Hit the road to cheap motoring by switching to an electric car

Ditching traditional diesel and petrol vehicles and charging your electric car at home could wind up saving you thousands


If you’re in the market for a new or nearly new car and low running costs are a priority, the chances are you’ll probably plump for a diesel. However, the image of diesel has come in for a bit of a hammering in recent times thanks to concerns about its contribution to toxic air pollution in urban areas, not to mention the VW ‘dieselgate’ controversy.

But even if your environmental conscience plays second fiddle to running costs, switching to a plug-in electric car could save you thousands a year if you can make it work.

According to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), based on doing the national average mileage of 16,000km a year, you would save nearly €900 a year in fuel costs over an equivalent diesel car. This calculation assumes that charging your EV over the course of a year to cover this distance would add just over €200 to your annual electricity bill, while the diesel car (56 mpg or 5L/100km) would cost nearly €1,100 a year to fuel.

The cost comparison calculator on the ESB ecars website produces similar figures. The average diesel car doing 23,000km a year would cost €1,800 a year to fuel, while the EV would merely inflate your electricity bill by just €300.

Add to this cheap tax and the likelihood of lower servicing costs for an EV because there are few moving parts to worry about.

Needless to say, pure EVs won’t suit everyone,. However, huge improvements in battery range, the number of public charging points as well as model availability has seen the Irish EV population grow faster in the last three years, albeit from a low base.

There are now 1,200 charging points around the country, and given the still tiny numbers of EVs around, there have been relatively few reports of difficulties in accessing them.

While the sales trend is upwards, it’s still steady rather than dramatic, according to figures from the Society of the Motor Industry (SIMI). So far this year, 434 (298 electric, 136 plug-in hybrids) have been sold, which seems well on track to beat last year’s figure of 690 (392 electric, 298 plug-in hybrids).

More choice

There are also many more makes and models now available. While the Nissan Leaf is by some way the most popular EV, you can also choose from cars like the Renault Zoe, BMW i3, Hyundai Ioniq, VW e-Golf, and Audi e-tron A3. There’s even a people carrier in the form of the Nissan E-NV200.

There’s also probably the coolest electric car brand of the moment, Tesla, which opened its first Irish showroom this week

Mind you, you’ll need deep pockets for those. A Model S saloon will set you back over €80,000, while prices for the new Model X SUV arriving this year will start at over €110k.

Indeed, even the more open-minded motorists among us are likely to have been put off by the high prices of electric cars relative to comparable petrol or diesel versions, even with the SEAI grant and VRT rebate that electric cars qualify for.

For instance, the full price of a VW e-Golf is nearly €45,000, but thanks to the SEAI electric car grant of €5,000 along with a further €5,000 in VRT relief, the on-the-road price is slashed to just over €35,000. However, even the highest-spec diesel Golfs are priced at just over €30,000.

But if the trade-off between the higher upfront cost and the long-term savings in running costs seems reasonable, how do the economics of running a pure electric car stack up in the real world? We got in touch with a number of members of the Irish Electric Vehicle Owners Association (IEVOA) to ask them how the sums were working out for them.

Contrary to the popular perception that current EVs only make sense for shorter journeys, not only are many doing quite high mileages with the help of the public charging infrastructure, their pockets are considerably better off.

Many reported they had been previously spending anything up to €250 a month on fuel but are instead now paying up to €40 a month extra on their electricity bill (and often less if they used free public charging points).

Dave McCabe, an committee member of the IEVOA, which has 800 owners in its Facebook group, says the vast majority of owners seem to be happy with their decision to switch to EVs.

He says the key to serious EV cost savings is down to mileage; the more you do, within reason, the more you save. “Because we have free public charging, there is no situation at the moment where a EV is dearer to run then a petrol or diesel car,” he said. “What you find is that low mileage EV users might only make small savings, simply because the alternative amounts of petrol or diesel they would buy are not significant anyway.”

Charging for charging

ESB ecars, the division responsible for rolling out and maintaining the public charging points network, did propose to introduce charges late in 2015 only to postpone the decision following a bit of an uproar, and followed by talks with the Commission for Energy Regulation. Customers would have been charged €16.99 a month for unlimited access to low-speed one-phase charging points nationally along with a extra 30c a minute if you use one of the fast charging points.

Denis O’Leary, head of smart energy technologies at ESB, says charging will be introduced “at some point in time”, although what those charges would be is the subject of a consultation and review by the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) that is due to be completed shortly. However, Declan Meally, head of emerging sectors at the SEAI, says that even when charging is introduced, it is unlikely to affect the running costs for the estimated 90-95pc of owners who charge their EVs at home. He adds that the Government may consider a range of further incentives to boost EV take-up.

But there is also a concern over the higher long-term depreciation of EVs compared to conventional cars. Analysis by car-history -checking website MotorCheck, which monitors the residual values of the car market for banks and manufacturers in Ireland, shows that the average ‘C Segment’ car (Ford Focus, VW Golf) will be worth 42pc-47pc of its value over three years with an average mileage, while EVs are averaging between 28pc-34pc.

“One of the issues affecting the used values of EVs is that the technology is still pretty much in its infancy, and that means it is moving forward at a fast pace, with the result is that an EV purchased today could be obsolete in terms of technology within two or three years,” says MotorCheck managing director Michael Rochford.

These factors didn’t stop John and Lisa Carey from Dublin from opting for a new Nissan Leaf (a 30kwh version) last year, and they later replaced their second car with a second-hand 2011 Leaf (24kwh version). John Carey, who does about 20,000km a year, calculated that the total cost of ownership of the new Leaf over the first five years – including finance, electricity, tax, insurance and servicing – worked out at €7,500 compared to €9,050 for a comparable diesel car (in this case a Ford Ecosport).

But it was the total per annum cost after five years (once the car was paid off) that is the biggest eye-opener, with the Leaf working out at €1,030 a year to run vs €3,470 a year for the Ford. The difference, besides the fuel vs electricity costs, is the cheaper motor tax of the Leaf and the assumption that the Ford is more expensive to service as it gets older (fewer moving parts in an EV, or so the argument goes).

Real-world range

Carey’s 161 Leaf has a realistic range of 160km, while the older 2011 Leaf can do about 90km, which he says “is perfect for a local runabout with occasional airport runs, etc, while 160km can get me anywhere in the country with only one 30-minute stop, which is good enough for me as I would like a break by then anyway”.

Carey said they did wonder before buying the new car if they should hang on until battery ranges improved. (The Nissan Leaf’s claimed range is 250km, but many owners also urge would-be buyers to take manufacturers’ range claims with a large pinch of salt).

“There will always be better on the horizon but we decided that we could either wait for more than we needed regarding range, or accept that what is available now is perfect for our motoring needs. The small sacrifice of the odd 30-minute charging stop is justified by the cost saving.”

He’s also not concerned about depreciation because they tend to hang onto their cars rather than trade them in every few years.

However, the higher levels of depreciation of EVs, including in Britain, have allowed others to get into nearly new EVs for a lot less than they would have paid new.

Last August, Pat Rabbitte from Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo imported a 2014 Nissan Leaf from England for the all-in cost of €9,300. Furthermore, he was spending €160 a month for diesel on his previous Ford Fiesta, and now estimates that he has saved nearly €1,300 in just over seven months of owning and driving the Leaf to work in Galway.

“In my case, my motivations were purely financial – and I did so knowing that I was going to have to compromise in terms of having to use the public charging system, and having to be patient with long-range journeys. It doesn’t stop me from doing them but they can be arduous.”

This article first appeared in the Sunday Independent

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