Staff Blog - 23/03/2017

Electric Cars..... Are they worth it?

by Rachel Gatward

Electric cars were first built and tested as far back as the 1800's. The first versions were mainly for battery powered locomotives but this prompted others to turn the technology to cars. Many models were developed and used throughout the world, however they increasingly became "hybrids" with petrol engines as well and because the cost of fuel was so low the use of electric motors declined rapidly until only petrol engines remained.

Many years ago, it became clear that falling oil reserves meant the tried and tested petrol and diesel engines we know and love had a shelf life (albeit a rather long one). Coupled with the apparent impact on global warming  and the rising costs of obtaining it, car manufacturers and many tech firms began to look at alternatives. The first and most obvious was to look at electric once again.

Technology had advanced to such a point that far more powerful, yet compact, batteries were available. However despite all of the investment into developing the technology many companies continued using a hybrid engine. The most notable was the late 90's release of the Toyota Prius. Originally billed as being the next big thing it became clear early on that the technology was not yet there and so the petrol engine was still relied upon.

Fast forward 20 years and the technology has certainly advanced again with smaller more powerful storage options available. There are now around 12,000 electric charging points across the UK and many models are capable of racking up a lot of miles before needing a charge. However charging itself is a problem and the duration the charge lasts depends heavily on the way you drive and other factors such as using the radio, sat nav or air conditioning. Electric cars are developed with cities in mind. They are supposed to be short distance A to B cars to help improve air quality and cut the cost of driving. However this is immediately restricting to many buyers who aren't in cities.

First you need a charging point at home which is accessible which means you pretty much need a driveway. If you don't it means running an extension lead from your house out onto the street. Not an ideal scenario. Imagine getting up to go to work in the morning having left the charge on overnight to find someone has disconnected it! What then? You're now hours away from being charged and ready to drive.

Next is when you need to charge elsewhere. As mentioned, there are 12,000 points across the UK. However remember just how big the UK is and how sparse some areas are. You could drive 100 miles and be nowhere near a charging point. The number of points is always increasing but it will be some time yet before there is a blanket coverage.

These issues are the reason that most of these cars remain "hybrids". By combining conventional motors with electrical ones you get the best of both worlds. If the charge runs out, switch to petrol. This in turn re-charges the batteries for later use. This makes sense and allows the technology to improve steadily whilst slowly helping to lower fuel use. Hybrids will likely be around for some time before truly electrical cars are at a level where they can be used all round.

The last stumbling block of the past few years is cost. These cars can be incredibly expensive when weighed against the pros of having one. However with many major manufacturers now ploughing billions into research and development these costs will fall whilst the efficiency rises. Not to mention that the days of boxy Prius style cars are gone. There are some very good looking cars coming to market and so aesthetics are no longer an issue to those with looks and style at the top of their requirements.

It's also worth mentioning that because such cars are seen as the future and far better for the environment, the UK government currently has a grant system which means you can get around £4,000 off the price of a new one.

So are they worth it? In short and strictly in my opinion, no. The technology is still not there to make electric a viable option for most people. If you drive many miles and go to many different places you would find yourself constantly concerned with charge levels and finding charging stations . The use of hybrid engines certainly alleviates this but if you are relying so heavily on the petrol engine, why bother with the electric motor in the first place. You are spending a significant sum of money for just the option of using the electric motor.

Much like any big purchase you should always do you research first and make your own decision based on your needs.

 

This month's Staff Blog was by Rachel Gatward (Head of Finance). Click here to find out more about Rachel.

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