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Image: The new Honda e is an innovative electric vehicle
In these post-lockdown-cum-new-normal times, it’s not surprising that major motor manufacturers are making a lot of noise – so to speak - about their latest electrically-powered offerings. To kick start demand, there’s TV advertising and promotional effort in abundance coupled, not surprisingly, with on-line push a-plenty. There’s metal to shift and might it be that Covid-19, which resulted in emission reductions and air quality improvements; at least temporarily, could stimulate a step-up in the demand for electric cars (EV’s).
Electric vehicle sales will continue to rise despite Covid-19 crisis.
With more than forty pure EVs now on sale the UK and many more hybrids, buyer choice is broadening becoming more significant. From the smallest and nimble city cars; the Honda E being the highest profile new arrival, through to SUVs and sports and luxury cars, the electric car revolution still has a way to go, but is surely underway. By the end of March 2020, there were, according to the DVLA, over 300,000 such ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) on UK roads with around 1,500 registered in Shropshire. Nationally, the numbers have doubled since March 2018. Back then, the county was home to around 800 – a slightly slower rate of adoption compared with the rest of the UK. But still promising for a rural and a pattern for how things are likely to track in the coming years.
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Electric car charging points growing.
So what about the practicalities of running an EV in Shropshire – leaving aside upfront pricing differentials for the mo. Is a pure electric car’s range of say 150-250 miles on a charge a problem of any real magnitude when we are more used to double that capability in our tanks?
Nationally speaking, the charge point network is growing quite rapidly at the present time and unless we have a sizeable commute or cover a lot of business miles, most Salopians make relatively short journeys. As of the end of July, the go-to resource ZAP-MAP says that there are around 33,000 charge points at 12,000 locations across the UK. Shropshire has charge points at over 40 locations spread across the county. The ZAP-MAP app provides all you need to know about the nearest locations, charger performance and connectivity. Bit like your grandad’s AA handbook did many moons ago. Sort of.
As the UK’s largest charging operator, bp chargemaster is well placed to see how things are evolving for its Polar network. Spokesman Tom Callow says: “Nationally, the availability of public charging infrastructure is well ahead of the prevalence of electric vehicles. At any one point, the country’s public charging infrastructure is probably only being used up to about 25% capacity, with 75% or so remaining available to use. At the local level, availability can be an issue, and some rural areas still have relatively low levels of public charging infrastructure – largely due to the lower levels of electric vehicles. We have tended to roll-out infrastructure ahead of demand – we were the first network to install rapid chargers in mid-Wales, but this is a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ problem. However, the vehicle parc’s trajectory is now clear, with electric vehicle sales surging in every part of the country.”
Of course, it’s essential to be comfortable with where to top up when travelling further afield but logically, if you have a driveway, you can of course charge your EV at home. A standard 13 amp plug will do the job, but very slowly. The better option is to install a high-speed charger, with a government subsidy of up to £350 to offset the initial cost, and the process is of course much quicker in return. Understanding that more than 40% of us don’t have off street parking; pop-up charge points and the like are also beginning to appear on our streets. It can only be the case that such facilities will, shall we say, boost the appeal of switching.
Cost of running electric car vs petrol/diesel.
Yes, EV ticket prices are a bit higher than their diesel or petrol brethren, but when whole life running costs are taken into account, the numbers are likely to make such a purchase, lease or PCP deal a little more appealing. We should not lose sight of the fact either that this is mostly about doing our bit for the planet. Which more of us, across the nation, would like to and want to do.
Some friends who lives out in the Shropshire sticks run a plug-in hybrid and said of their family’s choice that contributing to the environment was ‘the big one’. They also wanted to run a vehicle that was smooth and quiet. They also found that the ownership costs for the car were very favourable compared with the petrol/diesel equivalent. Reckoning to complete most of their journeys powered by electric, the family said that they could well go ‘all electric’ next time. Plug-in hybrids could well be the stepping-stone many buyers making the switch.
Electric car range anxiety & journey planning.
So when all is said and done, is range anxiety still an issue? In short, surely less than it was. With infrastructure growth, journey planner apps to guide you, it is easier to change habits in where, and when you ‘fill up’ and not get caught short. Time spent in supermarket car park, at a leisure centre, or at the pub, can now be multi-tasked. Once accustomed, it is arguably not too much of a problem to understand range variables either. Range will ebb and flow depending on air temperature, accessory use and the like, but the overall user experience is much more likely to become more familiar and comfortable, than not.
The electric future: There’s more to come.
What’s in store in the coming years. Quite a lot it would seem. A no problem infrastructure, tick. More buyer choice, tick. Greater price competitiveness, tick. Better battery performance and range, tick. Government ambition – half of new vehicles to be Ultra Low Emission by 2030. Pencil that one in.
Is there an elephant in the room to consider on the charging infrastructure front? Namely for new home builders to be mandated or highly encouraged to install charge points widely in their new developments. Sounds like a good idea, but for it to happen, one major builder that we talked to said that the power infrastructure for each build would have to be ramped up substantially from the start to cope. But is it so radical? Arguably not. Could be another step change to promote more switching from pump to plug. After all, Shropshire has a not inconsiderable amount of new home building in store. The county could yet be an EV warm, if not a hot spot.
Council engagement pressing ahead.
Steve Davenport, Shropshire Council Cabinet member for highways and transport, reported: “The coronavirus lockdown showed air quality in Shropshire improved with fewer vehicles on the road. Even though EVs are becoming increasingly affordable, we recognise that it is important to give motorists the confidence to go electric. As such, we are working with partners to improve the availability of charging points and have recently installed points in Ludlow and Craven Arms in partnership with Highways England. The council is also working to integrate electric vehicle charging infrastructure into new developments.”
I wonder how many car buyers in Shropshire have yet to take a test drive in a plug-in of some kind, even for the experience. I recall my first such drive and have to say, I no longer wonder what all the lack of noise was about. Some will, and quite rightly, argue that other power solutions such as hydrogen fuel cell will enter the fray. But as of now, EVs are miles ahead both technically and commercially. And hence will be the car buyer’s ‘alternative’ favourite for a goodly while yet. These are undoubtedly challenging times, obviously, but also changing times for all things automotive.