Renault Zoe 2013 665x297

Electric cars finally make sense… for some

Electric cars just aren’t taking off. Sales remain pitifully low, with both private buyers and fleet buyers put off by the same old issues that have plagues electric cars for the last 100 years – yes, they have really been around that long.

It comes down to three main issues that have been discussed over and over again: Range, infrastructure and cost.CHAL Banner

There is definitely something to be said about those objections, which will be insurmountable for some people, but are things really that bad?

Annoyingly, yes. No electric car is capable of replacing a family car, as a maximum range of circa 120 miles just isn’t enough. If you happened to live in Swansea, home of the DVLA, you could get as far as the English border, but then you would have to turn round and go home again.

The charging points dotted around the country promise easy recharging, but my own recent experience suggests we’re some way off having a joined-up network. In one small journey I came across charging points from three different companies, all requiring membership at a cost of up to £50 per year.

That was frustrating. I am happy to pay for the electricity I use, so why not have one network (like cash machine’s Link network) that allows use of any companies system. Fortunately I was in a Vauxhall Ampera so had a petrol engine to power me home. As I filled up with petrol, I did spot that Shell don’t charge a £50 annual fee to use their facilities, although they did charge slightly more than that for the fuel itself.

Then there’s cost. The Nissan Leaf, one of the better value pure electric cars on sale, costs from £23,490, and that’s including a subsidy of £5,000 from the government. That is around £7,000 more than a comparable Ford Focus, which should fund at least 60,000 miles of fuel.

Renault Zoe 2013 Front

We all know those downsides though. Repeating them does not add anything to the debate, but there doesn’t seem to be anybody willing to change the record.

Renault is having a good go though. The new Zoe, a Clio-sized city car that is pure electric, looks sharp and costs the right amount of money. Starting at just £13,995 after the government grant, the asking price is bang in line with the likes of, er, the Renault Clio.

Where Renault differs is that the price does not include the batteries. They cost from £70 a month extra based on 7,500 miles per year, which is roughly what it would cost to run in petrol. The advantage is that the batteries will be replaced in the event of an issue, as well as there being a recovery service included.

Industry valuation experts at CAP have criticised Renault for taking this stance, stating that it makes it impossible to predict their future resale value of the car, likening it to trying to value a Mondeo but not counting the engine.

Renault Zoe 2013 Profile

That decision by Renault has made life harder for fleet buyers to justify, with the battery pack being added to the purchase price as part of its P11D value. That gives company car drivers a double whammy as there’s BIK tax to pay on the car and £7,392 battery pack while also having to lease the batteries.

For some private buyers though, it is something of a bargain. Yes, it still won’t suit those travelling around the country every other day, but if you live in a city, especially London, and trundle around the suburbs between home and office then electric drive offers something special.

Amazingly, it offers a degree of joy. Urban driving in an electric car is no longer a chore to be suffered, with the wonderfully eager electric motor and lack of gears making a busy commute an almost calming experience.

Renault Zoe 2013 Charging

Batteries held low in the car smooth the ride, while the near silent propulsion whisks you from traffic light to traffic light in your own personal bubble, disconnected from the busy, noisy outside world. Driving to and from work could be the most relaxing hour you get all day.

It even makes financial sense, just about. At worst, it won’t cost any more than a conventionally powered Clio, while if you are London based then you get to save the £45 a week congestion charge.

Yes, it still only works out for a limited number of people, but for the first time there is a viable, affordable and attractive all-electric car on sale and that’s got to be something of a breakthrough.

The fleet buyers may move swiftly past it on the car lists, but for the rest of us it might just make sense. Check if it works out for you by searching it out using the box at the top of this page, making sure you click on ‘Personal’ in the red box.

You might be pleasantly surprised.

[button link=”” rel=”nofollow” color=”orange”]This article was first published at on 29 April 2013.[/button]

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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

1 Comment

  1. This is a really great article on electric cars. You’re right it does feel like a bit of a breakthrough to have one viable option, but until they sort out the charging I just can’t see it being taken up by many people. Basing it on the cash machine system is a good idea!

    Also, how long does it take to charge? If you did go on a longer journey would you have to keep stopping for hours every 100 miles to recharge? I commute to work and would love an electric car, but it wouldn’t get me there and back unfortunately.

    Thanks for the info, will share on twitter!


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