Some early adopters have been there for years, a few hold outs are determined it will never happen, but most of us are aware that moving from the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) to Electric Vehicles (EVs) is now only a question of when to make the switch. Having just passed 10,000 miles of electric motoring myself, this is a personal perspective on what it can be like to join the charge.
Probably the biggest surprise I’ve had is how much time and hassle I’ve saved no longer standing at a diesel pump, staring glumly at the fast rising figures informing me by how much my bank account is about to be emptied. Simply plugging in when I park up at home, for day to day use I never need to think about filling the car. It helps itself to the electrons it needs overnight on Economy 7, and I can go from Devon to Bath or Swindon and back again without needing to top up on the way.
For really long journeys the car automatically routes to chargers as required, but I’ve found that so long as I charge whenever I stop for another reason – for lunch, to walk the dog, or whatever – I never actually need to stop specifically to charge. I just plug in for however long I’d anyway be stopped for, and unplug when I would anyway have moved off. With this approach the 600 miles from Devon to Aberdeen, and the same again back again, saw me devote no time to charging at all. Even on an 1,850 mile European roadtrip for business meetings and visits to friends in Paris, Grenoble and Geneva I only once spent time stocking up on electrons rather than doing so whilst anyway stopped for a meal or a break – and even that one time was gainfully employed navigating the wonders of the Passenger Locator process on my phone. (Government bureaucracy reliably takes longer than charging a car.)
So, where’s the catch? Well, there are three of them.
Firstly, what I’ve described above is the experience driving a Tesla and using their incredible SuperCharger network. When I was looking to buy an EV a wise friend steered me away from my first choice to Tesla specifically for their charging network, which gives an experience lightyears away – in speed, reliability and availability – from the public networks. I have no commercial interest in Tesla nor do I own any shares (regrettably) but for now, if you’re going to go further than the range of the car from your home, they’re pretty much a slam dunk choice.
But that ‘range from home’ point is the second challenge. I’m lucky enough to have off-street parking so could fit a home charger, owning an EV is a very different experience if that’s not an option and you don’t have the luxury of it topping itself up whilst you sleep. Both these things will change: local authorities will work out how to provide on-street charging, public charging networks are already improving, Tesla are talking about opening up their network – but until those things happen, they can be real limitations.
And there’s one more: dosh. Whilst fuel costs are dramatically lower with EVs than ICE and you spend far less on servicing (fewer parts to go wrong; regenerative braking saves discs and pads), the cars themselves are pricey. Apparently new car prices will be equivalent between ICE and EV by 2023, and after that EVs will be the cheaper option, but as most people buy their cars second hand it will take years for them to filter through and make electric motoring a viable option for all. In the meantime, for those lucky enough to have access to a salary sacrifice scheme, the tax breaks on EVs in the UK are so generous it seems odd any petrol or diesel cars are still being bought new by businesses.
So, the moment may not yet be right for you to make the electric switch, but it may well be nearer than you think. And when it comes, you may just find you like it.