/ Motoring

Are electric cars still too expensive for you?

Two i-Mievs

From January 1st you’ll be able to get a hefty £5,000 discount on certain low-CO2 cars thanks to a new Government grant. So, will it be enough to entice you to buy an electric car in 2011?

The Government certainly hopes you will. It (and the previous Labour administration) has put a lot of effort into making the UK a hub of zero-emissions motoring.

Last week the Department for Transport announced the low-CO2 cars that from January 1, will qualify for a £5,000 subsidy named the Plug-In Car Grant. But even after the price cut, are any of them tempting enough?

What cars qualify for the grant?

Firstly there are the city cars. Launching in January, the tiny Mitsubishi i-Miev will sell for £23,990 after the grant is applied (although this is after a pretty staggering price cut). I’ve driven one, and found it decent enough for purely urban driving, but I can’t imagine it selling like hot cakes anywhere else.

Peugeot iOn and Citroen C-Zero will start leasing out their own rebadged versions of the i-MiEV soon after, for £415 a month.

The smart fortwo electric drive will also be available to lease from January 2011 – although prices for when it goes on sale in 2012 haven’t yet been announced. I tried a prototype version last year and like the i-MiEV, felt it would be an option for city dwellers only.

The Indica Vista, made by Indian manufacturer Tata, is due in 2012 – but little has been heard of it so far.

Not all of the cars that qualify for the grant are fully electric, so how do they measure up? The Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, the Chevrolet Volt and the Vauxhall Ampera are among these, but the fact that they all have petrol engines as well as battery packs will negate buyers’ worries of running out of charge. So they’re a bit more ‘real-world’, but cost might still put mainstream buyers off: they’re predicted to sell for between £27,000 and £34,000. Plus they’re not on sale until 2012.

Interestingly, the only car already on sale that meets the grant criteria is the Tesla Roadster – a sports car. The DfT has confirmed that the firm has applied for the scheme, so it’s surprising that it was left off the initial list. Perhaps the delay is a clever PR move – after all, ‘taxpayers subsidising £90,000 sports cars’ won’t play well with the tabloids.

To buy or not to buy?

To my eyes, the only show in town right now is the Nissan Leaf – out in March, it is a proper family-sized five seater. With a 100-mile range and low running costs, plus a relatively affordable price tag of £23,350 (after the grant), it’s the best choice out of the cars that qualify for the grant.

Will this grant give you an extra nudge to go out and buy an electric car in the New Year or do you remain unconvinced?


Believe it or not, there is a huge chunk of the UK outside of London, Manchester etc. These vehicles may well suit those who live in large cities – what use are they likely to be to those of us who stay well ‘out of town’?
We are 40 miles from the nearest ‘city’ – in fact it is the oil capital of Europe. That’s Aberdeen, by the way!
I must admit to a tad of disappointment – many topics being raised appear to concentrate on London (the tube needing wifi etc). I appreciate it [London] is probably considered the hub of the universe to many – BUT, honestly, there is life outside of its parameters!

Whoops – sorry! I actually also meant to raise the question: ‘Considering the extreme temperatures presently being encountered by some parts of the UK (well below zero) – what effect does this have on ‘battery charge’ for these vehicles?’

Hi Danny – thanks for your comments. We do try to ensure we cover a range of topics every day, some of which are more relevant to Londoners/city dwellers, but hopefully many appeal to a wider geographical audience too. I’ve just dug out a few older Conversations that might be of interest to you if you don’t live in a city:
And we’re always looking for interesting new topics/angles to cover, so do get in touch via our contact us page if you have any ideas you’d like us to cover! (https://conversation.which.co.uk/contact-us/)

My fairly detailed experience with the old lead acid batteries is their charge diminishes with temperature.

But to answer the topic – I will not buy an electric car until they are similar in price to a standard petrol car not £10,000 or more dearer.(say £7000 on the road) Nor will I buy one if the very time consuming charging times are not significantly reduced. I will not wait say 1/2 hour a day to charge my car. I only have access to on road parking.

The only electric car I would buy is around £7,000 o t r and battery change (not battery charge) facilities were universally available..The amount of charge required would be enough for 300 miles.

Actually a lead acid battery is worse at very low temperatures. Not only does their output fall, but a cold car will be more difficult to start (cold oil is thicker, engine is tighter, etc.).

At higher temperatures, the lead acid gives a better output (the chemical reaction is more active at higher temperatures).

I’m pretty sure NiCad, Ni-Mh and Li-Ion are all pretty much the same in that there output is lower at low temperatures. However, the newer technology batteries tend to get **** hot when subjected to high current drain. So probably they may quickly get hot in use and keeping them cool may present more of a problem.

