/ Motoring

What’s stopping you from driving an electric car?

It’s just been announced that a fleet of super-fast charging points for electric vehicles will be installed along the UK’s main motorways. Which? Conversation community member Ian asks if this will be enough to encourage you to make the electric shift…

The new network of charging points will be set up by the National Grid. It has been busy mapping the country’s motorways and transmissions networks to identify 50 sites to ensure that 90% of drivers can drive in any direction from any location, and be within 50 miles of a charging point.

The super-fast charging points for electric vehicles will provide up to 350kW of power, meaning that drivers can charge their cars in 5 to 12 minutes – a comparable time to filling a car up with petrol or diesel.

National Grid says that ‘range anxiety’ is the top reason for drivers not buying an electric car, and it hopes this new network will offer drivers reassurance – but will it be enough for you?

Is cost a concern?

While charging points become more readily available, I think cost may still be stopping many from getting behind the wheel of an electric car. But Stanford University lecturer Tony Seba, who has extensively researched this subject, believes this will soon be a thing of the past:

‘Energy storage costs – for lithium-ion batteries for example – continue to drop at about 16% a year, driving a replacement of power plants on the grid by energy storage and plunging prices for electric vehicles.’

This sounds like good news for drivers – and Seba thinks it will drive a fundamental shift in driving trends in the coming decade:

‘Within just 10 years conventional energy production and transport will have been rendered obsolete by the revolution taking place in batteries, solar power and electric cars.’

More reasons to make the electric switch

And, when dropping battery costs meet the increasing trend towards autonomous vehicles, Seba takes his prediction one step further. He believes that not only will all new cars shortly become electric only, but that people will stop wanting to own their own car, instead preferring to use autonomous vehicle-sharing schemes.

He points out that sheer economics will force the switch: EVs (Electric vehicles) need 100 times fewer moving parts than conventional vehicles, so maintenance costs could be lower.

Additionally, I’ve read that the best EVs can out-accelerate some petrol cars. And with the average car spending 96% of its time parked, a big disruption to the market seems more than likely.

This is a guest contribution by community member Ian. All views expressed here are Ian’s own and not necessarily also shared by Which?.

Will you be joining the electric revolution?

What do you think? Is it far-fetched to expect all drivers to be wooed over to electric in the next 10 years, or is this a future you’d like to be part of? Will the new charging network and lower costs encourage you to buy – or hire – an electric car?


Some more government data here. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/736152/Ch5.pdf
This shows, for example, a decrease in total electricity consumption of around 9% since 2010, with 7% in domestic and 11% in industry.

It shows, however, virtually no change in the last 3 years (since 2014).

Peak consumption was between 2007-7, around 13% up on 2017, although generating capacity is still as high as in that period. The “fuel” mix has changed with, of course, a significant increase in wind and solar.

Remnant says:
9 February 2019

Electric cars are the future of the industry- but not yet.
A low range is a serious spoiler; until I can undertake a ‘ long ‘ journey I shall stick to my splendid Hybrid.

Range would be the most important consideration to me. I regularly do a round trip of 40 miles but it’s often a bit more because I often combine this journey with a detour out the way home. I would like a hybrid that could cover the majority of journeys on battery power and it would not concern me that I would be making use of the engine a handful of times each year for longer trips.

I am surprised that Which? seems to have little focus on range when referring to hybrid cars. A recent example of this is an article about the best hybrid cars for 2019: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/new-and-used-cars/article/best-cars/best-hybrid-cars

It would be interesting to which hybrid you have, Remnant, and what range you achieve.

For my purposes there would be three reasons, among others, to move to a PHEV when the time comes to change vehicles.
1. Cheap fuel. Electricity is taxed at only 5% (vat) whereas fossil fuels carry a duty of 57.95p/l and vat at 20%. This cannot last as, when more and more people move to electric vehicles, that duty and tax has to be replaced from somewhere. Possibly an electric vehicle tax per km.

2. Pollution. Using the fossil-fuelled engine when in rural and lightly built-up areas but automatically shifting to electric only when in built up areas, towns and cities. This would require enough electric range to work successfully. While many of my journeys are relatively short, I regularly travel in built up areas with a trip exceeding 30 miles so I’d need sufficient range. I would not be prepared to stop every 20-30 miles to find a charging point and wait in a queue, then wait to charge. But some may.

3. Saving energy. This will depend upon the energy mix used for generation but with the present balance of approx 50/50 fossil and renewables/nuclear I estimate an electric vehicle will be about 20% more efficient than a fossil fuelled one in energy use. What must be remembered is that to expand the electric/hybrid fleet of all vehicles will require a substantial increase in generation – probably not possible with wind a solar, and nuclear is beset with costs and problems. In the UK’s case we have ample power in the tides that surround us.
We must also bear in mind that there is competition for energy, particularly likely to be acute if the pledge to abolish gas for domestic heating and cooking is honoured. People then using electricity as a substitute will be faced with huge extra costs – around £1370 a year at present costs for a medium user.

