When it comes to electric cars there often seem to be more questions than answers: How much do electric cars cost? How far can electric cars travel? What will charging an electric car do to my electricity bill? Will electric car batteries need replacing? How green are electric cars?
It’s a minefield out there and no mistake but we’re going to try to cut a path through the confusion to get at the electric car question that really matters to most motorists. Could an electric car work for you?
Green Car Guide
Electric cars – pros and cons
To do this we’ve recruited a perfect candidate for electric car ownership. Rebecca Bryant is editor of MSN Shopping and lives in central London. Although she’s held a driving licence for ten years, she doesn’t own a car and she can’t really see the point of running one in the city.
To see if she can be persuaded otherwise, we’ve paired Rebecca with the pre-eminent electric car of the moment, Nissan’s LEAF. The aim is to see if the latest electric vehicle (EV) technology can convert car-less city dwellers into keen motorists. If it can pull that off, the future for EVs must be bright.
Cars in the city: more hindrance than help?
As we kick off this little experiment, we should probably say that Rebecca isn’t what you’d call an avid petrolhead but at least that gives the all-electric LEAF a fighting chance of impressing. There’s no petrol involved.
“To be honest, I think owning a car would be more of a hindrance than a help in London. First there’s the cost of simply putting it on the road, then there’s finding a place to park it securely and the increasing price of petrol etc…When you add it all up, owning a car is simply not worth it in London.”
So the LEAF has got its work cut out here. Day-to-day Rebecca manages just fine without a car but are there at least some occasions when one would come in handy?
“Oh goodness yes. Have you ever tried to carry a broom, duster and bin set on your bike? Or struggled up and down the stairs at the tube station with a huge suitcase? Owning a car would make tasks like shopping and travelling to places outside London so much easier.”
That’s a start. Our subject clearly sees the advantages of car ownership as well as the drawbacks but could Nissan’s LEAF transform her into a confirmed EV fan? It seemed to make a good impression on the busy streets of London.
Out and about in the LEAF
“It was so easy to drive. Hill starts were effortless as there are no gears or clutch to worry about. It just holds you on the slope. Reversing was a breeze, thanks to the camera at the back of the car, which displayed the image on the dashboard.
“As a cyclist, I wasn’t so happy about the lack of noise. I think it’s important that cyclists and pedestrians can hear cars coming. The LEAF was really light and easy to steer compared to the cars I’m used to, which made me feel a little nervous at first.
“It’s not as small as the Smart cars I see a lot in town but I think it’s quite nippy and so simple to drive that you end up feeling more in control at the wheel. The LEAF brakes rather sharply which is ideal when you need it in the London traffic but takes some getting used to. I did a few unintentional emergency stops.”
Can electric cars be practical?
That looks like a strong vote of confidence for the LEAF from a relatively inexperienced driver in the urban conditions where the car is designed to excel. It doesn’t get much better than that but what about the practicalities of actually running a LEAF compared to a normal car?
“I don’t think that the 100-mile range would be a problem for me at all. If I needed to travel a long way out of town I might join a car club or just hire a car for the day. The main downside for me would be the cost. I can’t see myself paying £26,000 for a car to drive around town in, even if the running costs are much lower than normal cars with the free road tax and congestion charge.”
Rebecca definitely has a point. The purchase price of the LEAF will be a big barrier for a lot of people who just need a city runabout. Nissan is looking to counter this, and the horror stories about the potential cost of replacing the car’s battery pack a few years down the line, by supplying most LEAF models to customers on leasing deals. For £400 to £500 a month or as a company car, it will be a lot more attractive to a lot more people.
Do we have an electric car convert?
So what’s Rebecca’s final verdict on the LEAF? Could an electric car work for her?
“I think if the electric car market was rather more developed and there were more places to recharge your car, I would definitely consider buying one. Less pollution in the city has to be a good thing and the fact that it’s so silent could be seen in a positive light, especially when you live on a main road in London.
“If I had to choose a car, the cost of the LEAF would probably still force me to go for a small diesel car but for now I’ll tax my thighs instead on my two-wheel pedal bike.”
The verdict: could an electric car work for you?
On this evidence and the huge investment currently being ploughed into the technology by manufacturers, it looks like electric cars are here to stay. People seem to like the idea of an efficient, silent vehicle they can refuel at home that would instantly release them from the clutches of the global oil industry but actually buying one is a massive step.
Whether you currently run a conventional car or you make do without your own wheels like Rebecca, an electric car would force you into some major changes. There are clear advantages right now and as electric cars develop along with the infrastructure to support them, the drawbacks should diminish. It should only get easier to answer in the positive to the question: Could an electric car work for you?