Before I wrote the two articles on my choice of an electric Jaguar I-Pace (see link below), it crossed my mind that readers might not be interested. It is rather off-message, even though I had chronicled my time with the Nissan Leaf back in 2015 and these articles brought forth some interesting comments.
Then I reminded myself that Macfilos has its origin in technology, rather than the current focus on photography which has been the draw for most readers over the past few years. EVs are at the forefront of automotive technology and, clearly, strike a bell among readers.
As it happens, I have been astounded by the amount of interest in the last story in which I recounted my recharging experience when visiting the British Motor Museum in Gaydon, which is also home to Jaguar Land Rover. So far, this article has clocked up 60 comments and I think this is a record — it is certainly a record for this year with only two articles (Tom Lane’s Yosemite and my Nifty Fifty) coming anywhere close, with 40 comments each. I realise that these figures may sound modest in the general blogosphere, but our comments are of high quality and spam is ruthlessly culled. Every single one is worth reading.
Nonetheless, this level of interest is surprising and, at the same time very encouraging, especially since most of the comments came from existing readers rather than from casual visitors brought in by the subject matter. I even found one long-time reader, Tony M, who has owned an I-Pace for six months and had some encouraging words to say.
It is significant that this article came at a time when the British Government seems hell-bent on a race to the bottom in banning the internal combustion engine. Since the article, the EVocalypse has now edged even further forward to a worryingly close 2035. The legislature, feeling the heat from lobbyists, is now thinking of lopping off a further three years to bring the date to 2032. Even worse, hybrid vehicles, which have up to now been encouraged with allowances and benefits, have been written off as bigger polluters than the more efficient modern petrol burners.
To some extent, this doesn’t surprise me since the all-electric range of the majority of PHEVs (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles) is not much more than 20 miles. Research tells us that many owners never bother to charge them and drive all the time on fossil fuel while reaping the advantages of their eco-credibility. But it is hard on those who bought plug-in hybrids and now find them sidelined.
All is clearly not well. Will it end in tears? Or, more likely, in a pragmatic postponement of deadlines as the country remains unprepared for the big chance?
I remain absolutely delighted with my new electric car. I’ve now done over a thousand miles in three weeks. Not only is it a fabulous car to drive, but it is also well built, futuristically styled and has up-to-the-minute driving safety aids (one of my primary motivators, incidentally).
Last week I visited the New Forest, a round trip of 160 miles, driving mostly at 70 mph, and got back with 60 miles left in the tank, thus confirming the 220-mile winter high-speed range — it could be ten per cent higher in a British summer without heating or air-conditioning. On shorter trips, away from highways, it is likely to return even better figures. This is fine by me. I can live with it and it is only on much longer journeys that I will need to use public charging facilities. In this respect, despite the low numbers of fast chargers, so far I have not found it too difficult to find vacant “pumps”.
I have, however, changed my opinion in one respect.
After the discussion following the previous article, and having pored over several dedicated websites and forums, I have realised that the term “range angst” is misleading. I don’t anticipate suffering from range angst because, frankly, after 200 miles I’m ready for an hour’s break over a coffee or lunch.
No, it’s not range angst, it is rather “charger angst” that bothers me. Will I find a charger at precisely the service spot where I plan to stop for lunch? Will it be free? Will it be working? Once the charging infrastructure is sorted out (as Tesla has already done) all the angst will be a thing of the past.
On the broader front, I abhor the war being waged against diesel- and petrol-engined vehicle owners and the pressure this is about to place on the general motoring population.
The goalposts keep moving back and forth and there is not the slightest chance the British Government will be fully ready for compulsory electrification in 2032 — or even 2042, for that matter. The task is monumental and the cost is astronomical.
I bought an electric car not to make a statement, certainly not to display my eco creds, but simply because I like them. Electric cars are super fun to drive and the power delivery is something entirely new — seamless, gear-less and full of torque. My car promises 400 bhp and that power is on tap from the minute you touch the throttle (or, perhaps, we should now talk about flooring the rheostat). The torque is amazing, and regenerative braking is the key to genuine one-pedal progress. The simple fact is that driving an electric car is something else, an absolute buzz.
At the moment, nevertheless, electric vehicles are mainly for those who can afford them. Buyers currently pay a big premium for their altruism. Forget the (currently) cheap electricity, forget the lower road tax and, in the case of Londoners, the exemption from the £11.50-per-day congestion charge.
When you take into account the extra cost of electric vehicles, the depreciation and standing charges more than offset any financial advantage. The Jaguar, for example, is some 20% more expensive than an equivalent petrol-engined car equipped to the same high specification — and that’s based on a desirable car such as the Porsche Macan. It’s a big pill to swallow in order to make your electric statement.
Simply put: After all the encouragement, all the apparent savings, an electric vehicle is more expensive to run than a petrol or diesel equivalent.
The electric premium
What of people who can’t afford the electric premium or, perhaps, have to buy cars that are a few years old rather than new? The situation is not going to get better.
A majority of motorists on the road are financially are excluded from the EV rush and, for the foreseeable future, ICE cars are going to be much cheaper to buy and much cheaper to run.
Of course, the current relative boom in electric vehicles will percolate through to the second-hand market. Older EVs will become more affordable and people will undoubtedly trade in their ICE vehicles. There will be premium even on the used market, but there is a hidden factor to be considered in the cost of battery replacement and this could hit long-term residuals.
