Renault Zoe 2013 665x297

Electric cars finally make sense… or do they?

I really quite like electric cars, which surprises many people as they know my preference for large capacity V8 engines that make lots of noise and use lots of petrol.

However, there is something very relaxing about driving an electric car. Obviously there is the lack of noise. Some models are so quiet that previously unheard noises become major irritations, items such as windscreen wiper motors, air conditioning blowers and the click from the indicators.CHAL Banner

More than that though is the way the cars drive. Right now they won’t be worrying any performance manufacturers, but press what used to be called the loud pedal down quite hard and you will find that there is a surge of torque that pulls whatever electric car you are in forwards.

That surge doesn’t fade away quickly, requiring a gear change or three. Instead the car just stays in the power band at all times, quietly and efficiently accelerating you beyond the speed you had intended.

The only real downside is the much talked about range anxiety, but if you know you’ve got 100 miles of range and you are only heading some twelve miles to a country pub for lunch, then even that won’t spoil your day.

BMW i3 Concept 2013 FrontStopping sales in their tracks though are the costs of getting involved in electric motoring. BMW has just announced the prices for their forthcoming i3 pure electric car, and the world is marvelling at how little the brand will be charging.

The German firm will be allowing you to leave the showroom with a shiny new i3 in return for just £25,680. But just hold on one moment. That’s £25,680 (once you’ve taken off the £5,000 government incentive that us tax payers cover), or roughly £10,000 more than an Alfa Romeo MiTo, a car that is ever so slightly larger than, and just about equals the premium and sporting image of the new BMW motor.

Yes, forget range anxiety and wobbles about high technology failures, what is really holding back the sale of electric cars is the pricing.

Renault Zoe 2013 FrontRenault enter stage left. The French firm went a different way with their electric range, reducing the price of the cars to something reasonably affordable. You can pick up the Renault Fluence, a Focus sized saloon, for just £17,845 while the Clio sized Zoe comes in at just £13,995.

That is all well and good; it makes electric cars look far more affordable. However, you then have to add in the cost of the batteries.

Yes, if you buy a Renault then there’s a big sticker (or at least there should be) saying ‘batteries not included’. If you want your electric care to go anywhere, you’ll have to shell out at least a further £70 per month if you plan on covering up to 7,500 miles a year. The more miles you cover, the more your monthly fee is, rising to £93 a month if you are covering 12,000 miles a year, with a 2.5 pence per mile penalty if you go over the limits.

If you read what I wrote back in April, my apologies for the recap. If you didn’t, I said that electric cars make sense for a growing number of people, mostly private buyers.

I may possibly have been wrong. If the car doesn’t look quite as good value now the leasing costs have been added, it certainly does look far more complicated.

I recently got hold of a copy of the lease agreement and some of it makes for a worrying read. For example, if you keep the Renault for 20 years, you will be expected to pay your £70 per month each and every month for that time. That would be £16,800 incidentally.

Should you, some years down the line, run in to some financial difficulty and miss some payments, Renault reserve the right to remotely turn off your battery, preventing it from recharging. That will leave you with a beautiful lawn ornament, even if you’ve long since paid for the car and battery many times over.

Most worrying though are the rules around selling on your car. If you trade your car in at a recognised car dealer, then everything is fine and dandy. However, if you sell your car privately then you have a major risk on your hands; you are wholly responsible for the lease costs of the battery until such time that your buyer takes out a new lease agreement with Renault. If they take three months to do that, you pay three months for a battery you no longer have.

Nissan LEAF 2013 Front Right

If they never get round to doing it… well you can imagine that getting quite ugly. In no other area can I think of a time where you would be held responsible for leasing costs of a product you don’t own.

Turns out that buying an electric car isn’t that easy then. You either buy a car with a battery and take the risk that the battery will last indefinitely, or buy a car and lease the battery but take on incredible financial risks later on.

So I take it back. For now, there are still too many questions around electric cars. One day somebody will do it right, and hopefully very soon, but for now it’s internal combustion for me.

[button link=”” rel=”nofollow” color=”orange”]This article was first published at on 23 July 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.

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