/ 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?

Comments

The biggest drawback with electricity is that it is difficult to store and not very portable. The best we have come up with are heavy Li-Ion batteries. For domestic use, the biggest boilers are around 50amps and even these don’t have the capacity of a good gas boiler. With the average house supply being around 60amps that doesn’t leave much over for other uses in the house. As Malcolm says, if we are all to start using 60amps regularly, generation will have to increase, as will our bills. Electricity is much more expensive to buy than gas is. Relying on one single power source is also narrowing our power safety. While the gas systems rely on electric components to make them work, the main supply of heat is alternative to the mechanics of the system. The counter argument of carbon emission is a strong incentive to try and make electricity do everything and it is difficult to see what other alternatives there might be.
Ian’s crystal ball is interesting and though some of it is conjecture and hopeful scenarios, this does make a lot of sense and I can see it paints a more optimistic picture of the future, leaving the problem of phasing in that future still to be worked out. I am not particularly happy to discover that much of the future raw material supply lies within countries where sanctions could be imposed on its export.

Transition periods are usually messy and old fossil supplies will become short before they are not needed any more, while new electric powered energy will also be in short supply as new infrastructure and generation capability replaces it. The government hasn’t begun to map this out properly and the public will not be passive while it is being mistreated. Transport will be just one of many areas we will have to adjust to in the new world to come.

There is a link between the general UK energy policy and E.V. vehicles and we have to extrapolate a little from the act of buying a running an E.V. and actually being able to use it in future. There is a mixed and comprehensive response in comments above, to buying one now, and the forced transition is likely to be a future problem as fossil fuels recede from garages, unless the UK energy policy is thought through. Power generation is one aspect of that. Battery improvements is another. Household use is a third, though, I agree straying from the immediate topic just a little.

At present, I guess most folk without off street parking would not regard a pure EV as a practical choice.

In my case, I do have off street parking, so I would probably consider buying a pure EV, e.g. if I could get one with a range of around 200 miles and a price of less than about £5000, e.g. as might be sold used but with a decent warranty.

Last week, I saw one of these in use:-https://www.autocar.co.uk/car-news/new-cars/british-micro-ev-maker-launches-compact-two-seater-london but I got a shock when I saw the price.

If half the cars in use are owned by people who do have their own parking, that gives plenty of opportunity to reduce pollution in cities. If some councils are prepared to help those without these facilities to charge their vehicles on public roads, there is going to be a lot of pressure on other councils to take action. I well remember the mayhem created by cable companies, as Ian has mentioned but if the companies are not paid until the work has been inspected and passed as satisfactory, that should solve the problem.

As Derek points out, price is a major issue and the high replacement cost of batteries means that most buyers of secondhand EV will want a decent warranty, so there will be fewer private sales than with conventional vehicles.

Judging by my brother-in-law’s experience last week (and others I’ve recently read about) I won’t be getting an EV until the charging network is fixed. His journey from Manchester to London took over 12 hours. He expected to have to stop and recharge, but it was a litany of disasters – incompatible connectors, broken charging stations, charging stations not where shown on maps. He had to call the AA at one point as he was flat out of juice.
I haven’t seen anything from our Government apart from pious words – no real strategy or action.
Time for a Which? Campaign I think.

Phil says:
7 January 2021

Yes there should be a common connector at least but as with Smart Meters the government failed to set standards and let the separate companies do their own thing.

I should be interested to know how electric cars perform in hilly terrain. Do the downhills help with the uphills?

[I have elected to take this discussion back to Ian’s Conversation. He lives opposite to me in a westerly direction – nearly 300 miles west – and will have more experience of inclines than we get in Norfolk.]

I was thinking of doing the same John. Discussion in The Lobby soon gets lost.

We could do with some impressions of a new owner from Vynor and a long-term ownership report from Ian.

The benefit of regenerative braking is that some of the energy used to climb hills is recovered in recharging the battery in an electric car. One of the reasons that my conventional car usually returns a good fuel economy is that I live in an area without steep hills.

