An introduction to electric cars
The world changes and evolves every day. And with more focus being placed on the need to conserve the environment than ever before, it’s only natural that new rules are being introduced to reduce the number of petrol and diesel cars on the road.
With the sales of new petrol and diesel cars prohibited beyond 2030, more people than ever are turning to electric cars as a viable alternative. Once the stuff of science fiction, these types of cars are now readily available for most road users.
For the average driver, it might be hard to know where to start when it comes to running an electric car. After all, you’ve probably spent most of your life driving a petrol or diesel option. Luckily, we’re here to help.
This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about electric cars, including how to buy one, the charging process, how they’re likely to impact British roads in the future, and all the costs associated with an electric car you might not already know about.
Predicted future trends of electric cars
If current trends are to be believed, the automotive industry is on the verge of its most drastic change in decades. Some forecasts predict that by 2030 (the year in which new internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle sales will be banned) there will be somewhere between 33-40 million electric cars on European roads.
In November of 2021 alone, as many as 18.8% of all new vehicle registrations in the UK during 2021 were electric, with a further 9.3% registered hybrids.
6.5m households are expected to own an EV by 2030, while a Government report found 44% of all adults were likely to switch to an all-electric car in the next 10 years.
Bloomberg NEF goes as far as to predict that electric cars could be 2200% more common on global roads by the year 2050. Their projections highlight the following market shares by the start of each of the next four decades for this type of vehicle:
Electric car market share projection
Despite the encouraging figures, there is without doubt some hesitancy on the part of drivers – which has the potential to see these ambitious predictions fall short. Concerns about the move to electric have largely remained consistent amongst UK drivers, with separate Deloitte studies in 2018 and 2020 highlighting their doubts.
The survey found the following issues to be of greatest concern:
Concerns with moving to electric, 2018 compared to 2020
The report highlighted how worries had not only been largely unaddressed, but in some instances grown stronger. Manufacturers would do well to learn from this data, as they look to ease these doubts heading forwards.
How many electric cars are already on the road?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, changing attitudes towards electric cars have seen a spike in the number on British roads. The total has soared across the last ten years, with there being over 515,000 electric cars registered in the UK as of 2021.
This is a staggering increase from 2012, when there were practically none. The table below highlights just how drastic this surge in popularity has been, with the rise of battery-powered electric cars in light blue, and plug-in electrics in the darker shade:
Cumulative number of plug-in vehicles registered in the UK (2012 to date)
Unsurprisingly, this has also resulted in a huge increase in market share for electric cars. While they are definitely still outnumbered by more traditional options, there has been a rapid increase in the percentage of new cars being registered every year that use electric power of one kind or another.
Since 2012 the market share (of new registrations) has been:
New electric cars registered every year
Source: Next Greencar
The sudden surge speaks volumes about the changing attitudes of drivers. In fact, a recent study by Ofgem found that as many as 6.5m people (24% of those asked) plan on driving an electric car by 2026.
They go on to estimate that as many as 18 million electric cars could be on British roads by the time of the ban on internal combustion engines in 2030. With stances quickly changing and people opening their mind to ethical alternatives, expect these current trends to continue.
The benefits of driving an electric car
If you’re someone who’s on the fence about making the switch over to electric, it’s important to remember there are a number of advantages to opting for this evolutionary type of vehicle. Some of the main benefits of driving an electric car include:
With no tailpipe, electric cars emit no polluting greenhouse gases. At a time when global warming is becoming an increasingly alarming concern for many, having the peace of mind to know you’re doing your bit to combat it is both mentally and (in the long term) physically rewarding.
Congestion charge reduction
Some cities, including London, have congestion charges in Clean Air Zones. These fees are sent out to discourage people from driving a heavily polluting car through certain congested areas. Electric cars are penalised far less heavily, if at all.
Lower running costs
It can cost anywhere up to £11.05 for a petrol or diesel car to travel 100 miles. By contrast, an electric car can cover that distance for the equivalent of just £1.30. That is a staggering 850% cheaper in an electric car.
Many would point to the cost of installing a charging point as a leveller for these higher running costs. But did you know you can actually benefit from a variety of government grants to help subsidise that price? Some even help you reduce the price by as much as £350.
It’s more feasible and beneficial than ever to own an electric car. And with the rule changes of 2030 just around the corner, you’d find yourself handily ahead of the curve.
