In the first blog of the series, Jonathan Ward, Cogo’s Climate Impact Expert, shares his experience switching to an Electrical Vehicle (EV) and offers advice on choosing, buying and driving an EV for anyone thinking of making the switch themselves.
I was recently fortunate enough to purchase a used electrical vehicle (EV). Everything about the experience of buying an EV is different to a normal combustion engine car. From a new playing field of manufacturers and a new language to understand to a general feeling of novelty and excitement in everyone you talk to.
Everyone has different needs, reasons and constraints when approaching how they get around. Whether or not an EV is for you is really dependent on where you live, when you need to travel, how much it costs, and so on.
My family wanted to figure out how we could take carbon and some of the air quality issues out of our unavoidable car travel. We live in a rural area, and my partner needs to travel to work, so driving an EV is the best thing we can do alongside more cycling and using public transport (although buses are pretty thin on the ground!). It will make a significant difference to our emissions, and recent research shows that even with the embodied carbon being higher than standard petrol and diesel cars, there are net savings in just a few years in countries like the UK, whether you are choosing between new options, or replacing your current conventional car. And if you hook up to renewable power, as we are, it’s even quicker!
As we are looking to produce our own power, we hope the running costs will offset a lot of the additional upfront costs - electric vehicles are much cheaper to run and maintain, plus petrol prices are rising steeply (almost £2 a litre now!).
But, I completely acknowledge that cars, whatever the form, are not the long-term solution to all of our transportation problems, far from it. EVs still contribute to air pollution by the wear and tear of tyres and the road, even though they don’t give off harmful exhaust fumes. They still occupy space and require roads and car parks - land that could be freed up for more sustainable use. They require a lot of specialist material to make, which has its own social and environmental issues. But the point still stands that if you need a car, an EV can make a big difference. So let’s discuss how to get one…
You are all set to get an EV, and depending on what budget you have and what you need, there are two main options - new and used - but you could also look at car clubs and car-share rentals. This means getting access to a car just for a few hours a week but not having the big expense up front and not having it sit around doing nothing most of the time.
Buying new is difficult for two main reasons: the cost and the availability. So, costs, the big talking point, especially at such a time in our economy. Sadly the government is no longer offering grants for EVs, and although there are myriad finance options, the higher costs of the models mean it still costs a lot to buy new. As mentioned, some of the costs are offset by the low running and maintenance costs, and as fuel prices increase, those savings are getting bigger and bigger.
Also, as more EVs are bought and companies produce new models, the range of options and their costs increase - there are thought to be 24 models now costing under £32k. And, as sales have picked up in recent years, there is now a good second-hand market. As time goes by, this will get better and more affordable, but EVs remain a significant investment for now.
Even without the significant hurdle of finances, there’s a 6-18 month lead time on most manufacturers to get them from the factory to you. The impacts of COVID, war, Brexit, and a surge in demand for EVs and components they rely on have made this a so-called ‘perfect storm’ that should resolve itself in time. If you can find a demonstrator or models in stock and are prepared to be flexible in your specification, that can really speed things up.
That’s the negative bit out of the way, the rest of my experience has been really positive. We also went as small as we practically could with a family, why? Smaller, lighter cars take less energy to get around, wear tyres and roads less, and require fewer materials to make.
Car dealerships talk about EVs with a smile, convinced that once you have tried driving one, you won’t want to go back. I am inclined to agree with them actually. That range anxiety won’t be an issue when you experience the quiet sci-fi drive and electrical whines of the motor, and start driving as if energy matters!.
Being automatics and generally technologically advanced cars, EVs are very simple and undemanding. I find it a much more relaxed experience.
Electric motors by design have a lot of torque, more than their old fuel counterparts, meaning when you want to go, they go instantly, and in most cases, they go quickly. However, the really interesting thing about driving an EV is how it makes you drive.
To quote an old song, I think it has made me a patient, better driver. You learn to engage with efficient driving, and it feels like a bit of competition (with yourself and the car) as you watch the battery being used up and then recharging as you brake. It feels quite different to the MPG feedback of normal cars. I found I was being rewarded more for smoother driving and thinking ahead, cutting speeds, etc. You get a better understanding of where and when energy is being used most and focusing on that, not the time it takes or being in a hurry. It’s a case of extending your range and reducing your rage with an EV!
I’ve deliberately left it until now to discuss range. It’s often the first thing in conversation, but I don’t think it should be. At the most basic level, most of us drive short journeys each day, and even the smallest EV batteries cover several trips. What matters more is how close you are to a charge point at home or at work. There is an increasing school of thought that smaller batteries, wherever possible, are probably advisable because you have less money and material tied up, and less weight, for just the occasional longer journey advantage.
Some people fear that they will spend their time driving always worrying about where the next charge is coming from, and I will admit, it takes a little time to get used to, and a different way of approaching long journeys. The key is planning them around key charging stops and checking your apps to see if they are operating and not already in use.
Happily, you will find chargers of different types everywhere, from the lowly 3-pin plug at a house to your standard 7kw (which you can get in a dedicated home charge point), to the faster 22kw, and then the holy grail of long trips, the 50+kw rapid chargers. And even though rapid chargers are more expensive, it’s still cheaper than a tank of fuel.
As for other fears and questions you have always wanted to ask - yes, they are waterproof and can be charged in the rain (I checked personally).
In general, it’s been fantastic. Especially now that I have a home charging point installed. My kids love it and have said it is less smelly than our other car! It would be hard to switch back to a traditional car now.
Charging and owning an EV can be complicated when it gets ‘smart’, and as anyone who works with software knows, things can go wrong. Sometimes the car might go offline, or your charge point won’t ‘talk’ to the car, or a charge point fails and leaves you attached via a high voltage umbilical cord! In my case, all of these have happened, plus my car didn’t recognise my keys one day, making it inoperable - but that’s true of any smart car. These are, however, generally minor and occasional issues. It’s great being able to refuel at home (if you can) and check on progress from afar.
You also feel like you are joining a community - everywhere you go, people ask questions and fellow drivers share tips. So far, it’s all very civil, but maybe when you are tenth in line for a charge point, who knows! For now, other owners are really helpful at telling you where to charge and just wishing you and your EV well!
My next step is to integrate it with home solar charging and use my app to allow charging when the grid is lowest in carbon outside of what we can produce at home. Watch this space!