Cars: Switched on

3 Jun 2023 by BusinessTraveller
Electric car (istock.com/SimonSkafar)

As motoring turns electric, we talk new models and debate the pros and cons of public and private charging.

Thousands of drivers have already made the sustainable switch to electric. The latest data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) shows that one in three new cars registered in the UK in April 2023 were electrified.

The fact of the matter is that sales of electric cars and hybrids have been growing exponentially for quite some time. But EVs, as they’re known, have been grabbing the headlines more and more over the past year due to higher fuel prices, the cost-of-living crisis, and pictures of queues of electric cars at charging stations circulating on social media. Electric cars, it would seem, are a noise that isn’t going away.

Ironically, it’s that lack of noise that’s a major turn-on for EV owners. Combine that with efficient home charging options, lower running and maintenance costs (in some cases), and relaxing driving dynamics and it’s easy to see why most owners never look back once they’ve made the switch.

That said, values of used EVs have plummeted every month so far in 2023 and there are major concerns that the UK’s network of public charging points isn’t keeping pace with sales of new cars fitted with a plug. Is 2023 the year to go electric? Here we explore the world of electric motoring in the UK in more detail.

Supercharged sales in 2022

Let’s just step back in time for a moment. Last year was a hugely important one for the electric car. EVs took a major slice of the new car market, with most carmakers prioritising their deliveries over petrol and diesel ones due to component shortages.

By the end of the year, electric cars represented more than 16 per cent of new car sales, placing them ahead of diesels – something that would have been unheard of five years ago. The month of December alone saw 42,284 new EVs hitting the roads – that’s 52.6 per cent higher than the same month in 2021.

The Tesla Model Y was the best-selling car in December 2022, while its smaller brother, the Model 3, was second. The Model Y even finished in third place in 2022’s overall sales.

Last year’s momentum has continued into 2023 with pure-electrics (or ‘BEVs’ – battery electric vehicles) still sitting just behind petrol in April’s new car registrations data.

China becomes a major player

Many column inches are being devoted to two Chinese brands that have hit the UK car market, and it’s easy to see why there’s so much excitement. The first, GWM Ora, has launched a retro-styled hatchback that’s aimed at customers of premium EVs like the Cupra Born and MINI Electric. With an electric range of just under 200 miles, high equipment levels, competitive pricing and distinctive styling, it’s certainly made a splash. There’s also its name – the Ora Funky Cat. No, we haven’t made that up.

The second newbie is BYD. Founded in the mid-nineties, the company has become a powerhouse in battery technology and offers a wide range of cars. This year, it’s entering the UK with two hatchbacks and reckons it’ll cause a stir in the market. Like the Funky Cat, the BYD name is raising eyebrows. The moniker is an acronym of ‘Build Your Dreams’, which is emblazoned on the boot lid of the Atto 3 and Dolphin models.

While these two brands are proof of a new wave of Chinese manufacturers in the UK, Chinese carmakers have been helping to shape the UK electric car market for some time. The quintessentially British brand MG has been Chinese-owned since 2005 and has peddled a strong trade in value-for-money electrics with its ZS EV crossover and MG5 electric estate car over the past three years. Its recently launched MG4 was even named UK Car of the Year in 2023 thanks to its high equipment levels and strong electric driving range relative to its price.

Lexus NX 450h+

The new vintage

While sales of new electric cars have been accelerating, values of second-hand ones have plummeted. In April 2023 alone, prices of used electric cars fell by 4.4 per cent – and that was on top of months of declines. Prices of used EVs rose to unrealistic heights in late 2021 and 2022, owing to a shortage of new cars, and were set to inevitably fall to more sensible levels.

However, two things have happened that’s supercharged the decline. Firstly, high energy prices have spooked owners and used car dealers, and arguably more importantly, Tesla slashed prices of its new cars in January 2023. Practically overnight, this change in list prices led to values of used Teslas falling through the floor. Average prices of a used Tesla Model 3 dropped by £3,825 in January alone; in the four months to February, Model 3 prices fell by more than £13,000. This means that some second-hand Model 3s are now being priced similarly to used Nissan Leafs and Hyundai Konas, despite the Tesla having a longer driving range and considered to have more ‘premium’ kerb appeal. These two factors alone have made it a buyer’s market with plenty of ‘cheap’ used EVs being available.

Charging struggles

The electric charging network is certainly growing. According to Zapmap, a UK-wide map of electric car charging points, April 2023 saw a 37 per cent increase in public charging locations compared to the same month in 2022, bringing the current number to over 42,500. In April alone there were 2,029 new points installed; on a wider level, the UK’s charging network has grown four-fold between 2016 and 2022.

