Electric cars: is the revolution on its way?

You might not have noticed, but we’re ‘on the cusp of a technological revolution’ which in just a few decades will see almost every motorist embrace ultra-low emission cars.
Well, that’s what speakers at the Electric Vehicle Summit, which took place on earlier this week at the University of Surrey, would have us believe.

Leading the charge

The summit is a meeting place for the automotive sector, government and academia to share their knowledge about the development of the electric vehicle sector. It is held at the University of Surrey because it is one of the leading centres for research into electric car technology. The county is also home to many of the companies at the forefront of this sector, including Toyota and McLaren. Speakers this year included a lecturer in environmental psychology, a Renault product manager and a professor of Energy and Environmental Systems. Together, the group looks at investment and funding issues, as well as how to encourage take up of electric vehicles.

Miles off target

Only a tiny fractions of the UK’s 30 million motorists have yet to embrace electric cars, with many perhaps deterred not only by their cost, but by the fact that mileage on a single charge remains relatively low. As Baroness Kramer, Minister for Transport, admitted at the summit, in 2010 just 111 plug-in cars were bought in this country. Three years on, that figure had reached 3,585 and, between January and August this year, so far 6,000 electric cars have been sold. However, Baroness Kramer claims we’re set to see a change on the roads over the next few years which will be “as significant as the move from coal to petroleum.” She said that by 2050, almost every car on the roads is expected to be ultra-low emission. The government is certainly doing all that it can to encourage electric car take-up, pledging £37 million to make it cheaper to install charging facilities both at home and on streets, and providing at least £100m for British businesses for green vehicle research and development.

Volt face

It’s certainly hard for any motorist to ignore the benefits of going electric. http://moneysupermarket-3.wistia.com/medias/8wlasfsukl?embedType=seo&videoFoam=true&videoWidth=600 Imagine the ease of simply plugging in your car every evening to charge it up for the following day. No more stinky petrol fumes, or waiting around on garage forecourts for the next pump to become free. There are low running costs too – it’ll set you back as little as 2p a mile to drive an electric car, so you could kiss good-bye to expensive fuel costs. You also escape car tax and the London Congestion charge, and you can get a generous grant towards the cost of your electric vehicle. The government will give you 25% off the cost of a car, up to a maximum of £5,000, and 20% off the cost of a van, up to a maximum of £8,000. The grant will be deducted automatically at the point of purchase, so you don’t even have to submit an application to get the cash. The government has pledged £200m to extend this plug-in grant, but even with this subsidy, the biggest sticking point with electric cars remains the cost.

Leaf well alone

I, like many people, would happily considering buying an electric car when my battered Peugeot 207 finally gives up the ghost – if only I could afford one. The Nissan Leaf, for example, costs around £16,000, even after the £5,000 grant has been deducted, which is out of the reach of many people. And it doesn’t seem as though costs are likely to fall any time soon. According to the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, the total cost of owning an electric car is unlikely to approach that of a conventional car until around 2030. So, while the funding and progress outlined by Baroness Kramer at the summit is certainly welcome, it still seems as though it’s going to be some time before electric cars become an affordable option - and the “revolution” can really begin.

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