While hybrid vehicles – which have both a battery and a petrol or diesel engine – have been with us for a number of years, fully electric vehicles are still in their relative infancy. Despite their high initial cost price, more drivers are taking the plunge with every passing year, and we expect to see a glut of new models on the market within the next couple of years. We take a look at the factors that you should consider before joining the plug-in revolution.
Pros & Cons Of An Electric Vehicle
Tesla’s Model S
They are cheap to run
With petrol and diesel costs high and rising as taxes increase and fuel becomes more scarce, it’s no wonder that battery power is attractive – a full charge at home on a night-time saver rate could cost as little as €1.60. And bear in mind that public charging points are free to use – so you could plug in, spent a couple of hours pottering around town and come back to a fully charged motor, gratis.
Sweeteners are available
There are other financial inducements to encourage you to switch to battery power, including government grants towards the cost of the vehicle and a home charging point, Vehicle Registration Tax relief, and low motor tax. See here for the full details. If breakdowns are a major reason why you’re concerned about going electric, then we have good news, as AA Rescue has recently added a mobile EV charging unit to its fleet. This and lots of other great benefits are available for just €10 per month with AA Membership.
With much to be done before we get on track with our climate change targets, many of us are looking for ways to do our bit. Given that the average Irish car will produce around 2.4 tonnes of CO2 per year (based on emissions figures here and mileage here), a zero emissions electric car would certainly fit the bill.
By their very nature, electric cars tend to be hi-tech, and one of their niftiest features is regenerative braking. It’s yet another energy-saver – kinetic energy from a fast-moving car is converted into stored energy when brakes are applied. This is then used to top up the car’s reserves – saving energy, money and time.
BMW’s i3 – note the touch screens and lack of a gear-stick
Extra tech features
Continuing the hi-tech theme, electric vehicle makers are constantly innovating and see electric vehicles as the perfect proving ground for new technologies. You might expect to be given a smart card instead of a key fob, a large iPad-like touch screen to replace all the non-driving instruments, or a phone app that lets you start the car remotely or even set it to pre-heat before you get in. Imagine frost-free windows and warm seats every morning, all winter long!
On your marks…
Think electric cars are slow? Think again. Because there are no gears, a battery-powered motor can generate maximum torque from a standing start, meaning that electric cars are extremely quick off the mark, and therefore very nippy for city driving.
True petrol-heads will never be convinced by this one, as for them nothing will be as good as the roar of the engine. But for anyone who craves peace and quiet in the car – music buffs, perhaps, or stressed-out office workers – a silent electric motor is a godsend.
With no engine or exhaust system to worry about, electric vehicles are much less likely to break down and require less routine maintenance. Think about that next time you hand over a couple of hundred euros to your local mechanic!
Hefty price tag
There’s no getting away from the fact that electric vehicles are expensive – the Nissan LEAF, for example, starts at just under €35,000 new – roughly €10,000 more than petrol-powered equivalents like the Ford Focus and Opel Astra. That’s a very big initial outlay. However, it’s immediately offset by the €5,000 government grant, low tax rate and fuel savings we mentioned earlier.
Yes, there’s a specific name for it, and with good reason – it’s one of the most important factors in putting off potential converts to electric vehicles. Unlike hybrids, which always have the insurance of a petrol or diesel engine, fully electric cars are solely reliant on their battery. Performance varies across different models, road conditions and driving styles, but as a general rule you can expect to get between 150km and 300km of driving out of a full charge – that’s considerably less than a full tank of fuel in any engine-powered vehicle.
For commuting to work and short trips around town, this is unlikely to be a problem – you can hook your car up to charge overnight. But if you regularly drive longer distances, then you are dependent on the location and availability of public charging points, and battery power may not be practical.
Charging blackspots do exist in rural areas, and periods of maintenance and downtime at charging points are possible, so think carefully before you take the plunge. ESB have a very handy map showing every charging point in the country – you can download it as a mobile app too.
Automatic for the people
If you want to go electric, you have to go automatic too. So if you’re particularly wedded to the particular feel of a traditional stick-shift, you’re out of luck. As this article and video shows, manual transmission and electric motors can work together, but other than recreating the familiarity and sheer driving enjoyment of traditional gear-shifting, there’s not much point to it.
Renault’s quirky Twizy
Style it out
In order to get the most out of your new electric vehicle – literally, in terms of range – you will probably need to look at your driving style. By driving conservatively, braking smoothly and using neat tricks like slipstreaming (but not tailgating!) on major roads, you should be able to add plenty of kilometres between charges. You will also find a wide range of different settings in the car, to control the power level, braking etc. Just don’t expect to get very far if you’re pushing hard.
Choice of model
If you’re used to choosing from a full smorgasbord of potential new motors, then you may be in for a surprise. There are currently just 10 different models of fully electric cars on sale in Ireland – and that’s including the quirky two-seater Renault Twizy (above) and luxury models from Tesla and Jaguar. However, that still leaves mid-market offerings from Renault, Nissan, Hyundai, BMW and Volkswagen.
If you’re happy to go hybrid rather than fully electric, there is much more choice – and most major manufacturers are planning to join the electric vehicle and hybrid markets over the next couple of years.
All images: Pixabay