Electric Vehicles

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Overview

Electric vehicles (EVs) were made possible as a result of a series of breakthroughs in the 1800s, including the battery and the electric motor. They were first mass-produced in the early 1900s but were immediately superseded by widely available and more affordable petrol cars, like the Model T. Though interest stalled in the years following, recently EVs have grown in popularity thanks to better storage batteries and public concern about vehicle emissions.

What are they?

A pure EV, sometimes called a plug-in EV (PEV) or battery EV (BEV), runs exclusively on batteries that are charged from an electricity source – generally a combination of plugging into the grid and regenerative braking.

There are many sub-groups of the EV but the most common is the hybrid EV. These vehicles run on both battery power and a standard internal combustion engine, like the one found in petrol or diesel cars.

What are the benefits?
EVs offer widespread benefits, whether you’re concerned about running costs or air quality. Since they don’t use petroleum-based fuels, these vehicles have no nasty exhaust emissions. This means that the air you breathe inside or in the immediate vicinity of the car is cleaner than it would be if the car was fuelled by petrol or diesel. Exhaust fumes, like NOx, benzene and carbon monoxide, are known to cause breathing problems, headaches, heart and lung diseases and even cancer, so best to steer clear of these if you can.

EVs also have cheaper running costs, although the upfront cost of the vehicle is usually higher. Electric motors are simpler machines than their counterparts, and fewer parts generally means less maintenance. Additional maintenance savings can be made because EVs have fewer items that need regular servicing (think oil or filters). Even the brakes may not need replacing as often because regenerative braking reduces wear and tear on standard (backup) friction brakes.

“Filling up” can be cheaper overall, too, especially if you charge your EV overnight on an Economy 7 (off-peak) tariff. On average, for every 100 miles you drive a petrol or diesel vehicle, you spend £9-13 on fuel. Compare that to just £2-3 to charge an EV for the same distance!

To increase the uptake of EVs, the government is providing financial incentives in the form of grants and charge exemptions. The value of the grants – which can be as much as £4500 for a car – are factored in to the price of the vehicle. The Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme (EVHS) also provides grants up to 75% of the cost to install charging stations in homes. Plus EVs may be exempt from congestion charges like those in London, some bridge tolls, the Vehicle Excise Duty and parking permit costs. Check with your local authority.

What’s happening in Southampton?

  • 90% discount on city centre parking season tickets for EVs.
  • 30 publicly accessible chargers installed in multi-storey carparks.
  • £254k to incentivise taxi drivers in Southampton and Eastleigh to replace older vehicles with low emission alternatives.
  • Replacement of SCC fleet vehicles with EVs, aiming for 20% electric by 2020.
  • Toll exemption with a SmartCities card across the Itchen Bridge for EVs.

If these reasons weren’t enough to convince you, EVs are quiet and have strong and smooth acceleration, arguably providing a better overall driving experience.

What are the drawbacks?
Before you make up your mind, you need to consider how you’ll be using the car and what kind of infrastructure you have available. EVs are best suited for short trips (30-80 miles per day) because of their limited range. An all-electric vehicle can cover about 100-200 miles on a single charge, depending on the make and model. For longer journeys, a hybrid EV or extended range EV might make more sense. But the choice will also depend on the location and type of charging points along your route. Some questions to consider are:

  1. Do you have access to off street parking or a garage for overnight battery recharging?
  2. Are there sufficient publicly available charging stations to get you from A to B? See Zap-Map, Open Charge, and others
  3. If so, what are the charging speeds (rapid/fast/slow) at these stations? Will you be willing to wait?
  4. Do you have the correct cable to use the charging stations? Almost all EVs can charge at Type 2 units and most EVs will have a cable with a Type 2 connector (7 prongs). Less common are the Type 1 (5 prong) and Commando (3 prong) connectors.
  5. What will it cost and how will you pay? Many charge points are free to use but it’s best to check. Regardless, you’ll most likely need to set up an account before you use the charging station, which may require an RFID card or a smartphone app.

You may also find that insuring an EV is pricier than a traditional vehicle. The high costs of specialised parts, especially the battery, and the need to employ specialist mechanics to make repairs, contributes to the higher insurance premiums. Many mainstream providers do not yet insure EVs, so you’ll have to shop around. In addition to the FAQs, be sure to ask insurers about battery cover and about liability for trips on charging cables, especially if your charging point is located on the street.

One more thing to keep in mind as you look to EVs for your next purchase is their value in the long-term. EVs depreciate quicker than other vehicles – not great for people looking to trade-in but potentially good news for drivers who want to buy a used zero-emission vehicle.

What can you do if EVs aren’t right for you?
Even if you’re not in the market for a new car, you can still save money and reduce emissions by following these top tips:

  1. Don’t skimp on routine maintenance. Check your tyre pressure regularly; not only is it dangerous to drive with low tyre pressure but it also increases fuel consumption.
  2. Don’t idle when stationary. Some vehicles have stop-start technology already built in – if you’re lucky enough to have this, you don’t have to worry about idling!
  3. Use active modes of transport for short journeys. If you can walk, bike or take the bus to the shops even occasionally, that’s one less car on the roads.
  4. Clear out your boot. By removing unnecessary weight from your car, you’re reducing the load and increasing the efficiency of your vehicle.
  5. Same goes for roof racks you’re not using.
  6. Slow down! Again, you’re reducing drag and thereby increasing your car’s efficiency. Not to mention the increased safety at slower speeds.
  7. On that note, when you start slowing down, it’s best to decelerate while remaining in gear instead of coasting in neutral.
  8. Change gears early (within reason) – driving at lower revs reduces fuel consumption.
  9. Anticipate what cars ahead of you will do to avoid unnecessary acceleration and braking. Steady-and-slow is better than stop-and-go.
  10. Windows or air con? If you’re not driving very fast, open your windows to get some fresh air in. If you’re going over 60 mph, close the windows and turn on the air con.