A way will have to be found to replace the lost fuel duty and vat on fossil fuels if electric vehicles become more popular.

Abolishing domestic gas will simply mean people will have to use electricity for heating and cooking instead, with around 4 times the cost per unit at current prices. This won’t happen quickly but I’m sure gas usage will have to reduce so bigger fuel bills will be inevitable, together with more generation. Time to look hard at how we prepare for this.

I’d love to do this but I live in a terraced house. We have a public charge point near by but it is in a different parking zone so makes it all a bit awkward. One day we will hopefully move to somewhere more electric friendly!

The photo does make me miss my wee Smart car though. Oh – to be a Smart driver again! 😉

Presumably working from a reference of absolute zero. Electric car owners must be welcoming the global warming produced by fossil fuels…. 🙁

Nell says:
22 April 2019

Having recently replaced a 16 year old petrol car with an electric one, I can’t see myself switching back.

My commute is roughly 100 miles (round trip) which is easily achieved on a single charge (though charging at work may be needed in the depths of winter). I’m pretty mean with the heater though (big jumpers are the order of the day). So far, I’m averaging 4.8 m/kWh. Pretty happy with that.

Dave says:
26 April 2019

I’ve had an electric car (BMW i3) for three and a half years and it has been really good, especially for local (<100 mile) trips. A joy to drive and super-low running costs.
But my views have changed completely after my "specialist" BMW dealer damaged a jacking point on the car last August when in for an end of warranty check. I only discovered the damage in December and the latest estimate on getting it repaired is £6,000 – £10,000. According to BMW the car is unsafe to drive (risk of electrocution) but despite this, when I took it to another "specialist" BMW dealer for assessment, the first thing the workshop did was to jack up the car on the damaged jacking point! I have been warned that the car could be a write-off if the detailed assessment at BMW Thorne finds more extensive damage. Apparently they have three other cars on their books with the same problem. If you consider the fact that the guilty dealer suggested cutting away part of the carbon bodywork to solve the problem, it's looking like the technology on these cars is too sophisticated for the rigours of your average garage; either that, or is it a design fault with the car and should the jacking points be mounted onto the chassis by an aluminium bracket?
I'm faced with having the car rectified on my own insurance and that will cost me thousands of pounds in increased premiums over the next few years. So much for economical to own. And it's hardly environmentally-friendly if the car is a write-off.
I definitely won't be buying another electric car until the technology is made more real-world suitable.

I would have thought BMW would require their dealer to rectify the problem if it is clearcut garage damage. Otherwise you could sue the dealer.

Dave says:
26 April 2019

Unfortunately, it’s difficult/impossible to prove it was them. I know that the only time it’s been jacked up on all four corners is when it was at this dealer, but their defence will be it could have been someone else. How do I prove it? The sad fact is, the evidence points to it being damaged on a four-post-lift and that’s about it. I could try suing them for the increase in my insurance costs, but is piling more expense on top going to help me?
My advice for BMW i3 owners is to photograph your jacking points before it goes into a dealer and then inspect them immediately afterwards. That’s the only proof I can see holding up in court. In the meantime, my confidence in this car and this dealer has been destroyed and if it is repaired, I will be selling it and going back to something more conventional.

Dave says:
26 April 2019

Oh, and I did contact BMW Customer Services to register a complaint against the dealer, and they said they were independent and couldn’t influence the dealer to take responsibility.
They offered to get the dealer principal to speak to me on the phone, but they just came back with his reply to me – they deny responsibility. It took me over three months to get that far, and it was obvious that the dealer principal at the site didn’t want to discuss it with me direct.
The last time I spoke to him was last December, when he told me not to worry as they would get it fixed!
I think when they found out how serious the damage was, they quickly changed their mind. So much for customer loyalty.

Dave says:
26 April 2019

Oh, and I did contact BMW Customer Services to register a complaint against the dealer, and they said they were independent and couldn’t influence the dealer to take responsibility.
They offered to get the dealer principal to speak to me on the phone, but they just came back with his reply to me – they deny responsibility. It took me over three months to get that far, and it was obvious that the dealer principal at the site didn’t want to discuss it with me direct.
The last time I spoke to him was last December, when he told me not to worry as they would get it fixed!
I think when they found out how serious the damage was, they quickly changed their mind. So much for customer loyalty.

Dave, out of interest you say you used a BMW specialist. Was this an approved BMW centre/dealership or an independent garage?

