and running costs provide a way to reduce total driving costs over the longer term; particularly if you do most charging at home where electricity is cheapest.
Considering fuel costs alone over 10,000 miles, the plug-in hybrid VW Golf GTE would cost under £600 to run (topping up the battery each day) and the pure-electric VW e-Golf less than £400. Compare this with more than £1,250 for a petrol or diesel Golf over the same distance. In fact, the more you drive the quicker you'll recoup the higher upfront purchase costs.
That said, prices are coming down as increasing numbers of EVs hit the road and battery costs continue to fall. Likewise, battery development means cars are going further on a single charge than ever before. An emerging used EV market is also making access to affordable plug-in cars a real option for buyers of nearly-new and older models.
The third issue is range. If you regularly drive more than 150 miles in a day and don't have time to routinely plan a charging stop, then most pure-EVs are not for you. That is unless you are in the market for a premium model, some of which can comfortably cover up to 300 miles. Instead, consider a plug-in hybrid which can be powered by electricity or conventional fuel, the latter providing back-up beyond EV-only range.
What EVs are there to choose from?
The last year has seen the number of electric models accelerate to the point where there are now pure-EV and PHEV offerings in just about every market segment, with many more already in the pipeline. Whereas Nissan, BMW and Tesla were once ground-breaking in offering high-quality EV models (with the LEAF, i3 and Model S respectively), almost all the major motor manufacturers are gearing-up to manufacture EVs on a vast scale.
The new rate of progress in the auto-world has much in common with IT and tech. Only three years ago, the Nissan LEAF had a real range of around 100 miles, whereas the latest model is capable of almost 190 miles. The all-new Hyundai Kona and Jaguar I-Pace have now raised the bar even further, offering real-world ranges of between 250 and 300 miles.
Even Volkswagen, once infamous for diesel-gate, is also now fully committed to electrification across the Group's brands, which include Skoda, Seat, Audi and Porsche. In addition to the e-Golf, e-Up!, Passat GTE and Golf GTE already in showrooms, the company has announced no less than 27 EV models for launch over the next five years.
In the PHEV market, Mitsubishi continues to dominate with the Outlander PHEV, which has proved a highly popular model due in large part to low company car BIK rates available for EVs. A host of quality plug-in hybrids are also offered by Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW, most of which can drive well beyond 20 miles in electric-only mode.
To compare these new EVs, many of which are built on dedicated e-platforms, with conventional models, consider the following car equivalents: Renault's best-selling ZOE pure-EV compares well on size and spec with the well-known Clio; the Nissan LEAF is in the same segment as the Golf, Ford Focus, and Vauxhall Astra; and the Hyundai Kona EV can be pitched against the Renault Captur, Mazda CX-3 and Peugeot 2008.
In summary, EVs are being launched across the board and at many more price points, with the next generation moving from premium to value brands. Pure-EVs and plug-in hybrids are also becoming available in many more car segments. For example, Jaguar's I-Pace enters the SUV market to compete with models from BMW, Mercedes Benz and Audi, all of which will offer a pure-electric rival within the next 6-12 months. Volkswagen's forthcoming I.D. range even includes an all-electric version of their iconic camper van, the I.D. BUZZ.
Whether yours is a vehicle for the daily commute, for family use, for a business or for leisure trips, an electric option is either already in a showroom or will be very soon indeed.