On PHEVs, when discussing published economy, Which? say “ However, our own independent tests are more stringent and include tougher test cycles – including our unique motorway test – to better replicate the strain put on cars by real owners. We also calculate mpg for PHEVs by driving each of them over a fixed distance with their batteries in varying states of charge, to determine comparable energy consumption. This is a key difference to the WLTP test, where overall mpg is calculated based on the vehicle’s electric driving range (amongst other factors).”

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2021/03/plug-in-hybrid-cars-use-more-fuel-than-official-figures-claim/ – Which?

It is quite fair to tailor a test more specifically to the UK than the WLTP [European law means that WLTP – Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicles Test Procedure – is the new laboratory test used to measure fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, which replaced the old NEDC (New European Driving Cycle) test procedure in September 2017.] I do not know whose expertise Which? use to devise the tests they use nor how realistic they are. It would be useful if they published their own procedure alongside the WLTP where it differs and explain why theirs is more appropriate.

I would look at real-life data supplied by real motorists and averaged out if I was comparing vehicles, and my choice list would depend upon how much emphasis I placed on economy. It would be one factor of many; my annual mileage is below average so not the priority consideration. If I were to buy a PHEV then battery range would be a more major criterion.

I would like to be properly informed instead of just given “ Popular plug-in hybrid cars are on average 61% less fuel-efficient than manufacturers claim, new Which? tests reveal, and motorists could be paying on average £400 more a year in fuel costs.”

As a manufacturer says “The legally required WLTP test is designed by the international regulators to be a standardised method of comparing vehicle efficiency, thereby enabling direct comparison between different cars and different technologies. ‘These tests show clearly that PHEV technology, when the vehicles are charged regularly as intended, can save significant fuel consumption and emissions over the equivalent petrol or diesel models.”

“Regularly charged” may be the key difference. I wonder what proportion of drivers spend most of their time around town, on short journeys, where the EV will be effective, compared to those haring up and down motorways when the fossil fuel will be in use?

I don’t see much point in Which? just carrying out tests under WLTP conditions when this has already been done, unless there is suspicion that the manufacturers are cheating. If so, perhaps BEUC should investigate. I see the Which? tests as offering a different approach and it will be interesting to find whether Which? members find this useful.

Testing hybrid vehicles is difficult because fuel economy is complicated by power being delivered by both the electric motor and the engine. My priority would be to test BEVs, which are a growing sector of the market thanks to improved batteries. With no engine to fall back on it’s essential that prospective buyers know what range they can expect and the extent to which use of heating etc. can reduce it.

It would be useful to check other test results, some seem at variance with Which? For example https://www.whatcar.com/news/true-mpg-most-efficient-hybrid-cars/n19166

It would seem sensible, if useful information is to be extracted, for Which? and others maybe to agree a standard UK test, properly justified. Although, like the WLTP, these tests have limited value other than for comparability because terrain, driving style, journey length, car loading, as examples vary greatly from individual to individual and many of us will thus not be Mr Average. If I were recommending any data it would be from real – life drivers, not artificial tests; the WLTP does that job. So, perhaps Which? could perform this service by asking those who have PHEVs to supply our actual fuel consumption and our typical driving regime. It will take time to accumulate but will, I suggest, be more useful.

Phil says:
29 March 2021

I’m not aware that Which? does any tests at all; it no longer has the facilities. It might buy-in into tests done at ADAC, the German version of the AA.

I expect that Which? will collect information from users in due course but at present there are unlikely to be enough members with a particular model to produce statistically valid results. At present I’m happy to wait and see how Which? takes forward its EV testing.

Two years ago I was interested in buying a hybrid around 2022. Now, in my late 60s, I am more interested in a BEV thanks to increasing range and the realisation that I now do few longer journeys. Anyone contemplating buying a BEV needs to have a good idea of the minimum range they can expect with no engine to fall back on. To that end, lower figures produced by Which? are more useful than more optimistic WLTP figures, even if these are produced in compliance with internationally agreed standards.

As with any car the range you get / fuel consumption will depend on a number of factors. A test regime like the WLTP produces results to a standardised test regime essentially to enable cars to be compared on exactly the same basis. Describing them as “optimistic” misunderstands their purpose.

As I commented above a better – but by no means perfect – figure that is more specific to the UK could be obtained by aggregating user experience; the sooner we start accumulating such information the better. But the results for someone in Norfolk driving alone will differ significantly, I expect, from those for someone driving a family around in hilly Yorkshire.

