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The ABC of electricity

 Published 27th May 2022
General Guides  Low Emission Vehicles 

Electric cars are increasingly popular, with numbers on UK roads growing rapidly. Both more environmentally friendly and cheaper to run than ‘normal' models, the UK Government's ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars in 2030 may be a little redundant given the pace of adoption.

Despite being thought of as a young technology, electric vehicles (EVs) are not in fact new. The first mass-market electric car to reach the UK was the Nissan Leaf in 2011 (pictured), so in effect the market is only a little over a decade old. But there was a time at the start close to the birth of the automobile where electric cars had been further developed than petrol models.

A long hiatus in development meant that the Leaf and a handful of other electric cars arrived in the early 2010s with relatively limited range, but they have quickly improved since then. Range alone has moved from an average of around 75 miles on a charge to more than 250 miles just ten years later in 2022.

As well as the vehicles themselves, public charging has come on leaps and bounds at the same time, with more than 30,000 public charge points in the UK alone, and that ignores the fact that most EVs are charged at home.

original nissan leaf

Nissan Leaf first hit the roads in 2011

EVs appeal to drivers for a number of reasons; perhaps improved environmental impact, potential cost savings, high performance or for business drivers the taxation advantages. Whatever the reason for going electric, there is a need for the car to be affordable. With slightly higher up-front costs for new EVs to buy, leasing balances this out quickly, and presents clear savings when looking at total monthly costs.

So if you're thinking about leasing an EV but aren't too sure about the ins-and-outs we've put this handy guide together to help.

Types of EV

The term electric vehicle covers a range of models, and the first choice is to decide whether you're looking at a pure-electric model or a hybrid.

Although featuring similar systems, there are plenty of important differences. Pure-electric cars use an electric motor and battery for the drive. There is no engine, and the driver needs to plug the car in to “refuel” it.

A hybrid - whether plug-in hybrid or conventional hybrid - uses a combination of traditional petrol or diesel engine alongside an electric powertrain.

Plug-in hybrids - as the name suggests - can be plugged in to recharge the battery. The electric motor can easily drive the vehicle by itself for a substantial distance thanks to a battery that is usually larger than those found in conventional hybrids.

Conventional hybrids have a smaller electrical system, and the motor is only able to drive the vehicle for short periods. The battery is considerably smaller, and cannot be charged externally. Instead, it is charged by the engine, or by braking. The electric motor is only available to support the engine.

The greater the reliance on electric motors, the lower the vehicle emissions. Hybrids can offer significant savings over normal petrol or diesel models, while plug-in hybrids return further savings, and pure-electric models have zero-tailpipe emissions.

The pros and cons of electricity vs petrol/diesel

This is where most people find the differences a lot more noticeable. Driving an EV is no different to any other car in that there are good points and bad points that need to be considered before making your choice. There are a growing number of brands and models to choose from but all are fundamentally the same when it comes to comparing them with a similar petrol or diesel version.

Maintenance - there are hardly any moving parts in an EV compared with an engine. In a combustion engine you'll find a variety of parts making up the overall unit, including the engine itself, the transmission, driveshafts and a whole series of belts, fluids and bolt on parts that keep everything working as it should. In comparison an EV has a battery and an electric motor.

The main point of this is that maintenance of an EV is much simpler and more cost effective as there are fewer moving parts to potentially go wrong.

Of course you'll still have to deal with the likes of brake pads, wheel bearings, and the rest of the “consumable” items in a car, but that applies whether you go electric or not. Nevertheless, reports coming back from fleet users suggest they are substantially cheaper to maintain.

renault megane e-tech

Family models such as the new Megane E-Tech have a range up to 280 miles

Range - Electric cars do tend to have a shorter range than petrol or diesel equivalents with a tankful of fuel. This is probably the main concern of most drivers considering an EV. The current nature of the technology means that a battery pack can't compare with a tank full of diesel in terms of distance you can travel before needing to recharge.

Having said that battery technology is constantly improving and it's now possible to choose from a variety of EVs with a range in excess of 300 miles. Regular improvements have seen range rapidly grow over time - and while it takes longer to recharge an EV than fill up with fuel, it's quite possible to add and additional 100 miles in some 10 minutes thanks to the latest ultra-rapid chargers.

The average EV will cover more than 250 miles on a charge, but even budget EVs can often achieve 150 miles or more. As such, range anxiety is much less of an issue than many fear. We're all used to being able to pull into a petrol station and top up whenever we like. Driving an EV just requires a slightly different mindset.

