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Last year saw record numbers of new battery electric cars registered in the UK and in early 2020 there were set to be 23 new models launched this year, plus 10 plug-in hybrids. So for those considering buying an electric car, there has never been more choice.

The Government has pledged that sales of petrol and diesel cars will end completely by 2035 and wants at least 70% of new car sales to be ultra-low emission vehicles by 2030, putting measures in place to boost the numbers of people buying electric.

Factors that may have discouraged you in the past, such as the choice of models, range on a single charge and charging infrastructure, are becoming less of an issue. The capital has about a quarter of the UK’s total number of public charging stations and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan aims to make it a world leader in achieving zero emissions to clean up our air and address the climate emergency.

So while our cars are currently only for essential trips, if you’re considering moving to an electric vehicle in the future, here’s what you need to know.

The benefits of electric cars

You’ll be completely cutting the toxic gases and carbon dioxide your car pumps into the air (or reducing emissions if you opt for a plug-in hybrid, which has a conventional engine as well as battery-powered electric motor), and running costs are also lower. According to the Energy Saving Trust, it will cost you £4 to £6 to charge an electric vehicle to drive 100 miles charging at home or £8 to £10 using public charging points. The cost of petrol or diesel to drive the same distance would be £13 to £16 — around three times more.

And although you may have to pay more to buy the car initially, maintenance costs are lower as there are fewer mechanical parts that can go wrong.

You won’t pay the congestion or ULEZ charges (currently suspended because of the pandemic) if you drive a fully electric car or a low-emission plug-in hybrid. You also won’t pay any car tax on a zero-emission car —  a limit on purchases of £40,000 or more is being axed from April 1 — with other rates calculated based on emissions. Plus, you can get free or cheaper parking in some places.

Car insurance for electric cars can be more expensive, but the cost is coming down as electric vehicle ownership becomes more common. Policies include recovery if your battery runs out, the option to hire an electric or hybrid car if yours is out of action, and cover for the battery, cables and your home charger.

How environmentally friendly are they?

Although electric cars don’t pollute the atmosphere with gases such as NOx from petrol or diesel exhaust fumes, the wear on brake discs and tyres and throwing up dust from roads still

produces particulate pollution — tiny particles suspended in the air. They also still contribute to congestion. They are also only as green as the electricity used to charge their batteries. However, the UK is increasingly generating energy using renewable sources, such as wind and solar. You can also choose a “green” tariff from an energy provider that only sells electricity from renewable sources, such as Ecotricity, Good Energy, Green Energy UK and Octopus.

There are the carbon emissions from the production of the cars and batteries themselves but this is improving. Poppy Welch, head of Go Ultra Low — a joint campaign between the Government and the car industry to promote switching to electric vehicles — told the Evening Standard: “Manufacturers are trying more and more to produce cars in an environmentally friendly way. For example, BMW’s factory in Leipzig has its own wind turbines on site.”

Choosing and buying a car

There are now 56 fully electric and plug-in hybrid models available in the UK according to Go Ultra Low, and that number will only grow. Which one you should choose depends on your circumstances. Plug-in hybrids, for instance, can run on electric power from rechargeable batteries at low speeds and for short journeys, while relying on petrol or diesel engines for longer trips. “While many new [fully electric] models have a range of over 200 miles on a single charge, if you often need to make longer journeys a plug-in hybrid might be better for you,” says Welch.

The Go Ultra Low website (goultralow.com) has a handy tool to help you choose a car along with other useful information.

To offset the higher cost of buying an electric vehicle the Government introduced the plug-in car grant, which gives you up to £3,000 off a purchase if the vehicle costs less than £50,000. This is automatically deducted from the price when you buy it. To be eligible it must have ultra-low emissions of less than 50g/km and a zero-emissions range of more than 70 miles.

The second-hand market is also growing. According to online car marketplace Auto Trader, searches for used pure electric cars increased by 73% between November 2018 and November 2019. However, as only 0.5% of the used cars advertised on its site are pure electric models, the average price is still relatively high at £24,820. Good

second-hand deals are available though, so it’s an option worth considering. If you are buying used, make sure that the car is still covered by its battery warranty, which usually lasts for eight years from new.

Charging options

Most people charge their car at home overnight — the cheapest option. It’s best to install a specially designed charging unit as it’s quicker and safer than using a normal three-pin socket. There are energy tariffs specifically designed for drivers of electric vehicles that give you cheaper off-peak energy at night. If you have off-street parking and are buying an eligible car you can get a Government grant towards the cost of getting a charger installed, which could be in your garage or on your driveway. The Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme covers up to 75% of the cost (capped at £500 including VAT). Alternatively, you may be able to charge your car at work or on a street near your home. If you can charge at home you will only need to use public charging stations to top up on longer journeys.

New electric models to look out for in 2020

Mini Electric

The iconic car will now come in a fully electric version. The three-door hatchback will be produced at the Oxford plant where the first Mini was buil 60 years ago

⬤ £24,400, range up to 145 miles, available spring 2020

Vauxhall Corsa-e

The new version of the popular hatchback will include an all-electric model as well as petrol and diesel options. Drive in Sport mode for maximum fun or Eco to increase the range

⬤ £27,165, range up to 209 miles, available spring 2020

Skoda CITIGOe iV

This is Skoda’s electric version of its existing petrol-powered Citigo. You’ll be able to control its air-conditioning using an app so you can set

the temperature inside before you get in

⬤ £16,955, range up to 170 miles, available spring 2020

Volkswagen ID.3

The ID.3 will come with three battery options — small, medium and large. Exact pricing hasn’t been announced yet but the basic version will cost under €30,000 (£27,000)

⬤ Around £22,000 (estimated), range up to 205 to 340 miles, available summer 2020

NOTE: Prices are after the plug-in car grant has been deducted

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