Owning an electric car
If you’ve made your mind up about driving an electric car, it’s important for you to understand every aspect that goes into the ownership and management of your vehicle.
Researching an electric car
There are different considerations to keep in mind when owning an electric car. Make sure you put in a lot of thought before committing to any kind of electric vehicle.
Understand your options
We aren’t living in 1973 anymore. There are plenty of really good electric models on the road, so look around to find one which works for your specific needs. Take things like accessibility, price, predicted range and size into account – just as you would when getting a diesel or petrol car.
Do a test drive
Just as you’d like to get yourself familiar with any car you’re regularly driving, it’s important to take a vehicle for a test run. Really get to know the car, and find out if it’s something you could see yourself driving in the future. It’s important to feel comfortable.
Use government grants
Owing to the environmental benefit it does to the world around us, the UK government is keen to help promote the use of eco-friendly cars. That’s why they offer a number of plug-in grants to encourage road users to go electric. Find out if you’re eligible and take advantage of one if you are lucky enough.
There’s a lot that goes into charging your car, whether it be at home or out in public. We’ve got a whole section coming up that goes into detail on what you need to know – but the key takeaway here is that you do need to understand it before committing to electricity.
Charging your vehicle
One concern that a lot of people who’ve never owned an electric car have is the charging process. This is something you’re unlikely to be all that familiar with – at least on the scale of a car. But don’t worry, charging your car isn’t the faff which some people would make it out to be.
Charging at home
Home chargers are a fantastic option for anyone who lives in a house with off-road parking. They make keeping your vehicle topped up easy and speedy, giving you the ability to charge your car overnight.
On average, an hour’s worth of charge on a home charger will be enough to see your car travel anywhere from 10 to 30 miles. This will of course vary according to the make and model of your vehicle.
The unit itself is often attached to a wall, with a cable coming off it which is plugged into your car. They also come with built-in safety features, as well as Wi-Fi. This allows you to carry out automatic software updates overnight.
And while you may have heard that you can plug your car into a classic three-pin socket, we’d advise against it. While this does work to an extent, it can take an incredibly long amount of time for this to charge your vehicle to a decent level.
Charging at work
Charging your car while you work is a very convenient option. After all, you’re likely to leave it stationary for most of the day anyway, so why not give it a little top-up while you do so?
This naturally relies on your work having a charger point – which in 2021 is far from a given. If you are lucky enough to have this available to you, it will probably take the same amount of time as your home unit.
In order to ensure their ports can charge everyone’s cars, most offices have a “Type 2” universal socket. This means you’ll need to bring your own cable in order to properly charge. You may also need to use an RFID swipe card or a mobile app to access the ports. Check with your work first.
Charging in public
Public charging ports are littered throughout the country. In fact, you can find a full list of every spot in the UK with the help of Zap Map. Some of these might be free (offered as an incentive for visiting a business), while others might ask for a small fee to use them.
You’ll need to bring your own cable, as they are also likely to use the universal Type 2 sockets. Charging range at these kinds of places tend to be a little better than at home or work, with a minimum of 20-30 miles for every hour your car is hooked up.
Charging for long journeys
Most detractors of electric cars cite the risk of the battery dying on a long journey as one of the main reasons not to invest. In reality, this issue is a problem of the past – with most service stations offering some form of electric charging point for travellers in need of an instant boost.
These chargers are usually considerably more powerful than any other variants, which mean they top your car up a lot quicker. Owing to that, though, they will often charge you for their use. This is at the discretion of the station in question.
It’s more feasible and beneficial than ever to own an electric car. And with the rule changes of 2030 just around the corner, you’d find yourself handily ahead of the curve.
Taking care of your car’s battery
While the basics of caring for an electric car will be similar to the needs of a regular ICE vehicle, extra attention should be placed on its battery health. Carefully maintaining this core component can extend your vehicle’s lifespan by years. The best advice for battery management is to:
Take regular, short drives
Just as a petrol or diesel engine needs to be run every so often to keep it healthy, a battery-powered car also needs to be frequently taken out for a drive. Even short trips to the shops should be enough to keep it ticking over nicely.
Try to avoid rapid charging
It’s not necessary to steer clear of rapid charging altogether, but it’s best to only use it when time is a premium. Slower, steadier charges (like those you can do at home overnight or during your working day) are better for long-term battery health.
