At our November 2016 meeting, four local people shared their experience of using electric cars. It was fascinating and encouraging to hear how the technology has developed and continues to improve. All said electric cars were great fun, very economical and suited to local use while still allowing much longer trips.
The cars used were a Volvo V60 diesel hybrid, BMW i3 with a petrol-powered range extending generator and two all-electric Nissan Leafs. All were fun to drive, with better acceleration than conventional engines, no gears, just two foot pedals (brake and accelerator) and good dashboard displays.
Electric cars are clever. They have regenerative braking with the engines working in reverse while braking (or idling) to recharge the battery, which saves on brake pads and can lead to a different driving style to make good use of this feature.
They are so quiet that the Nissan Leafs emits a high-pitch whistle up to 19 mph to warn pedestrians.
Electric motors are also very efficient. They are far lighter and better than fossil fuel powered engines, which produce a lot of waste heat and are only about 30% efficient.
The cars can be charged at home and one of the Leaf owners initially charged theirs from a normal plug overnight, which fully charged the battery in 8 hours. The cars can be rapid charged from special power points in about 30 minutes.
Somerset is not yet well served by public electric charging points but there are some, including at Nissan dealerships, and Ecotricity provides them at motorway service stations. Their locations can be viewed on websites, mobile apps and some sat navs.
A 2014 Nissan leaf has a range of about 90 miles when fully charged, which has increased to 120-150 miles on new models. Some new electric cars have ranges of up to 250 miles and the best currently offers up to 380 miles.
The top of the range BMW had a 70 mile electric range and was able to get from Wivey to Bruton and back on electric power only during the summer, but in winter with lights and heating could only get to the other side of Taunton and then needed the range extending generator to make the same trip.
The hybrid Volvo V60 was a more complex car with a 30-mile electric range, allowing regular all-electric trips from Huish Champflower to Bridgwater where it could be charged at the owner’s workplace. On longer trips in hybrid mode it achieves an average of 80-90 mpg and switches automatically and almost imperceptively between diesel and electric power to optimise fuel economy.
Long journeys had been undertaken in the all-electric cars, such as to London, which required two charging stops each way.
The all-electric cars were found to be well-suited to local journeys around Wivey and within Somerset, as well as for trips to Exeter and Woolacombe. They could be used for longer journeys with planning to access on-route charging points. It was suggested that electric cars make a good second family car or that a hire car and the train could be used for occasional longer trips.
One Leaf owner had run out of power on a trip to the other side of Bristol where a planned late charging stop failed due to the facility being out of service. Nissan offer a recovery service for such situations and transported them to the nearest available charging point.
Boot space was reduced in the hybrid car but not in the all-electric Nissan Leaf which was reported to have a very spacious boot and was comfortably used for a family of five.
The Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe are two of the lowest cost electric cars available. A Nissan Leaf currently costs about £200 per month on a 3-year lease and one of the owners used only £130 of electricity to cover 4,000 miles (so costing just 3.25p per mile for fuel). It can be even cheaper by powering up on an off-peak tariff or from your own solar panels.
All-electric cars are exempt from vehicle tax and hybrids currently pay a lower rate. Maintenance needs and costs for electric cars are also low.
The Volvo hybrid had a high lease cost which has been more than offset by reduced car tax and fuel costs. It is very comfortable to drive and the battery has a 10-year guarantee.
Second-hand electric cars can offer excellent value, with a good Leaf or Zoe available for around £6,000.
All the owners greatly enjoyed driving their electric cars and would not swap back.
For further information see:
Go ultra low – joint government and industry website, which covers 100% electric cars, plug-in hybrids, extended-range electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
Go ultra low: grants and savings – Government grants for electric cars and charging points in your driveway or garage or a chargepost on your street.
Zap Map (and apps) showing charging point locations, plus guides to cars and charging.
Next Green Car – buyers guide for green cars and helpful information on car tax, emissions and costs.
Fully Charged – a weekly + video series by Robert Llewellyn (star of Red Dwarf, Scrapheap Challenge and Carpool). It’s mainly about electric cars, including reviews, but also covers electric bikes, boats and planes and how we generate and can own the electricity to power these machines. It’s recommended viewing: fun and informative.
Test drive of a petrol car – a Tesla review to see how petrol compares to electric!