UK electric vehicle boom drives new car sales to 12-year high

THE number of new cars registered in the UK hit a 12-year high at the beginning of this year, with electric vehicles taking a record share of the market, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

The industry body had warned of a slowdown in the motor trade in 2017 because of the impact of the weak pound but there was no sign of deceleration in the first monthly numbers of the year.

Drivers registered 174,564 cars in January, up 2.9% on last year, to reach the highest monthly level since 2005, the trade body said.

For those thinking of making the switch from petrol or diesel, here is a 10-point guide to electric vehicles, provided by

1. Safety

Motorists opting for pure-electric cars no longer have to compromise on safety – the latest models have demonstrated that EVs can be just as safe as their equivalent petrol or diesel counterpart.

2. Practicality

With cars like the Nissan Leaf, electric cars now offer unprecedented practicality with room for five, reasonably spacious boots and a range that satisfies the vast majority of commuter distances. EVs like these have never been more viable as alternatives to petrol and diesel cars and there are many more like them on the way.

3. Charging

Electric cars can plug in to the domestic 13amp power supply at home, the same as a vacuum cleaner or TV. In fact, trials have shown that’s what most EV users do – 85 per cent plug in and charge overnight at home or work rather than using public on-street charging points.

4. Range

Most new electric cars have a range of around 100 miles. That doesn’t sound like a lot but given that 80 per cent of Europeans drive less than 63 miles every day and the average UK driver travels just 25 miles, 100 miles on a charge should be more than enough for most needs.

5. Types

Along with hybrid vehicles, there are now Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) cars which have a larger battery that can be charged up using mains electricity, allowing the driver to go further at higher speed on pure electric power before the engine kicks in. There are also Extended Range electric vehicles (E-REV) like the Vauxhall Ampera, which can go even further on electric-only power. The Ampera’s onboard petrol engine is only there to generate electricity when the batteries are depleted. Then there are pure-electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf and supercar Tesla Roadster which can hit 60mph in just 3.7seconds.

6. Charge time

Charging times depend on the size of the car and how big the battery is. The typical charge time for pure-electric cars using a standard UK home wall socket is between six and eight hours. PHEVs and E-REVs take much less time to charge because they have smaller batteries. Most new pure EVs can also use rapid charging points that can top up the batteries to 80 per cent capacity in around 30 minutes.

7. Costs

Electric cars are more expensive to buy than traditional cars. This is because the high-tech batteries are very expensive right now. However, running costs are a lot lower than petrol or diesel equivalents. Charging an electric car is seriously cheap. For a typical pure electric car charged from flat to full, the cost could be as little as 96p depending on tariff, but it’s very unlikely to be more than £3.40. And that’s for 100 miles range. EVs are also road tax exempt, don’t have to pay the London Congestion Charge and benefit from free parking in many pay and display spots.

8. Environment

Electric cars are sometimes touted as “zero emission” but that can be misleading. They have zero tailpipe emissions but there are emissions created in the generation of electricity. The average CO2 rating for a mid-size electric car in the UK, when you look at the “well-to-wheel” figure, is about 80g/km. A fair comparison with a traditional car must also look at “well-to-wheel” figures, taking into account the drilling for oil, transporting, refining and then transporting again. The average figure for a mid-size combustion-engine car is between 147g/km and 161g/km so electric cars are “greener”  As the national grid gets cleaner, so do electric cars.

9. Incentives

There are tax and rebate cash incentives for purchasers of electric cars in many markets. In the UK the Plug-in Car Grant currently offers buyers up to £5,000 towards the cost of selected cars and owners are likely be exempt from Vehicle Excise Duty, Fuel Duty and company car tax. In London, drivers don’t have to pay the Congestion Charge and will often find they can park in pay and display spaces for free.

10. Weather

Electric cars work in all kinds of weather, including heavy rain, snow and blazing heat. Front-rank manufacturers like Nissan, Renault and BMW conduct extensive testing in extreme weather conditions. Batteries left for weeks in sub-zero temperature should be fine if the EV is plugged in, but they could be damaged if not. The range of an electric vehicle will be negatively affected by the use of the car’s heater so many EV’s offer “pre-conditioning” which warms the cabin while the car is still being charged. That way, you don’t waste energy heating up the cabin when you set off on your journey. In extreme heat, some manufacturers use water or air cooling to thermally manage the batteries.