I don’t see evidence that there is a momentum building to get the infrastructure in place. Is this because Brexit is occupying minds, or the Government isn’t yet convinced about future trends, or the cash isn’t there, or they (who ever they are) can’t work out how to do it? On a typical journey I don’t see any electric cars charging anywhere and not that many yet on the road. This is not to question the electric car’s validity, though I do wish that other solutions could be considered seriously, but to wonder how long it will be before we see some real change. Average range hovers in the mid hundred -and expensively – low two hundreds. That is quite an advance in the short time we have been worrying about fossil fuels, but charging times still restrict usage from the get in and go we know today. There is a kind of limbo at present with manufacturers working hard in the background and boundaries slowly moving forward. Is there a point at which no more can be done? No one has yet invented a new battery so everyone is trying to improve on the existing one and cramming more cells into smaller spaces. Future targets need to be technology led rather than aspirational punishment for the status quo.

I suggest that the top priority is to keep conventional vehicles out of city centres that have a severe pollution problem. From today’s news: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-48132490

I’m not sure how we ensure that hybrid vehicles are run on battery power in city centres because I don’t think we can rely on everyone to use common sense.

We have said a number of times that we should restrict access to built up areas by at least the more heavily polluting vehicles, all the time or at peak times. We should not allow people with older vehicles to “pay to pollute”.

This requires decent alternative transport and until that is provided I don’t see how we can make a general ban.

Hybrid vehicles are generally less polluting when run conventionally as they have more modern engines so as an interim I’d suggest relying on owners to switch to electric only (if that is possible) in vulnerable areas is OK – they are a step forward. I’d like to see hybrids with a greater electric range than most currently have.

I don’t think we can rely on drivers behaving responsibly and switching to electric power in areas with a pollution problem, though that may be the only option in the short term. Recall the news story about PHEVs that were purchased to claim a subsidy but never used on electric power: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-46152853

If the majority of vehicles were barred from towns and cities, even at peak times, we then have a perfectly good and flexible road system that electric buses could use without the need to construct an inflexible rail system. What we would need is out-of-town car parking to interchange with the buses.

I agree, Malcolm, and I have often mentioned that park & ride schemes lend themselves well to electric buses. There’s no need for hybrids when charging can be done when necessary at the out of town starting points.

I was told that HS2 is not going to happen because the government cannot afford it.

I understand that many homes still have a 60 amp company fuse, capable of delivering about 14kW of power continuously. That’s about what a four ring cooker with two ovens would use to start with if everything was switched on. My home was built 20 years ago and has an 80 amp fuse, but I hope that new homes have at least 100 amp fuses to allow for charging electric vehicles and the expected move to using more electricity if gas starts to run out and become more expensive. The main expense is likely to upgrading the cables supplying existing property to meet demand.

This aspect of the infrastructure has not received much attention so far, it having been widely assumed that electricity demand for electric car charging will take place overnight when there is little other domestic power demand.

It’s not just the mains cabling that will require upgrading [possibly by running an additional one from the street as required at the householder’s expense] but the overall power supply system including substations, transformers, and grid connexions.

The change-over to electricity for domestic and commercial heating will place much heavier demands on the power infrastructure and I am not convinced that government targets for the achievement of these goals is starting from the right position. The supply capacity must surely be in place before it is sensible to set deadlines for the elimination of fossil fuels for vehicles and gas for heating and cooking. Notwithstanding the increase in renewable energy sources and the various energy conservation measures that between them make a worthwhile contribution at present – but are reaching their peak potential – there needs to be a substantial increase in base-load power capacity.

New nuclear provision is falling behind schedule with many uncertainties and likely cost over-runs, tidal power is still on the drawing board, and the use of gas for power generation must be questionable going forward. Power from hydro and hot rocks and energy from waste might be quicker to develop, and global warming could reduce demand, but I cannot see demand and capacity converging quickly enough to suit the government’s timetable [let alone the Extinction Rebellion’s targets].

There will have to be a massive reduction in power demand achieved from the increased longevity [and continued use] of consumer durables and wearables before replacement, importation of goods requiring high energy for their production in place of home manufacturing, huge increases in insulation requirements in all buildings both new and old, a possible restriction on air-conditioning plant at times of high electricity demand, a possible shift of population from cold parts of the UK to warmer areas or to southern Europe, and a dramatic reduction in road traffic mileage. That’s just for starters and some of them are in conflict with each other.

How would a ‘consumers’ association’ adapt to these changes?

My comment was prompted by a lengthy discussion with an electrician, who thought that it might take power cuts in London to prompt action.

Upgrading the supply to your home may be done free of charge but there can be costs involved in replacing the distribution board. Improving the infrastructure is something where we will all contribute towards the cost and that might be more worthwhile than the smart meter roll out.

I was assuming that a charge point provided 7kW, though the load will decrease during charging to avoid overheating the battery. It certainly makes sense to reduce the charge rate rather than risking blowing the supply fuse.