Stay topped up between 20-80%
Allowing your battery to drop to empty, or charging it to its very limit, are both things best avoided. Keeping your battery in the steady bracket of 20-80% (much like with some mobile phones) will help to preserve it. You might even be able to change the settings on your car to cap at 80% when charging.
Only fully charge for long trips
Sometimes it makes sense to fully charge your battery. Long trips are a good example of this. Its overall health will only be damaged if you consistently keep it topped up to 100% (or in the high 90s).
Some electric cars have a built-in navigation system which tells you how much charge is needed to reach your next destination. Be sure to check this beforehand, rather than guessing and topping it up all the way as a failsafe.
Pain points for owning an electric car
While there are clear environmental advantages to the use of electric cars, it would be naive to assume there aren’t also barriers to owning, driving and charging one. Let’s explore what a recent Ofgem report cited as some of the biggest hurdles owners faced.
Drivers found that there was an informational overload during the research stage of their purchase. This made it harder to pluck out the precise answers they were looking for, leading to minor frustration.
Others also found that while a lot of detail is given on the cost of charger installation, less is spoken about in regards to the rewiring of your home. This can sometimes result in a cost in excess of the installation itself.
Arguably the biggest stumbling block is the lack of clear information – something which can be felt even by dealerships. While traditional ICE vehicles have been around for decades and are tried-and-tested, electric cars are still new, and information is scarcer and even contradictory at times. Additional factors like chargers need factoring in before purchase too, so more work needs to be done on education across the board.
Range anxiety has always been a sticking point for drivers looking to make the switch to electric. Unsurprisingly, this was one of the most prevalent issues faced, with some even suggesting they were able to travel less miles on one charge than had been advertised to them.
When charging at home
Rising costs (as a result of energy company tariff changes) and a lack of bespoke charging setups were chief amongst gripes for at-home charge points. There was also concern regarding inconsistency between charger performance and different models.
When charging publicly
The setup required to actually use a public charge point has proven to be one of the greatest frustrations for drivers. Often you’ll need to do a lot of legwork beforehand – setting up an account on a variety of different apps, topping that account up with credit, and even needing to provide proof of verification in some cases. This is all a far cry from the simplicity of contactless payment at fuel pumps.
What’s more, drivers with accessibility requirements have also found that using a public charger is sometimes a struggle. Kerbside access can be non-existent, while reaching the – often heavy – charging cable itself is sometimes impossible.
These pain points have the potential to affect you whether you’re a current EV driver or looking to become one. Ultimately, the report highlighted there’s still a lot of uncertainty amongst the everyday driver about the transition from ICE to EV.
The 2030 petrol and diesel car sales ban
As you’ve probably heard, new rules are being introduced to limit the number of cars being produced which use traditional forms of fuel. These rules are set to come into effect as of 2030. Let’s take a closer look at what they mean for you.
Why petrol and diesel cars are being banned
The ban will be implemented with a view to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The aim is for Britain to cut greenhouse net emissions to zero by the year 2050. It’s also believed the reduction of petrol and diesel cars will directly contribute to better air quality across the country.
Rules on hybrid cars
Hybrids will be around for a little longer than their combustion engine cousins, with cars of this ilk staying in showrooms until 2035, as long as they can prove they can cover a significant distance in zero-emission mode. At that point they too will be banned from being sold in the UK.
Selling secondhand after 2030
The ban is only going to restrict the selling of brand new cars. That means if you want to sell your used petrol, diesel or hybrid car, you have every freedom to.
Do I have to scrap my car?
There is no obligation for any driver to scrap their car just because of the new rules. It will not be illegal to own or even drive a combustion engine car beyond 2030, so there’s no need to have yours taken away from you. Most cars of this nature have a lifespan of roughly 14 years, so it’s possible we will still see petrol and diesel cars on the road regularly until the mid-2040s.
Can I convert my petrol or diesel car?
It is possible, but costs can range anywhere from £20,000-£60,000 depending on the size of your car. At that point it would probably make more sense to just invest in a totally new electric car.
The average cost of owning an electric car
Owning a car is never cheap, but most experienced drivers will have a relatively good idea of costs when it comes to conventional petrol and diesel options. With electric cars, prices tend to vary a bit more. This can be both good and bad for drivers.
The upfront cost of your car is something you’ll definitely want to factor into your budget. Prices will obviously vary, but you’d probably find an average car for around £25,000 when new. This can be subsidised with partial payments, as well as government loans.
