UK leads charge on climate-friendly electric cars

Climate change has been a hot topic in recent days thanks to the multi-national conference in Paris on limiting the potential increase in global temperatures to 2 degrees during the present century. Petrol and diesel cars, as we all know, pump out huge amounts of greenhouse gases, which is why the government has reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring that we’ll all be driving zero-emission vehicles by 2050. The UK is one of 13 international members of the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Alliance to sign a pledge at the Paris conference.

Charging ahead

Andrew Jones, transport minister, said: “Electric cars are greener and cheaper to run, and we are making them more affordable, spending more than £600 million between 2015 and 2020 to support the uptake and manufacturing of ultra-low emission vehicles here in the UK.” Electric cars are certainly growing in popularity. There are now more than 43,000 plug-in vehicles on the roads, compared with just 3,500 in 2013. In fact, sales of electric cars have surged over the last couple of years. At the start of 2014, about 500 electric cars were registered each month, compared to about 2,400 a month in 2015, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). As a percentage of new car registrations, electric cars now represent approximately 1% of the total new car market in the UK.

Model behaviour

You can choose from a wide range of cars, too. There are around 35 models on offer in the showrooms, with more on the production line. The Nissan leaf is perhaps the most well known electric vehicle, and it’s still the most popular. But Mitsubishi, BMW, Toyota, Vauxhall and Renault all produce top-selling electric vehicles.

Plugging the gap

So what’s the attraction of an electric car? Plug-in cars don’t spew out potentially harmful greenhouse gas emissions. They also cut down on noise pollution as they are almost totally silent. They therefore appeal to our inner eco warrior. But the RAC Report on Motoring 2015 suggests we want to save money as well as the planet. A fifth of people surveyed would consider buying an electric car – and nearly half of them would opt for a plug-in because of the lower running costs.

Tax facts

There’s no doubt that electric cars can work out cheaper than standard vehicles. For a start, you don’t pay any road tax on a plug-in vehicle. You don’t have to worry about the London Congestion Charge, either, and other such charges elsewhere in the UK are likely to be structured in a similar way. It’s also typically cheaper to charge an electric car than to fill a conventional car with petrol or diesel, even though petrol prices have come down in the last month (edging below £1 a litre in some areas). Most people charge their cars at home, either with a conventional plug socket or a dedicated charging point. A dedicated charger is usually more efficient and you can even get a grant toward the capital and installation costs. The Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme, run by the Office for Low Emissions Vehicles (Olev), offers up to 75% of the costs up to a maximum of £700. You can find out more about the grant at www.gov.uk/olev.

Points of order

If you don’t want to charge your car at home, the government has invested in a national network of charging points. There are now about 9,000 and they are either slow, fast or rapid. A rapid charger can provide an 80% charge in about 30 minutes, but they are not always free to use. You usually need to register to use the public charge points, but the Zap Map guide has information on costs and access. The downside of electric vehicles is the cost. Some models are up to £10,000 more expensive than a conventional equivalent, and there isn’t yet a particularly thriving second hand market.

Taken for granted

But don’t let the cost put you off because you can save money on the cost of an electric car thanks to the government’s plug-in car grant. The grant covers 35% of the value of the car up to a maximum of £5,000 and 20% of the value of a van up to a maximum of £8,000. The money is automatically taken off the purchase price by the dealership and you can find a list of eligible vehicles on the government’s core website. The government also recently announced an extension of the plug-in car grant so it will continue until at least February 2016.

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