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Is an electric vehicle right for me?

By Benchmark

Unless you have been living on a desert island for the last couple of years, you will be aware of the ever-increasing pressure on us all to be more eco-friendly with our vehicle choices. Electric cars are certainly more stylish and ‘cooler’ than ever before, so it might be time to consider choosing one next time you're due to replace your vehicle.

"How far can I drive on a single charge?"

How far an electric vehicle (EV) can go on a single charge is an issue for some drivers. The last thing anyone wants is to run out of charge on a busy motorway. 

Good news: most electric cars are now capable of fulfilling most people’s basic driving needs. Those drivers who regularly sit in heavy traffic or eat up the miles might be concerned that the range of their chosen EV might not be enough. But electric vehicle ranges are getting longer and charge time is getting shorter. So an EV is looking like an increasingly viable choice. 

"How will I charge my car? I park on the street outside my house." 

Transport Secretary Grant Schapps has announced that an extra £2.5 million is to be invested in chargepoints on residential streets. The investment will help local authorities to install these chargepoints, which can be built into existing structures such as lamp-posts. The aim is to further accelerate the take-up of electric vehicles as the UK moves towards net zero emissions by 2050. 

The Transport Secretary said: 

"It's vital that electric vehicle drivers feel confident about the availability of chargepoints near their homes, and that charging an electric car is seen to be as easy as plugging in a smartphone."

At present, the UK has a network of more than 24,000 public charging connectors in nearly 9,000 locations, according to figures from the Department for Transport.

Read on for news about tax breaks for electric car drivers...

The Government has announced that company car drivers choosing a pure electric vehicle will pay no benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax in the financial year 2020/21. The Treasury says it "recognises the value of the company car market in supporting the transition to zero emissions technology" and also considers that by encouraging more company car drivers into low-emission cars, it can help generate "a competitive second-hand market in these vehicles." 

"So, is leasing an electric vehicle right for me?"

Leasing an EV is a very cost-effective way of going green. It still costs a lot more to buy an EV than a petrol or diesel vehicle. By comparison, monthly lease payments are generally only slightly higher than those for a petrol or diesel vehicle. With electric vehicle technology changing on a seemingly daily basis, the beauty of leasing one means that you can move with the times every few years. 

While sales of new cars continued to fall in 2019, sales of electric vehicles rose by 144% last year, thanks to increasing confidence in their practicality among consumers. Diesel vehicles saw a fall of nearly 22% last year, caused by uncertainty about their eco-credentials as well as future taxation and regulation. So, use of electric cars and hybrids is on the rise. However, pure electric cars, fuelled by batteries alone, accounted for only 38,000 sales, or 1.6% of last year's total of 2.3 million units. Electric car sales would need to reach about 600,000 to match current vehicle emissions targets.

"How about using hydrogen as a fuel?"

 "I believe that one day water will be employed as a fuel; that hydrogen or oxygen will constitute it, used singly or together, will furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light." - Jules Verne, 1874

Of course, motor vehicles were just a pipe dream in 1874, but Jules might have had a point. Hydrogen fuel technology is nothing new; after all, hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. The first hydrogen cell was invented even earlier, by Sir William Robert Grove in 1839. Replacing the traditional car battery, the hydrogen fuel cell combines compressed hydrogen with oxygen taken from the air to create electricity which powers the motor. The only bi-products are heat and water, so the vehicle can be classified as having zero emissions.  

The hydrogen has to be released from water or the air in the first place, a process which uses energy. But at the point of use i.e. when used to power a vehicle, it produces no harmful emissions at all. 

BMW unveiled the all-new i Hydrogen Next at the Frankfurt Motor Show last September. They hope to go into small-scale production of the zero-emissions SUV in a joint venture with Toyota from next year. BMW are already in development of a range of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, with tentative plans to introduce them from 2025.

It's very early days, with barely any sources of hydrogen fuel currently available to the public, but hydrogen cells might turn out to be a viable alternative in years to come.