The number of electric cars is on the rise here in Britain and in a recent episode of Top Gear, even Jeremy Clarkson professed his love for the new BMW i8, preferring it in a road test over the new M3. To gauge the public’s reaction to electric cars, and to see how true some of the myths surrounding electric cars are, we took a dive into our used car database and looked at some official statistics from across the EU. With electric cars now becoming more popular, is it time to debunk some of these eco myths? Here, we aim to find out exactly how good electric cars can be, and why they’re yet to properly challenge diesel and petrol models.
Electric Car Sales On the Rise in the EU
Research undertaken by the European Automotive Manufacturers Association has revealed that, in 2014, electric vehicle registrations grew by 36.6% in the EU. In addition to this, although electrically charged vehicle (ECV[i]) registrations in the EU decreased by 7.7%, over 24,500 were still registered. Of this total, purely battery electric vehicles (BEVs[ii]) accounted for half of the total, with 12,755 sold in Q4, a 51.5% increase from the same quarter the previous year.
The UK is Driving the Rise
In 2014 as a whole, 75,331 new ECVs were registered in the EU. When looking at a countrywide split for this figure, it is clear that the UK has been a driving force for this rise, witnessing a 300.8% increase in the number of registrations. In addition, the UK is not the only country seeing large registration increases, as Germany saw their number of registrations increase by 70.2% while France saw theirs increase by 29.8%
Data sourced from the ACEA
However, despite the fact that the electric vehicle market surged by 37% last year, electric cars still account for only 0.6% of all new car registrations, and it appears as though more must be done through policy initiatives to encourage greater take-up. But, the question now remains, what must be done to boost these numbers so that electric cars reach the mainstream and end our reliance on fossil fuels?
What is the UK Currently Doing to Promote Eco Cars?
Many analysts and commentators seem in agreement that the steps currently taken in the UK are helping to encourage people to buy electric cars. However, this is only a starting point, and more needs to be done. Central to this is the government’s Plug-In Car Grant.
These plug-in car and van grants include:
- 25% off the cost of a car, up to a maximum of £5,000
- 20% off the cost of a van, up to a maximum of £8,000
The SMMT has revealed that, since the inception of the Plug-in Car Grant, 22,408 eligible cars have been registered. This is undoubtedly great news, and shows that the scheme is clearly taking effect. However, with only 22,000 registrations, it is also clear that this remains relatively niche, and it is failing to convince the mainstream that electric cars are preferable to petrol or diesel models.
In addition to this scheme, drivers of electric cars gain other bonuses. At present, electric car users do not have to pay VED (road tax), and there is also a range of tax incentives for business users. In addition to this, electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are eligible for a 100% discount on London’s Congestion Charge. Some London boroughs – although this varies – also offer free or reduced cost parking for electric vehicles.
However, these measures alone do not seem to be enough to convince many users who still have reservations about vehicle range and charging accessibility. In order to make electric cars more viable for the average driver, wider EU-level support across nations is deemed to be required in order for markets to make a substantial shift and push electric vehicles into the mainstream, placing them on a par with conventionally fuelled vehicles.
Through the 2020s, it is thought that the electric vehicle markets could grow between 2 and 8 percent; although more charging stations will be required across the EU to reach the higher end of this scale. In addition, uniform standards for electric vehicle technology would also help, although the tighter 2025 CO2 standards for Europe could encourage investments in clean technology. So, with this in mind, how viable and affordable is it to drive an electric car in the UK?
How Accessible and Affordable Are Electric Cars?
The Mayor of London is committed to putting 100,000 electric vehicles on the streets of the capital by 2020, but how appealing are these for customers who are currently uneasy about ownerships due to fears over cost and accessibility? And how achievable is this target?
In order to assess these, we took a detailed look at those available on AA Cars. As of 03/03/2015, we offered 212 electric cars across the country. When this search was widened to include hybrids, the figure rose to 1,882.
Most Popular Purely Electric Cars Available on www.vcars.co.uk as of 03/03/2015
In terms of cost, for the five most popular models available on the site, the average price of an available car is a rather affordable £13,430, making purchasing a purely electric car no more expensive than a new Ford Focus, which starts at £13,995.
Most Popular Hybrid Cars Available on www.vcars.co.uk as of 03/03/2015
When looking at this data regionally, it appears as though there is a relatively even split across the country, with the highest number available in Greater London. Due to this, it looks like London’s parking regulations and the free congestion charge are having an impact on the number of electric cars located there, even if the number remains low.
With over 24,500 plug-in electric vehicles registered in the UK up to December 2014, it appears that the Mayor of London remains a fair distance away from reaching his target. However, with more than half of these registered in 2014, progress is nevertheless being made. For example, in 2010, only 138 electric cars were registered, compared with 14,498 in 2014. At present, the Nissan Leaf is the top selling plug-in electric car, with 7,200 cars sold in December 2014
This surge in plug-in car sales has been driven by the introduction of a number of new models across the market, as well as improving technology. So, with this in mind, we have to look at whether the ‘facts’ surrounding eco cars and electrics cars are still true, or whether we need to do some myth busting. In our final section, we aim to find out.
Debunking Eco Myths
Buying Electric Cars is Expensive: As already explained, the average price for buying one of the five most popular electric cars on AA Cars is £13,430, and that’s less than a new Ford Focus.
They’re Not as Fun to Drive as Petrol Cars: Electric cars today are a long way from the old jokes about milk floats. They provide the instant performance you’d expect. Many of them have exceptionally rapid acceleration from a standing start and provide instant performance when you touch the accelerator. And they are very, very quiet!
The Range isn’t Enough to Get Me From A to B: The range of your electric car is almost entirely dependent on the make and model you choose. Something like a Tesla Model S provides a range of 265 miles, that’s enough for you to get from London to Nottingham on a single charge! But for most people the average car journey length is only just over seven milesiii which means that for most families, an electric car would be more than suitable, especially if it was used as a second car. Conventional cars wouldn’t even fully warm up over such short distances, meaning low fuel economy and additional wear on the engine. But for an electric vehicle this isn’t an issue and the power is available instantly.
Running Them is Expensive: The running costs of an electric car are actually relatively low. If you travel around 40 miles a day, then you’ll probably spend around £180-£200 on petrol in a month, whereas the equivalent electricity cost is around £15-£20.
Although it will admittedly take 6-8 hours to fully charge an electric car, the typical cost of a mile of electricity is 3p according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers, compared with 16p per mile for petrol/diesel. This means that fully charging the battery of most electric cars will cost less than a pint of milk. Indeed until recently charging a car at public charging points was free and although the government has ended its subsidy the cost benefits still stack up especially if you are charging your car at home.
And with no car tax, no London congestion charge and sometimes even free parking the cost savings can be considerable compared with a conventional car.
To conclude, electric car sales in the UK are on the rise. In many ways, we’re ‘leading the charge’ in Europe, with sales of electric cars improving by over 300% last year. The various government initiatives such as the Plug-In Car Grant and free car tax have certainly helped and it’s vital that the government continues to the development of the charging infrastructure.
Even so, electric cars have yet to properly hit the mainstream. This is likely because people are still wary of electric cars and the myths surrounding them, especially the risk of ‘running out of juice’ mid-journey. But, with technology ever improving, maybe it is time we left these in the past out on the road to a greener future?
 Total Electrically Charged Vehicles (ECVs) = Pure Electric Vehicles + Extended-Range Electric Vehicles + Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles
 Electrically Charged Vehicles other than Pure Electric Vehicles = Extended-Range Electric Vehicles + Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles
iii Source: National Travel Survey 2013 (most recent statistics); Department for Transport