IMHO, all electric cars won’t make the grade until some form of new battery technology comes along. Hydrogen cells did look promising but there doesn’t seem to be an economical way of storing hydrogen (due to hydrogen molecules being the so small).

I’m anticipating delivery of my Nissan Leaf in March 2011. I’m not about to have an argument about it… just as I don’t argue with people that say ‘a calculator will never replace paper and pencil’ or ‘computers will never become main-stream’.

Our reliance on oil has run it’s course as all the ‘easy’ oil has been found… fact. Oil will never run out… just get more expensive. However, it’s not for it’s environmental credentials that I’m buying a Leaf… it’s for it’s silent running, comfort and interconnectivity ie can turn on the heater from my mobile etc. That I will never have to pump fossil fuel again is a bonus.

Great progress. Turn on your heater by your mobile so that the car is warm before you get in.

Pity that the battery will be too flat to go anywhere then (unless it is plugged into the mains at the time).

I agree with Danny above. No good to anyone living miles from the nearest city. Our nearest large town is some 15 miles away, never mind a city. Birmingham is 50 miles and bristol 70 miles.
Even the best electric cars will only go 100 miles on a charge, and thats before you put your lights, heating and air con on, which all reduces how far it will run.
We often travel from Herefordshire to Norfolk, which would not be possible on a single charge.
For people like us, better to go for a petrol/electric hybrid eg.Toyota Avensis etc..

Alex Maltman says:
21 December 2010

One aspect of hybrid cars that is rarely mentioned in cost and environmental evaluations is their dependence on rare earth metals such as neodymium and dysprosium. (In fact, the same goes for any technology that involves batteries or lightweight magnets, e.g. wind turbines.) Over 95% of these materials are now supplied by one country – China. In itself this has worrying commercial and political implications. But how has China achieved this near monopoly? By complete disregard for the workers’ welfare and for the local environment.

The mines are in Outer Mongolia and outsiders are barred. But the few first-hand reports that have emrged are remarkable consistent, for example http://www.terradaily.com/reports/China_rare_earth_mining_taxing_environment_999.html and http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/05/clean-energy-apos-s-dirty-little-secret/7377/. BBC Radio discussed the topic at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00scy0d, Channel 4 TV at http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/science_technology/rare+earth+shortage+threatens+green+revolution/3451837, and PBS in the U.S.A.

The mining area sounds like an environmental nightmare. It may be a case of “out of sight, out of mind” but really this aspect should be factored in to the assessments of hybrid cars and other so-called “green” technologies.

Pickle says:
21 December 2010

No – I’m waiting for hydrogen powered fuel calls to become mainstream. They have a longer range and are just as silent – and not so reliamt on China (see above). Anyway the cost of batteries and their eventual replacement is another thing against electric cara.

It will be a long wait, unfortunately.

Hydrogen would be fantastic… and there are some very exciting developments with Solid Oxide Fuel Cells. But there are obstacles with hydrogen even though it’s the most abundant element in the universe inc, making it, accessing it, and storing it which boils down to currently very expensive. These are not insurmountable… it’s not hard to imagine one day filling up your car’s water tank which it splits into hydrogen to feed the fuel cell. But, we have easy access to cheap electricity now which is increasingly being generated from renewable and clean resources.

The West’s record of illegal military occupation of sovereign countries to secure oil supplies, torturing political prisoners, trade manipulation, environmental abuse including global warming, exploiting workers, etc the West can hardly say “now we’re rich you must not develop”. China is in a position to ignore the West and do what it wants… we can only watch having spent all our moral capital. Lets hope the Chinese ‘love their children too’ in the same way our last great nemesis the USSR, do.

Panface says:
24 December 2010

I would have an electric car today due to running costs 1p per mile? it would have to be a large family car due to me having 3 kids, but its rare we all go out together! i drive a chrysler grand voyager now that in the book does 18 miles round town (OUCH)!! we dont go far to shops 1/2 mile, work 1mile school run 1/2 mile few trips to town 7 mile etc. the only time we all go a distance in a car is to an airport, london 350 miles. so would fly with the monies saved, but cant consider a electric car if it costs more than a deisel engine run motor….sorry.

I’m not trying to be cheeky but – shops ½ mile, work 1 mile – wouldn’t it be cheaper & healthier to walk?

On yer bike! Or shank’s pony.

YES ! If I could afford the prices these cars are going for , I would buy a a fossil fuel one ! Think what I could get ,for about the same cash !!!!!!!!!! NO BRAINER !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sounds great if you can plug your electric car into the solar panel on your house roof.

Andrew West says:
1 January 2011

The high cost of an electric car makes it unviable compared to its equivalent petrol version.

