Rather like a broken Boeing, electric cars have conspicuously failed to take off. We were promised that, by the end of this decade, ten per cent of the cars on our roads would be whizzing around silently, running on batteries and emitting nothing more than a air of contented smugness. Emissions would plummet, petrol would become obsolete and all this sold Buck Rogers comic books would finally start coming true.
It hasn’t happened. Electric cars are only selling in tiny, tiny handfuls and diesel and petrol still rule. Indeed, liquid fuels look set to reign supreme for at least the next decade. Customers are staying well and truly away, put off by high purchase prices, complicated battery leases and the ever-present bugbear of limited range.
However, we’re thinking that now could actually be the right time to go electric. It may sound a touch mad, but hang on, there is some method here.
For a start, fuel prices are high and are not going to get any lower. To travel 160km using the most economical diesel car around is still going to cost you €10-15 in juice. To do the same journey in an electric car will cost you around €2 for a full charge of the batteries. Can you actually do that journey? Yes, you really can. Electric Ireland has been quietly but steadily rolling out charging points across the country and, while we still couldn’t recommend an electric car if your regular weekly journey involves a round trip to Cork and back every day, you can actually get farther on batteries than you might think. It just involves a little planning.
Secondly, electric cars will never be cheaper. Hang on, what? Electric cars are stupidly expensive, aren’t they? Well, yes and no. Yes, they are pretty pricey still because the technology is still in its infancy and the car makers are having to charge high prices to claw back their investment in the R&D process. But, whatever price is set, the Government and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland will each kick you back €5,000 in grants to buy an electric car. Getting €10k off of Uncle Enda is pretty sweet, and that won’t last forever. Eventually, electric cars will become more common and sell in bigger numbers and that’s when the government grants will be withdrawn. So if you want Michael Noonan to pay for part of your new car, buy one with batteries and buy it soon.
Of course, we say buy when actually what me mean is lease. Buying an electric car makes next to no sense, as their resale values are actually quite poor and there’s always the worry that a major leap in battery technology will make yours obsolete overnight. So leasing, on a Personal Contract Plan, is without doubt the way to go. That brings the cost down to palatable monthly payments, your resale value is guaranteed by the car maker and if there’s a major shift in battery tech, then you can just trade in and upgrade. In fact, if you lease a new Renault electric car (perhaps the sexy little Zoe hatchback which arrives next year?) you’re also leasing the battery, and that can be easily swapped for a new one if new tech prevails.
Speaking of which, leasing should also give you peace of mind when it comes to the health and well being of those batteries. Most electric car leasing plans include a lengthy battery warranty, with a promise of replacement if the battery efficiency falls below a certain threshold.
Finally, there’s the simple fact that no-one else has one right now. Buy a Nissan Leaf, a Renault Zoe or Kangoo, a BMW i3 or even stretch to the €100k price of a glorious Tesla Model S (personal import job, that one) and you are buying something close to unique. You will be the talking point of your street, and people, nice people mostly, will come up and chat to you about your car. You’ll feel a bit like a celebrity. Like the government grants, that won’t last either. Electric power for cars is coming, and it’s coming fast. Pure battery electrics might always be something of a minority sight, but whether in the form of plugin-hybrids or even the promised land of hydrogen fuel cell power, cars that run on electrons are going to become much more commonplace. When they do, we will wonder and marvel at the fact that we used to drive around in smelly, noisy, inefficient diesels and petrols. Wouldn’t you like to be in on the ground floor of that? To be the mythical ‘early adopter.’ To be the one who can, in ten years time, say “yeah, I was into electric cars before they got all popular and sold out.”
Now’s your chance…