The batteries in the I-Pace are warranted for eight years but, during that time, they will degrade as all batteries do, so the range will gradually reduce over time. And after eight years, the cost of replacing those batteries will be prohibitive in relation to the residual value of the car. Vehicles will probably have to be scrapped unless the industry comes up with much cheaper third-party battery packs.
Will we be able to pop down to the local KwikFit for an infusion of new batteries at a bargain price? Probably not, and it could well be far cheaper to buy a younger electric car than replace the batteries in an eight-year-old jalopy.
This has implications for depreciation if electric cars are known to have such a short lifespan. Currently, a quality car has a useful life of 15 or more years. I own a 15-year-old Mercedes A-class that is still in excellent condition and still has a good few years up its exhaust. It’s still reliable and good to drive, but it’s now worth peanuts. If it had been electric, I suspect, it would have been scrapped already.
But those worries are for the buyer. For governments, the biggest challenge is in providing the means for car owners to charge their EVs and, more alarmingly, to provide the necessary power.
First, the provision of charging facilities: We are already well behind schedule even in providing chargers on the main highways. As I showed last week, you are still likely to find just one fast charger at most service stations (unless you own a Tesla when you could find up to 16) and there seems to be no immediate prospect of that improving.
While public charging points are of vital importance, especially to underpin longer journeys, it is home charging that holds the key to the viability of electric vehicles. And, at a rough guess, I would say that in Britain probably fewer than half of all car owners have the ability to install a 7.2 kWh charger outside their home. You need a private drive or a garage to be able to install a charger. Most people, especially in big cities such as London, park on the street or live in apartment blocks where they would be very lucky be able to install a charger.
If the Prime Minister intends to position Britain as a global leader in a ‘net zero’ project….. then he ought to have the courage to spell out the implications. Does he agree with cost estimates? He won’t say. If he’s serious about the 2035 electric car target, how does he plan to equip Britain with enough charging points? Are there plans in place to build an energy grid large enough to power the nation’s electric cars? There is no answer.Editorial in The Spectator
If this grandiose scheme for electrification is to succeed, local authorities will need to install charging pods alongside every public parking space on all streets in every town and city. The mind doth indeed boggle.
We’ve seen the sort of thing already — a charger unit squeezed into a lamppost where there is already a convenient source of power. Yet to extend this to cater for all kerbside parkers will require the laying of new cables, the rebuilding of substations to cope with the load and, above all, the generation of hundreds of megawatts of extra electricity. It has been estimated that Britain would need three or four new nuclear stations to cope with the demand. And nuclear power wouldn’t suit environmentalists either, to that’s out. Where on earth is all this power coming from? At least we have a lot of wind, both from government and from the Atlantic and the North Sea.
As usual, governments are blundering into rash promises in order to assuage lobby groups. There isn’t a cat in hell’s chance that we in Britain will be ready for universal vehicle electrification by 2032 and to suggest otherwise is a massive misleading of the motoring public.
While we are on the subject of the motoring public (which means most of us, by the way), it is a long-suffering demographic. Back in the 70s and 80s, the lobby groups decided that diesel was the great saviour.
Everyone must henceforth drive diesel cars and, in some countries (but not in Britain), massive incentives were introduced. For a time diesel was half the cost of petrol or gas. Diesel was attractive (and still is, let’s be honest) because it uses less fuel per mile and therefore extends the range and reduces cost. At the peak of dieseldom, these cars accounted for over 50% of registrations in Britain.
However, once “green” diesel had become the preferred mode of propulsion, suddenly it was demonised and we must turn to petrol. Now petrol is in the doghouse and the new Messiah of propulsion is electricity.
Again, however, once we’ve all electrified (if we can) governments will realise that all their tax revenue has disappeared. So electricity costs (for the vehicle use at least) will soar; gone will be the days of installing a home charger and using domestic rates. We’ll all have to have new meters for the car and will pay through the nose for the privilege. Then, no doubt, the lobby groups will turn their attention to the evils of electricity generation and the disposal of batteries. The poor old motorist cannot win and, frankly, some people won’t be happy until we have readopted the horse and cart.
The real answer, perhaps, is to buy one of the last diesel or petrol cars and run it into the ground. That should take you to 2055 or even later, assuming you can still buy fuel.
In the meantime, I chose my electric car because I wanted the experience and I am an inveterate early adopter. I knew I would love driving it (having owned an electric car before) and I welcome the challenge of running it occasionally over longer distances, perhaps two or three times a year. I am happy, I don’t plan to go back to fossil fuel, but I do worry about all the plotting, scheming and grandstanding that is going on. I am a good example of a carrot buyer, rather than a stick buyer.
We will not be ready in twelve or fifteen years and, whatever the outcome, the huge cost of the project will fall on the motorist and, also, on the general public in the form of taxation.
Government intervention and direction is necessary for many areas. That’s what a civilised society is all about. But the current level of knee-jerk reaction to pressure groups is seldom the answer. These things need a lot of thought and planning and unrealistic targets only make matters worse. The British Government (and it isn’t alone in the world) has just made a solid rod for its own back. I forecast it will end in tears, despite my pioneering optimism.