If you recharge your car at home overnight it will always be ready to go. If you can plug it in while you're at work it will be charged for the drive home. If you do take a longer journey you should be able to find a rapid charger on your route that will give you 80% charge in around 30 minutes - an ideal opportunity to stop for a break anyway. It's more about changing the way you approach a journey, and once you're in the mindset of an EV driver the concept of a discharged battery won't be a concern.

Emissions - The most notable difference between an EV and a regular car is the emissions. Electric cars will emit considerably less pollution as they aren't burning fuel. There is an argument that you're just pushing the pollution further along the chain but the fact remains that an EV itself is completely clean to run.

Obviously this has an impact on running costs as an EV carries much lower Car Tax (VED) rates and you don't have to worry about charges for low-emissions zones. They are particularly attractive for company car drivers because for the 2022/23 tax year they are rated at just 2% company car tax.

Hybrids also benefit from reduced emissions but due to the inclusion of the engine they do still emit exhaust gases, albeit at a lower rate than a regular car. However, if your commute is less than 30 miles each day, you should be able to drive in EV mode on a PHEV - not only contributing to cleaner air but saving fuel costs.

Charging your car

The greatest difference between an electric car and a traditional car is the way you keep it moving. Petrol and diesel require a filling station to top it up whereas an EV is like a mobile phone on wheels.

charging at home

Using a wall charger for home charging is the most effective way to charge an EV

At home - When charging at home you have the choice of using either a standard UK three-pin socket or a specially designed charging point. While using a regular socket is simple and straightforward it's really not the best way to proceed. Plugging your car into the mains will take around three times as long to achieve the same results as a charging point.

While 7kW home chargers aren't necessarily cheap, there is Government support to subsidise the potential cost depending on the type of property in which you live.

In terms of costs, you'll find charging an EV is considerably cheaper than refuelling in a more traditional manner. The average reported cost of charging is around 4p for every mile travelled with an electric car, as opposed to 18p per mile on average with a petrol or diesel car. It may take more time but it's an awful lot cheaper.

Charging on the go - If you need to charge your car on the go, you can find charging points throughout the UK. There are around 30,000 charging points currently available, all of which can be located online for easy reference. Depending on the provider, you may also be asked to produce a specialist card or use a specific app to unlock the port, but increasing numbers are able to be accessed using a contactless bank card. This will vary between different operators so make sure to look for information when you're at the station itself.

If you're on a long journey, you'll also be able to find a supply of chargers on the motorway. This will largely be the Gridserve chargers you can see in almost every service station in the country, though the likes of BP Pulse, InstaVolt, Osprey, and GeniePoint provide large numbers of rapid charging points across the country.

Deciding if an electric car is right for you

It's all very well understanding the details, but how does it actually apply in real life? It's easy for us to say an EV is a practical choice but that may not be the case for everyone. If you are never more than 50 miles from home, or you live in the stop-start world of city traffic, then an electric car is most likely the right choice for you. On the other hand, if you're regularly clocking up tens of thousands of miles travelling the length and breadth of the country for work or family, the choice may not be so clear cut.

PHEV models allow some electric-only driving range, often enough for your daily commute, particularly if you have charging facilities at work.

The kind of journeys you make will decide whether or not having an electric car would be appropriate for you. EVs do still have limitations when it comes to how far they can travel. With the exception of a few of the premium models, most electric vehicles will be running a bit low after 200-250 miles or so off the back of one charge. If you're highly unlikely to ever travel that far in a day then it would be easy to switch to an EV and there's a wide choice.

If you're regularly clocking up hundreds of miles a day, the choice isn't so easy. You can still drive an EV but your options are currently limited to the premium brands with 300 miles or more of range.

There isn't really an easy way to summarise this because it will be a slightly different decision for everyone. You've got to consider range, running costs, average mileage, charging options, and that's on top of the usual considerations of style, comfort, and interior space. There are lots of reasons why your next car should be an EV but it isn't going to be a perfect fit for every driver.

What we would say is that, just because you occasionally have a journey that's longer than 250 miles, this isn't a reason to rule out an EV: you can still do the journey but it might need more planning.

If you're thinking of leasing an EV , or any other car for that matter, your best course of action is to give us a ring and have a chat about your requirements.

Going electric might be more practical than you think.

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