Despite the rise in places to charge, there’s a belief that the growth is not happening quickly enough. The most vocal is the SMMT which has advocated for a mandate to set legally binding targets to ensure an abundance of charging point locations. It also points to the government’s own EV Infrastructure Strategy which states that the UK needs between 280,000 and 720,000 charge points by 2030 (the date from which sales of new petrol and diesel cars are banned). The government also plans to build 300,000 points by 2030, though the SMMT says that 100 new points would need to be installed daily to reach this figure. The current number is around 23 a day, it claims.

The UK’s charging network has also been hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons recently, with some charging point firms hiking prices to as much as £1 per kWh (kilowatt hour) due to soaring energy wholesale prices. As of January this year, the average price per kWh at a rapid public charging point was 70.32p, up from 44.55p in May 2022. In some instances, charging a car at a public rapid or ultra-rapid point costs more than filling a car with diesel.

Home charging

To get the most out of an electric car and to see a reduction in running costs, you have to charge up at home. There are around 40 home charging point providers on the UK market, selling 3.6kW and 7.4kW wallboxes. The latter is the most popular, and would fill up an Audi e-tron GT, for instance, in 14 hours. It’s even possible to install a 22kW home wallbox if you have a three-phase power supply. Popular names include PodPoint, NewMotion, BP Pulse, Andersen and Myenergi Zappi.

Installation costs range from anything between £450 and £1,300, which is a large outlay but you will reap the cost savings over time. On a standard tariff, a Tesla Model 3 would typically cost just under 11p per mile, but high energy prices and price caps have skewed that slightly.

To get the cheapest fill-up it might be wise to consider smart home charging. Wallbox providers such as Ohme integrate tech with your energy tariff and charge your car at the cheapest times. Some energy providers have run trials of Vehicle-2-Grid (V2G) technology that will charge your car when there’s low demand on the grid. When there’s high demand, it will take excess energy from your car’s battery and sell it back to the grid. Providers such as Ovo Energy and Octopus are currently crunching the data so keep your eyes peeled for the results.

Concerns over ULEZ

Several UK cities have introduced or are trialling and considering schemes to reduce emissions and boost air quality. They go by different names and the most well-known – and currently controversial – is London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone.

The scheme, better known as ULEZ, was introduced by London Mayor Sadiq Khan in 2019 and has generally been regarded as a success in cleaning up air quality. It currently applies to cars that meet, at a minimum, Euro 4 emissions for petrol cars (generally cars registered after 2005) and Euro 6 for diesel-powered cars (generally cars first registered after September 2015). Cars that don’t meet these requirements have to pay a daily charge of £12.50.

The scheme has been criticised by political and industry groups, who have branded it a tax on the poor given the cost of purchasing cleaner car models. This has been amplified by the plans to extend the size of ULEZ by 18 times to cover all of Greater London. The Mayor will face a legal challenge in the High Court later this year as four London borough councils and Surrey County Council seek to block the ULEZ expansion.

It would be fair to assume that the introduction of more ‘clean air zones’ nationwide is only a matter of time. Naturally, electric cars and hybrids are exempt on a purely zero-tailpipe-emissions basis. Perhaps it’s time to swerve in the electric direction. We’re here to help out with tips on the best EVs and hybrids.

Range Rover Sport Autobiography P510e

Five best EVs and hybrids on sale

Hyundai IONIQ 5, from £43,445

It’s been on sale for two years, but the Ioniq 5 still looks razor sharp and stylish. It’s a surprisingly large car – more SUV than family hatchback – but that equals a spacious interior that’s also brimming with tech. The Ioniq 5 can travel up to 285 miles and it has super-fast 800-volt charging speed capability.

Range Rover Sport 3.0 P440e, from £89,980

Official tests claim the latest Range Rover Sport plug-in hybrid can manage up to 70 miles of electric power, a range that gives real flexibility. On top of that it drives just as well as you’d expect it to, and pampers passengers with its super plush interior.

Polestar 2, from £44,950

Polestar will introduce several new EVs in the next five years, but its first still remains one of the best on the market. It has a good range (up to 341 miles) and super cool styling inside and out. An updated model arrives in the autumn with a boosted range of up to 395 miles and tweaked styling.

Lexus NX 450h+, from £54,400

Lexus’s NX has always been an attractive SUV option, but the recently introduced 450h+ plug-in hybrid version is the most compelling yet. Its 40-plus-mile electric range will slash bills – especially for company car drivers – plus it’s good to drive and has a luxurious interior.

Volkswagen ID. Buzz, from £58,915

VW’s new take on its iconic Type 2 bus has been a long time coming, but you could say it’s been worth it. It has retro styling in abundance, space for five people and is the coolest EV in town right now. More versions including a camper are on the way, too.

Words: James Batchelor

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Business Traveller UK September 2023 edition
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