While for a long time insurance rates were quite a bit worse for electric cars, the tide does seem to be turning. Driving Electric found that most internal combustion engine (ICE) cars are now only a maximum of 10% cheaper, and in some cases can even be more expensive. With more electric cars on the road, this gap is likely to only close further.
With fewer moving parts and items which can wear and degrade over time, it’s perhaps no shock that an electric car tends to service for much cheaper than a petrol, diesel or hybrid car. This has (and always will be) one of the biggest advantages to the wallets of electric drivers.
Understanding electric car taxes
Owing to the significantly different levels of emissions you’ll find between an electric and traditional car, it’s perhaps no shock that taxes and other costs will also vary quite a bit.
Vehicle Excise Duty (VED)
As this form of tax is calculated in accordance with the levels of CO2 emitted from a car’s exhaust pipe, electric cars are not required to pay anything in the way of VED. This wasn’t true prior to April of 2020 for cars costing over £40,000, but has since been changed.
Company car tax
Electric cars tend to be a much cheaper alternative as a company car, owing to the Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) rate being significantly lower than for traditional cars. In the 2021-22 tax year this will run at just 1% – incredible when compared to 13% for a hybrid car.
Other tax benefits
Other benefits include being exempt from the London Congestion Charge (usually £15 a day), as well as allowing a business to claim back the full cost of an electric car as capital allowance. And as the final icing on the cake, National Insurance rates can also be lowered for companies, as electric cars help their overall CO2 figures.
The future of electric cars
Electric cars might be the future, but they’re also part of the present. That, paradoxically, means they have a lot of evolving to do themselves – especially if they want to cement themselves as the go-to car of tomorrow. Let’s now look more closely at what the future of electric cars might look like on British roads.
What the roads of the future might look like
It’s understandable to picture roads in the future as looking much the same, only with a few more Teslas occupying lanes. In reality, there’s a good chance the entire landscape of motorways and A-roads might be different.
Imagine a world where your car can be continuously charged by a special technology lying under the very road you’re driving on. While we’re still a little way off that reality just yet, it’s one of many futuristic ideas being proposed to make a global transition to electricity easier.
A dominant percentage of electricity
Perhaps unsurprisingly, electric cars will eventually come to dominate the road. We’ve already seen how, even in 2021, there has been a rapid rise in the number of electric cars on British roads. In another couple of decades, they look set to become the norm.
A classic contrast
Because classic cars (those aged 40 years or older) are not being banned outright, we might occasionally be amazed by a petrol or diesel-powered car on the motorway. What might look like a relatively commonplace 2005 Vauxhall Corsa today is the vintage work of art of 2045’s Britain.
Will there be alternatives to electric?
Just as electric was once the shiny new alternative to fossil fuels, it would be narrow-minded to assume that this form of travel is the one and only option for the rest of time. In fact, there are already a variety of options already out there.
These radical types of fuel are made from sugarcane and corn, and do considerably less damage to the environment than standard petrol. Second generation biofuels are seen as the most popular option, as they can be generated without any food wastage.
Thermoelectric technology, which takes heat and converts it into electricity, is another option. While this is a clever form of tech, it does rely on a natural heat source being present in the first place.
While the technology for this type of fuel is currently very expensive, hydrogen is seen as the biggest challenger to electricity. It requires no battery, being powered in a more traditional combustion engine. The crowning glory is that, like electricity, there are no CO2 emissions when it’s used.
If electric cars fail to dominate the globe, could one of these alternative-alternatives take its place?
What different manufacturers are doing to adapt to electric
Not wanting to get left behind, a lot of current manufacturers are taking steps to stay relevant. Here are some of the steps which the bigger names on the road are taking to ensure they have a presence in the future.
This Japanese manufacturer has always been at the forefront of electrical tech, with the Prius standing out as one of the most successful electric-powered cars. They currently have a whopping nine hybrid cars in their range, with an eye on pure electric for the future.
A tried-and-tested name in any household, Ford offer three exciting models in their all-electric range. The F-150 Lightning, Mustang Mach-E and E-Transit are all very viable options for anyone looking to dip their toe in electrical waters – in the safest way possible.
Nissan has been ahead of the curve for some time, with their Leaf seen by many as the breakthrough mainstream electric car. Rather than expanding beyond their original model, Nissan have instead chosen to keep the Leaf ahead of the game. They’ve worked to constantly improve the model over the past decade.