Take the figures:-
Average mileage of 10,000 miles in a petrol car will cost £1641. p.a. at a consumption rate of 35 MPG.
This compares to around £100 p.a. in an electric car. So far so good.
However, the electric car costs £10,000 more than the equivalent petrol car (VW Golf, Ford Focus etc). to buy. This means that it will take over 6 years to break even.
It gets worse if one compares the electric car with a petrol version doing 45 mpg. This will take 8 years to break even.
Also, the lower the mileage, the less viable it becomes. For example, if 7000 miles a year is covered, it will take around 12 yrs to break even.

The other point to consider is at 6 yrs the battery will be past its best at 70% efficiency. A replacement will cost £6000. Compare that to a petrol or diesel engine that will happily last 12 yrs at 10000 miles a year and cost around £2000 to replace .

The idea of a electric car is one that I relish. I am a petrol head and have been for half a century but I would buy an electric car if it were viable. At the moment, the costs are not right.
The car needs to be the same price as a petrol and the battery needs to have a much longer life and lower cost than currently available.

For me, the range and speed are not the problem. Most electric cars will run around 100 miles before recharging and most car journeys are less than 30 miles. Also most electrics will run upto 90 mph.

My advice for buyers would be to proceed with caution. This is not a green answer to car travel. More power stations will have to be built to accommodate the extra use of electricty. Also, if this were to take off in a big way, watch out for the government trying to replace the lost petrol tax by an extra tax on all electric cars by some sort of special road tax etc.

Andrew West

A very interesting, relevant and thought provoking set of figures, Andrew! Thank you for these.

The only point I would question is ‘most car journeys are less than 30 miles’ – this may be the case around London and other major cities but up here in the ‘sticks’ we have to travel in excess of 30 miles to even get to a supermarket at the nearest town!

Pie eater says:
5 January 2011

When driving at night in cold weather, using the heater, headlights, heated rear screen etc, I’m sure the ‘real world’ range would be vastly reduced. Perhaps worth considering for a multi car family, but I won’t be relinquishing my fossil fuel wheels just yet

KeithM says:
21 January 2011

The Government should not be wasting taxpayers money giving grants towards the cost of electric cars! The electricity used comes from power stations powered by FOSSIL Fuels. When you consider how expensive the cars are, with a range of only 100 miles, why bother?
Maybe 20 years on when hopefully 95% of electricity comes from nuclear power stations with the other 5% from renewable sources , an electric car may be worth considering. At the moment all electric cars do is move pollution from one part of the country to another. They are not the “green” alternative that some people think.

Question? If the electric car becomes popular will the infrastructure be able to cope with extra load imposed by the demand made on it ? To the best of my ability at present I have not observed any mention on this subject.

Currently, battery technology is hopeless for providing the quantity of power required to give ANY vehicle a reasonable range. As Which? has probably found out for itself by now, the quoted ranges are as far-fetched as car manufacturers quoted mpg figures. And these figures are for ideal circumstance : a non-gradient test circuit with everything we take for granted turned off with a nakid anorexic driver.

Try testing an all electric car on a cold day with driving lights on (shortly to be a legal requirement) radio, heater and windscreen wipers all operational. It will less than half the already pathetic ranges quoted.

The government are squandering yet more of our money investing in a useless technology. These will sell and be as successful as the Sinclair C5.

And note all potential electric car vehicle owners: I’ll not be stopping to give you a lift when you are still miles from your destination and you come to a standstill in total darkness on a cold desolate night after finishing a 12-hour shift. And the breakdown services will be queuing up to give you a CHARGE!

The price of the Nissan Leaf has now risen by £2,000 to £25,990, after the £5,000 Government Plug-in Car Grant. The rise is due to the depreciation of the Pound against the Yen. That’s a lot of money for a family hatchback.

Tom says:
4 May 2011

It will be interesting to see whether Renault’s battery leasing model takes off. Essentially motorists pay about the same upfront for the car and then a monthly payment, which works out at less than monthly fuel bills, to lease the battery. You then also avoid the issue of battery replacement costs.

In addition, it’s worth mentioning that ANY new technology has taken some time to ‘take off’.

In the model’s first full quarter on sale in 2007, Apple sold 270,000 iPhones. In the first quarter of 2011, it sold 16 million.

Around 10 million LCV televisions were sold in 2004, whilst 215 million will be sold in 2011

Whilst 400,000 netbooks were sold in 2007, over 40 million were sold in 2010 and they went from 1% to 20% market penetration within two years

Electric cars will be the same.

Tom says:
4 May 2011

Oops, that should have said ‘LCD’!

Just Me says:
19 January 2012

Single, no dependents, national average wage, and I have been hoping to get my hands on an electric car for years, and I still cannot afford to buy one, unless I want to sell my house of course. It would take me approximately seven years to save up £23,350 (after the grant), unless I wanted to stop eating, heating my home during winter, and never bought anything else, such as a pen, during that time.