I have not seen a recent comparison of WLTP vs Which? results lately, although I am not sure how useful that would be unless it can be shown that the latter’s test regime is properly representative of the majority of UK driving.

Some results from a specialist publication are these. Probably worth surveying such results before making a choice. https://www.autocar.co.uk/car-news/new-cars/electric-cars-best-real-world-range

Which? make quite a point of complaining that the published consumption figures are not the same as the real world ones and they do calculations on the extra amount of cash one might part with as a result. I see this as somewhat spurious, since it is quite obvious that no hybrid car is going to do 100 plus mpg when used as one might use a petrol or diesel car for long and short journeys.
So far the electric experience with 85 bhp on tap is adequate round town at thirty and forty mph. The take off acceleration is average and quite gentle and it is possible to keep the main engine silent on hills at those speeds and even do a hill start without waking the dragon under the bonnet. The silence gives the impression that one is going slower than one thinks and it is a good idea to keep an eye on the speedometer. Engine braking is poor in “Drive” and marginally better in “B”
The braking system is a little stupid. I have two handbrakes -both electronic -. One comes on when it feels like it when stopped and the foot is on the brake, in other circumstances it won’t activate. It goes off when the accelerator is pushed. It has a red light on the dashboard. The other comes on when one has stopped and it is displayed by a green light on the dashboard. That, too, goes off when the accelerator is pushed, but remembers to activate every time the vehicle is stationary. Without the “green” handbrake engaged the car will creep as soon as the foot brake is released and “Drive” is selected. This can be useful in traffic and also a nuisance, but, conversely, with the “green” brake engaged one can not inch forward without touching the accelerator and, of course there is less control of the car. When in creep mode, one has to keep the brake pedal pressed and thus annoy following motorists, especially at night. I keep wondering where they have hidden the clutch and the handbrake lever. These work so well in tandem.
Twenty mile (36 claimed) electric range seems about right, but I haven’t exhausted the battery completely before charging it. This is interesting. There are several warnings about the sequence of disconnecting the cable from the car and it is possible to damage the system if these are not followed. Thus, someone who assumes that one just puts the plug in or takes it out and doesn’t read the instructions is in for a surprise. It is possible to find the cable locked to the car with no obvious way of removing it. What I find counter intuitive is the fact that one has to remove the cable before turning off the electric plug on the wall. No one told me that the car has to be unlocked before the cable can be removed -that took a few minutes to work out.
Another interesting fact is that the car won’t start if the hybrid battery is flat. It’s taken a while to work that one out, but it has finally dawned that my car doesn’t have a starter motor. If the electric motor can not move the car, then the petrol motor can’t spin. My car, it seems, starts as one might bump start a petrol car with a flat battery. The electrics are quite complicated. There is a traditional lead acid twelve volt 90 amp hour one under the bonnet and the hybrid ones under the car. The petrol engine can charge the hybrid batteries at the expense of miles per gallon as it does, but I’m not sure it uses a traditional belt driven alternator to do this. When charging the car at home the twelve volt battery is included in the charge. On the road the hybrid motor just does the electric engine and I don’t know how the twelve volt battery is kept topped up, especially when the electric motor is working alone and the lights, wipers and air conditioner are all on. Perhaps there is a sensor somewhere that tells the petrol engine to wake up. I shall have to investigate, the manual is of no help here. We owners don’t need to know such complicated things.
For ride, handling and comfort, there are no surprises and one could be in any similar car powered by any type of engine. That’s first impressions for you. I have only tickled the accelerator so far and will report back when I’ve woken the dragon and scared the pants of my behind. I suppose there is no harm in telling you that it’s a Volvo and no harm in reporting that Which? seldom go near them. Page eleven of their reviews is where the first one gets a mention and mine doesn’t get a look in. Their pages are littered with BMW’s however.

As far as I am aware the purpose of the 12V battery in a hybrid is to do everything other than provide propulsion. I expect your boat will have a battery that provides power for everything except the engine.

I think it was Ian who had a problem when the 12V battery on his Prius was flat. One might guess that the main battery would keep it charged at all times but apparently not.