An introduction to electric cars
Buying an electric car
The future of electric cars
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 these kinds of cars prohibited beyond 2030, more consumers 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 through a number of suppliers.
For the average driver, it might be hard to know where to start when it comes to buying 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.
The history of electric cars
While they might feel like a relatively new feature on British roads, electric cars have a much longer history than you might expect. Let’s take a closer look at the journey these types of cars have been on so far.
Would it shock you to learn that electric cars can be dated back as far as the early 1800s? While far from the kinds of vehicles we’ve come to picture today, the first version of an electric car is believed to have been developed by Robert Anderson in roughly 1832.
At a time when the automotive industry was very different to how it is today, the reliability and lower pollutant emission rates of electric cars made them a popular choice for well-to-do suburbanites. The absence of smelly gas was cited as a huge plus point for them.
The 1900s decline in popularity of electric cars
At the start of the 1900s, electric cars accounted for a third of all vehicles on the road – better numbers than we witness even now in the 21st century. However, the glory days weren’t to last.
The development of better road surfaces, as well as the discovery of cheap crude oil reserves in Texas, made owning and operating a petrol or diesel car considerably more appealing to the average motorist.
With gas stations becoming a common sight in most towns and villages across the world, electricity soon lost the battle of convenience. By 1935, there were practically none of these more eco-friendly cars left on the road.
Soaring gas prices of 1968-1973
Gas remained a viable and affordable option for the bulk of the 20th century, but the boom couldn’t last. Shortages of fossil fuel, as well as a sharp increase in costs, suddenly turned attention back towards electrical alternatives.
Meanwhile, in 1971, the Lunar Rover demonstrated the power of electric cars to the world as it became the first-ever manned vehicle used on the moon. Popular opinion was swaying again, with electricity looking like a viable future alternative.
New electric cars spring up in the 1970s
Renewed interest led to the creation of a number of briefly popular cars. And while models like Sebring-Vanguard’s Citicar didn’t last for very long, they did at least highlight the potential that this type of car has.
Interest fades again in 1979
However, without anyone really perfecting electric cars and conquering the market, and with traditional fuel levels replenished, the cars lose popularity again. At this point in history, they are just not reliable enough for buyers to invest in, with major flaws like limited performance and range putting people off.
1990s regulatory changes
Electric cars remained largely dormant and forgotten about during the 80s, before being suddenly flung back into the public eye in the 1990s when regulatory changes were introduced to tackle the worrying levels of CO2 which traditional fuels put into the atmosphere.
Hybrid cars hit the road
Toyota introduced the Prius to roads in 1997, making it commercially attainable on a worldwide scale. This was the first time in recent history a leading manufacturer had cornered the market like this. The Prius proved very popular with celebrities, making it an alluring option for drivers.
Tesla emerges in 2006
While they’re a leading name in the world of cars today, in 2006 Tesla proposed a radical new approach to the roads. Their early success in the field served as inspiration for other manufacturers.
The Nissan Leaf launches in 2010
In 2010, the Nissan Leaf was launched. This was the first all-electric car to be commonly seen on roads across the world. It has zero emissions from its tailpipe, making it very popular with drivers with a more eco-friendly mindset.
Prices plummet and variety soars
Battery prices for electric cars dropped by 50% in just a four-year period across 2009-2013. This made electric cars more affordable and attainable than ever before. What’s more, by 2014 there were over 20 pure electric and 35 electric-hybrid models available to choose from.
With public opinion continuing to sway in favour of electric cars, and new rules set to be introduced to ban the production of traditionally fuelled cars, the future is bright. Tesla is now a household name, with other leading manufacturers looking to them for guidance. It may not be too long before electric is all we see.
How many electric cars are already on the road?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, changing attitudes towards electric cars have directly contributed to a continued prevalence of them on British roads. Numbers have soared across the last ten years, with there being over 515,000 electric cars registered in the UK in 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:
Source: Next Greencar
The sudden surge speaks volumes about the changing attitudes of consumers. In fact, a recent study by Ofgem found that as many as 6.5m people (24% of consumers) plan on owning 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.
If you’ve made your mind up about buying an electric car, it’s important for you to understand every aspect that goes into the purchase. Keep reading to discover what you need to know about buying your first ever 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, costs tend to vary a bit more. This can be both good and bad for drivers.
As with anything in consumerism, 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 price sitting around £25,000 when new. This can naturally be subsidised with partial payments, as well as government loans.
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 vehicle. This has (and always will be) one of the biggest advantages to the wallets of electric drivers.
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.
Electric cars do depreciate over time – but that’s true of any vehicle. Cars aren’t often bought to be flipped for a profit, as they serve a very practical purpose. While this is an area where you should expect to lose financial value, it isn’t tied in any way to the electrical nature of your purchase.
How to buy an electric car
There are different considerations to keep in mind when buying an electric car compared to other options. Make sure you focus on these steps to get the most out of your buying experience.
We aren’t living in 1973 anymore. There are plenty of really good electric models on the road, so shop around to find one which works for your needs. Take things like price, predicted range and size into account – just as you would when buying a diesel or petrol car.
Use government grants
Owing to the 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 (up to £2,500) to encourage road users to go electric. Find out if you’re eligible and take advantage of one if you are lucky enough.
Do a test drive
Just as you’d like to get yourself familiar with any new vehicle you’re buying, it’s important to take any prospective purchase for a test run. Really get to know the car, and find out if it’s something you could see yourself driving regularly in the future.
There’s a lot that goes into charging your vehicle, 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 that 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 tends 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 means 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.
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 new 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.
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 vehicle 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.
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.
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 vehicle. At that point it would probably make more sense to just invest in a totally new electric car.
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.
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 vehicles costing over £40,000, but this was subsequently changed.
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.
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 vehicle.
The future of
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 vehicle 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 offers 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 has instead chosen to keep the Leaf ahead of the game. They’ve worked to constantly improve the model over the past decade.