Making the switch to electric vehicles: ‘The biggest shock was the huge savings’ | Electric, hybrid and low-emission cars

EV mythbusters

UK motorists outline the pros and cons in making the move to an electric vehicle

Sat 23 Dec 2023 11.00 CET

From the bottom of Max Berman’s garden in High Wycombe, he can see the M40 motorway, with cars shooting between London and Birmingham up one of England’s great asphalt veins. On some days, Berman says, he can see the diesel fumes suspended in the air.

It was this awareness of pollution that led Berman, a 50-year-old working in the film industry, to switch to an electric vehicle (EV) in 2019. He found a pre-owned Volkswagon e-up! for £6,500 on eBay. Now Berman’s car is one of more than 940,000 fully electric vehicles on UK roads, according to government data.

Most electric cars are already cheaper over the long term than petrol or diesel, according to research organisation Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and the UK government’s Climate Change Committee said in October that EVs “will be significantly cheaper than petrol and diesel vehicles to own and operate over their lifetimes”.

That means Berman’s EV switch is one that many households are considering. And from 1 January, carmakers must ensure at least 22% of new UK cars sold are fully electric, which raises incrementally to an eventual 100% by 2035.

But there are drawbacks. There are 52,602 public charging points for EVs in the UK, government figures show, up by 44% on last year, but still well below the 2030 target of 300,000 public stations.

Nearly half of EV drivers still suffer “range anxiety”, a YouGov poll found. And EV purchases are on average more expensive than petrol or diesel cars upfront, a significant roadblock for lower-income households.

Expensive cars were cited in September by the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, for delaying the ban on petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035, a move which attracted scorn for a U-turn on a popular green policy. The “upfront cost is still high, especially for households struggling with the cost of living,” Sunak said.

Ahead of the new 22% EV requirement on 1 January, the Guardian spoke to drivers who got in touch to share their plans.

Max Berman, 50, said one trigger for switching to an EV was seeing the Honda e and appreciating its cool design.

‘The biggest shock was the huge savings’

After going electric, “the biggest shock with electric driving was the huge savings,” Berman says. He estimates reductions of about £1,000-a-year on fuel and hundreds on service fees. It costs roughly 1p-a-mile to run, he says, compared with about 16p for his old petrol VW.

Berman says EVs make total sense for short journeys. But he travelled 420 miles – and back – to collect his mother from Stirling, Scotland, for Christmas, which meant two stops at roadside charging stations.

“My mum’s about to experience motorway electric driving for the first time as well, which might be a bit of a hair-raiser,” he said, speaking before the trip. “We’re in the hands of the gods.”

Yet overall, he is happy to be electric. “I love it,” Berman says – feeling like he’s making an effort not just for the wider push towards a net zero carbon future, but decreasing local pollution and smog for his two children, too.

Max Berman says his Volkswagen e-up!, seen here charging, costs about 1p-a-mile to run.

‘It feels the right thing to be doing’

Don Sims, 51, is happy to be ‘taking the plunge’ to go electric in 2024 and estimates much lower running costs after the initial outlay.

Don Sims, a 51-year-old doctor in Birmingham, will switch to electric in 2024. He is buying a new Kia Niro EV with a £30,000 upfront payment.

“It feels like its a no-brainer” for the environmental benefits, Sims says. He does feel some range anxiety, over visiting his daughter at university, but “it feels the right thing to be doing,” he says.

Sims hopes with far fewer moving parts, the maintenance will prove much cheaper over the vehicle’s lifetime – after being forced to splash out £1,200 last month on a clutch for his current Ford Focus – and estimates the on-the-road costs will be 25% to 50% lower than fuel expenditure.

Sims enjoyed test-driving the Niro. “Quiet, smooth, easy to drive – but automatic, which is just weird I think,” he says.

‘It’s totally impossible’

Stephen Coates, 74, said EVs are prohibitively expensive upfront for those on fixed incomes.

Yet many people cannot afford the upfront fees. South Wales pensioner Stephen Coates, 74, said he would like to swap his 15-year-old VW Passat for an EV but prices are too high and charge points too sparse.

“I’m someone who believes we need to look after our environment – we need to look after the plants and the trees and everything – and with six young grandchildren now, I need to be aware that what I do now will probably have a great impact upon them in the future when they’re young adults,” Coates says. Yet the £23,000 for an EV he checked out is too expensive.

Coates says he and his wife are on the fixed income of the state pension and two private pensions and the initial cost of going electric makes it “totally impossible”. “Obviously now with all the cost of living things, food going up, it makes it just manageable to get through the month with buying the food and paying the utility bills.”

Moreover, Coates says, the terrace houses in his Welsh town make it difficult to charge EVs, unless you “run cables across the pavement,” which would be “quite dangerous”. Coates says there are only six public sockets nearby.

‘Electric cars for me are a long way off’

Sue Horton-Smith, 67, said government incentives such as a scrappage scheme for old petrol and diesel cars would encourage people to go greener.

Sue Horton-Smith says she realised it was time to replace her nine-year-old diesel Renault Clio when she got fined for driving in Bristol’s clean air zone recently.

But when Horton-Smith, a 67-year-old retired from the education sector, began looking at options, she says EVs did not seem possible. She lives on a terraced road in Greater Manchester, often travels long distances to Cornwall, and feels there has been a lack of government investment in electric infrastructure. She says a decent scrappage scheme for older fuel-guzzling cars would have been helpful to incentivise going greener.

Worried about charging infrastructure on her road, her frequent long journeys, and higher upfront costs, Sue Horton-Smith opted to buy a secondhand hybrid over an EV.

“I honestly can’t see how I’ll ever be able to have an electric car, compared to people like my brother who has a garage and off-street parking,” she says. “Really, electric cars for me and my circumstances are a very long way off.”

Instead, Horton-Smith opted to buy a secondhand hybrid this autumn – a Renault Clio again – and is very happy with it. The only difference to get used to was the automatic gear system.

‘The infrastructure is getting there’

Darren Fox-Hall, 53, will go electric via a company car next year, which comes out cheaper to run.

Darren Fox-Hall, a 53-year-old in Lincolnshire who works for an IT outsourcing firm, will go electric with a Škoda Enyaq in March next year.

Fox-Hall says his transition is smoothed out by it being a company car, which means he will pay a £560-a-month lease over four years but face no initial outlay, except installing a home charge socket for £1,500. That is slightly more than his monthly lease of £460-a-month, he says, but with fuel and tax significantly less, costs are lower.

He says his one worry is charging availability on longer journeys, such as taking his wife and three children on holiday to Cornwall.

“Doing a little bit of research, people [are] saying they’re financially slightly better off, which is great, but I don’t want to be stranded on the motorway because there’s no chargers,” Fox-Hall says.

However, he adds, “the infrastructure is getting there”.


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