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  1. The Explainer
11 November 2021

Should I buy an electric vehicle?

All new UK buildings must include electric vehicle charge points by 2022. Is now the time to make the switch to an EV?

By Emma Haslett

Electric cars might not have the same “grrhmm vroom rahh” that petrol vehicles do, but they lift off from traffic lights “faster than a Ferrari”, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters on Monday (22 November), during the unveiling of a scheme that will require all new homes and buildings to be fitted with electric vehicle (EV) charging stations from next year.

The move builds upon the government’s plan to ban new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. So what does this mean for consumers?

What will the new commitments provide?

Around 145,000 additional charging points will be installed in the UK each year, according to the announcement. Easier ways to pay to recharge electric vehicles will also be introduced at fast and rapid charge points, with the intention of making the process “as easy as refuelling a petrol or diesel car today”.

Concerns remain, however, that inequalities surrounding the location of public charge points have still not been addressed, with the Labour Party pointing out that London and the south-east are today home to more points than the rest of England and Wales combined. There is also still no financial support available to help lower and middle-income families make the switch.

When will electric vehicles become the default option?

Under the terms of a deal agreed by governments and car manufacturers at the Cop26 climate summit, all signed-up nations must stop selling fossil fuel-powered cars and vans by 2040 and “by no later than 2035 in leading markets”. Practically speaking, that means the internal combustion engine’s replacement is likely to be the battery: hydrogen vehicle technology is advancing, but most car manufacturers are focused on electric vehicles (EVs).

More than 30 countries signed up, including Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Sweden and the UK. Canada and the UK are the only G7 nations on board. 

Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, General Motors and Ford all said yes to the agreement, but several car manufacturers were notable by their absence, namely BMW and Volkswagen. Nonetheless, Volkswagen, keen to improve its image after “dieselgate”, has already said 50 per cent of its sales by 2030 and nearly 100 per cent by 2040 will be EVs. Toyota, the world’s biggest car manufacturer, has not signed up, but the Japanese company has long been more focused on hydrogen fuel cells than batteries.

Should I buy an electric vehicle immediately?

The international deal’s target date is still 19 years away, but if you’re in the market for a new car, an electric vehicle might seem like an attractive option. 

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The trouble is that at the moment, particularly in the UK, they’re difficult to come by. A global shortage of microchips has hit vehicle manufacturers – including electric vehicle manufacturers – hard. Last month, Jaguar Land Rover had to pause production for a week because of the chip shortage, while Renault has cut its output by 500,000 cars this year.

In September, Daimler’s chief executive, Ola Källenius, said the shortage could last into 2023.

There’s also your lifestyle to consider. Although the time it takes to charge an electric car is reducing, it still takes much longer than filling up at a petrol station. Renault says its new Mégane E-Tech can travel from London to Newcastle with one 30-minute stop to charge.

And if you’re without off-street parking, you will have to battle for a roadside charging station, which can be expensive, or involve running a cable over the pavement. Ofgem says the UK will need 19 million new home charge points by 2035.

Aren’t electric cars expensive?

An analysis by the German battery specialist the Mobility House compared the cost of owning two relatively similar cars, a Hyundai Ioniq Elektro Trend and a Hyundai i30 1.4 T-GDI Trend DCT.

It found that although the owner of the electric car had to budget between €5,000 and €10,000 more for the purchase price of the car, after running costs, insurance and so on, the electric vehicle owner eventually ended up €600 better off.

However, the analysis factored in incentives and subsidies such as free road tax and a €9,000 purchase premium, which reward early adopters. In the UK, these subsidies are already being reduced. Meanwhile, the breakdown cover provider the RAC says a third of motorists can’t afford even the cheapest electric cars. Many cities, such as Madrid in Spain, offer free parking for EVs, while motorway and bridge tolls are free, or at least 50 per cent cheaper, for EV drivers in Norway.

Does this mean the end of the internal combustion engine?

The death knell for the internal combustion engine was sounded years ago – and manufacturers are hearing it. AlixPartners says global carmakers are planning to invest $200bn in electric vehicle technology between 2020 and 2024. The fact Tesla, which only makes electric vehicles, is the world’s biggest car manufacturer by market capitalisation, is a sign investors are increasingly enthusiastic.

Consumers seem to have got the message too: the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the industry body representing UK carmakers, published figures earlier this month showing 287,000 electric vehicles will be registered in 2021, more than in the whole of the past decade, while battery-powered electric vehicles will outsell conventional diesel cars next year. Figures from online sales database EV Volumes show global sales of all-electric vehicles rose to 2.65 million in the first half of this year, up 168 per cent year on year.

Will car companies stop selling internal combustion engines?

Many car companies had already set their own targets to stop producing fossil fuel-powered cars.

Volkswagen has said it will stop by 2035; Ford, Fiat and Mercedes-Benz by 2030 and Opel by 2028. In the UK, Jaguar has said it will go all-electric by 2025, while Mini, which has a manufacturing facility in the UK, is aiming for 2030.

Can cars ever really be green?

Transport emissions are the fastest-growing source of emissions globally, accounting for around a quarter of all emissions. EVs massively reduce emissions at the tailpipe, which is good for the climate and for our health. Fewer car emissions means vastly improved air quality in our towns and cities.

But they are not a silver bullet. Until EVs everywhere are powered by clean energy – renewables or even nuclear – emissions are still being pumped out somewhere.

Analysis by Reuters suggests you need to drive an electric car an average of 13,500 miles before it does less harm to the environment than a “gas-guzzling saloon”. Meanwhile, Volvo says emissions from the manufacturing process can be 70 per cent higher for EVs than petrol models, meaning motorists would have to cover 68,400 miles before their EVs were greener than fossil fuel-powered models, dropping to 30,000 miles if the vehicles are charged with clean energy.

The short answer is: yes, if you are buying a new car, an EV is perhaps better for the climate, health and probably your wallet in the longer term. But as protesters outside Cop26 made clear, the real solution is fewer cars, better public transport and more bikes.