There’s definitely a trend in the automotive industry towards a future free from dependence on fossil fuels. The death sentence for the once wonder-fuel of diesel has been signalled in major cities around the world.
You may be thinking of switching to electric for your next car, or perhaps buying an electric for your second household vehicle for those shorter journeys. There is plenty of sales information out there – but what are they actually like to own, drive and use everyday?
Having covered 19,000 miles in a fully-electric Renault Zoe over the last fourteen months I believe I’m reasonably well placed to try and explain some of the benefits, and drawbacks, of going electric.
You might think owning a modern electric car is a contradiction for an analogue man. You’d be right, but ultimately I chose it for environmental reasons, trying to be more mindful about the impact my car use has on others.
Range, Range, Range
The first things everyone wants to know is how far an electric car will go on a full charge. Unfortunately it’s not a straightforward answer as there are quite a few variables.
A major factor is what type of car you buy, but I’ll base my answers on the “real world” driving experience of the 2016 Renault Zoe Dynamique Nav. Some of the factors that effect range are temperature (freezing conditions limit range, warm conditions extend it), use of the air conditioning system, speed, terrain level and speed/style of driving.
My Renault Zoe will go approximately 80-90 miles, most of the year, in temperatures ranging from 10C-30C. This is based on a 40-50 mile daily commute on either ‘A’ classification country roads or motorway, at usual speeds of 50-65mph. This use would include using the heater on a constant low setting, lights and wipers.
On the motorway at speeds of 70mph (the Zoe will do 84mph, at which point the speed limiter kicks in…or so I’m told!) expect a range of around 55-60 miles.
For city driving, at speeds of up to 40mph, you should expect a range of around 100 miles.
The power used by the battery to drive the car is not linear – that is increasing speed by say 10% will result in battery use increasing by more than 10%. So driving in heavily congested traffic is actually quite good for an electric car’s range, which is the exact opposite of a conventional car.
I have found at times I’d prefer the car to have had a bigger range. The new 2017 Renault Zoe has a real world range around double what mine has. If I were buying one now that’s what I’d go for.
The car will always tell you an approximate range. It signals a warning light when you get down to the last 10% of battery power. The range indicator is pretty accurate and you learn to trust it as it adapts to your driving style and routine.
I’ve never really worried about running out of battery and the lowest I’ve ever taken it to is 3 miles of range left.
Renault installed a charge point at my home free of charge with the car. I believe they still offer this, though you’ll need a driveway or garage as they won’t install it in a public place. The car will also identify charging points through it’s Sat Nav system.
In terms of public chargers, there are more than you might think and they are multiplying in numbers. Generally speaking, unless you live somewhere very remote, it shouldn’t be an issue.
What might be an issue is selfish drivers of conventional vehicles blocking charging points with their petrol or diesel vehicles, or a broken charging unit. My pet hate though is Hybrids blocking bays, they have conventional engines in there and aren’t totally dependent on the recharging infrastructure. Unlike pure electric vehicles. I believe they ought not to be permitted to use public charging points.
So, bay blocking and broken hardware. This is actually what causes some anxiety when travelling away from home and needing a charge.
Personally I do one of three things; either charge at home, charge near somewhere nice I can go for a walk while it charges, or charge while I enjoy a coffee nearby.
Recharging Times & Cost
Using a home charging unit (7kW output) the charging time from 0-99% is approximately four hours.
Using a public charging point (42kW) the charging time is reduced to one hour. I should say the rapid charge version of the Zoe cuts this time roughly in half, at the expense of about 10 miles range.
As the battery charges it begins to taper and charges at a slower speed. This isn’t really noticeable until it gets to around 90-95%.
Driving 40-50 miles a day I generally use 12kW of electricity to recharge to full, at a cost of around 15p/kWh. That works out at £1.80.
In Scotland all public charging points are on the Chargeplace Scotland network. Access to these points is via an access card or mobile phone app, at a cost of £20 per year for unlimited use.
It’s definitely worth it – I’ve drawn £900 worth of electricity in the last 12 months! I expect the scheme will become less generous as electric uptake increases.
In England there are (rather confusingly) an array of providers, each with different charging strategies. I can’t comment on those since I haven’t used them.
Electric cars drive incredibly well and should feel quite refined. The joy of an electric motor is that it gives instant torque from 0mph. In real world terms this means they’re excellent at nipping out quickly at roundabouts, away from traffic lights and quickly accelerate. It makes them perfect for city and town driving, as well as great fun on country roads (at least in terms of power availability).
If you can afford one, a Tesla will propel you to 60mph in under 3 seconds.
Electric cars are very quiet and free of engine vibrations, though it takes a little getting used to. People don’t walk out in front of you, the tyres still generate road noise and on the Zoe at least the car makes an electric noise (of your choice) at speeds of under 18mph to warn pedestrians a vehicle is approaching. This is of most use within car parks.
The worst aspect of the Zoe is without a doubt the regenerative braking system, which feels harsh, unpredictable and downright unstable at times on rough road surfaces, due to the way in which it is used to recharge the battery under braking.
There’s only one way to say it – the value of your new electric car will drop like a stone. This is newish technology and it’s evolving quickly. I’d suggest considering buying one on PCP, which in effect protects you against poor residual values when it comes to changing your car in around two or three years time.
Either that or buy one used. There are plenty around with low mileages, offering the balance of the manufacturer warranty.
The major benefit, and one of the major reasons I went electric, is there are no exhaust emissions. This means the people on the streets where I drive aren’t breathing cancer causing particles, which is great.
Air quality is one of the greatest public health crises in the United Kingdom (and elsewhere in the world) and electric vehicles offer an excellent solution to the problem.
However, I acknowledge that new vehicles cause significant amounts of pollution to be built. Changing our cars regularly rather than building sustainable vehicles is part of the problem too.
Furthermore, the precious metals in the battery (lithium) are difficult to extract from the ground and cause significant pollution to obtain. This does shift some of the problem to parts of the world like China, which is in itself a big proponent of electric vehicles.
It’s not an ideal solution to the world’s environmental issues, but it’s probably the lesser of two evils.
Renault aren’t exactly famed for reliability. French cars in general aren’t. It would be remiss of me not to mention the Zoe has suffered widespread technical faults.
One of the common ones is the electric system warning light. In the early days Renault replaced the whole charging system in affected vehicles, now they tend to strip, repair and rebuild.
In the last fourteen months I’ve been without mine for a period of just over two weeks for repair. Mine was affected by the aforementioned issue and when it came back the heater didn’t work at all and the charging time at public points was four times longer than it should have been. These subsequent faults were quickly rectified.
Renault did provide a courtesy car (petrol) and have offered to look at compensation for the increased motoring costs associated with running a petrol car while my electric one was undergoing repair.
I’ve yet to receive the offer from them, but it does seem reasonable of them to do so.
Should You Buy One?
That’s a question only you can answer. I’ve enjoyed my electric car, but at times (mainly in the winter) I’ve also cursed it. I will probably revert to petrol at my next purchase and return to electric once the range improves a little more.
Most car journeys in the UK are under 10 miles, bear that in mind. Consider your typical driving habits and decide it it’s suitable for you. The truth is it probably is.
If you go an annual lengthy road trip consider hiring a conventional car for it. You might still be better off.
The bottom line is that with the direction that world cities and Governments are travelling, you may very well not have the choice for too much longer.
Now check out my blog on little things we can do to make the world a better place. Images in this blog are courtesy of Renault.