Electric car buyers guide Ireland: what to look for
Interest in electric cars is at an all-time high, and that’s hardly surprising. The twin spectres of the scandal surrounding diesel engines and the rising tides (literally) of climate change are making many of us question our motoring habits. Besides, most car companies are by now on a path to making nothing but ‘electrified’ cars by around the year 2050, so if not you, then certainly your kids will be faced with a future potentially without internal combustion engines. May as well get started now, then, but how do you know if an electric car is right for you?
1. First, are you right for an electric car?
It sounds odd to turn that question around, but the fact is that with electric cars still being somewhat compromised in how they perform, and the national charging network being still both relatively small, and frequently unreliable, it’s you that is the key factor in all of this. Are you someone who spends their days pounding the outside lane of the motorway, rushing between one urban centre and another? Well, then an electric car’s not for you. Are you someone who mostly uses the car for short commuting hops, stays in and around town and prefers to take the train for longer journeys? Then electric motoring is perfect for you. Buying an electric car is as much about taking account of your lifestyle and how you use your car, as it is finding the right machine.
2. But which is the right machine?
Electric car choice is increasing, but there are still relatively few pure-electric models available on the market. They include the Tesla Model S and Model X (which are realistically too expensive for us to consider here), the Nissan Leaf (shortly due to be replaced by an all-new model), the Renault Zoe, the Volkswagen e-Golf, the BMW i3 and the Hyundai Ioniq. The Golf, Ioniq and Zoe now all come with official one-charge ranges from 280km to 300km to 400km, while BMW reckons the i3 too can manage 300km on one charge. The Leaf, in its first-generation form, can go a maximum of 250km if you buy the large-battery 30kWh model. The i3 also is offered as a range-extender model, which uses a tiny petrol engine to recharge the battery on the go, giving you around an extra 100km of range.
Of course, these are notional ranges, and you’ll probably find that in real-world driving you’ll get much less out of them. The VW, Renault, BMW and Hyundai will all, realistically, go for around 200km, especially if you’re driving on a motorway for any length of time. The Nissan will probably run out of electrons at around the 180km mark. That’s still sufficient for a normal day’s commuting for many people, but if you’re regularly driving from Dublin to Cork and back, it’s not so good. Basic versions of the Leaf and Zoe will travel for even shorter distances, because of their smaller batteries.
3. But I’ll be saving money, right?
On fuel, you certainly will. Taking the Hyundai Ioniq as the current state-of-the-art, if you were to fully charge the battery and get a full 280km out of it, then your cost per kilometre in terms of ‘fuel’ will be just 1.5 cents, or thereabouts. There’s not a single diesel or petrol car that can match that. The Ioniq is also a good example, because it’s not all that expensive — its €28,995 price tag is only slightly higher than what you’d pay for a well-specified diesel hatchback, and it’s slightly cheaper than a conventional Toyota Prius hybrid. That calculation does fall down a bit with cars such as the BMW i3 and e-Golf, which are pricey, and for the Zoe, which in 400km-range form is almost the same price as the Ioniq, despite being a much smaller car. Road tax savings are minimal though. Because you pay €120 a year to tax an electric car, you’ll only save €50 a year compared to, say, that Prius hybrid, or around €80 a year compared to most conventional diesel cars.
4. What about hybrid?
Hybrids are probably, for most of us, a more sensible way of getting into electrified cars right now. The likes of the Toyota Prius, Auris, C-HR, RAV4 and Yaris are all simple — no need to plug them in, as the electric motor and battery are there to assist the petrol engine, not replace them, and around town you do spend a surprising amount of time running on just electric power. They’re frugal too — a Prius can easily average 65mpg in daily driving.
Plugin hybrids are also gaining some ground. The first really popular one was the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, but that was badly compromised by being excessively thirsty on long motorway runs. More recent models, such as the BMW 330e, VW Golf GTE, Hyundai Ioniq Plugin and Kia Niro Plugin, are rather better at juggling their electric power with their petrol power, and all can go for around 50km on a full charge of their batteries, so they’re ideal for urban commuters who want something with longer legs for the weekend.
5. What about buying second hand?
Because electric cars have, thus far, suffered sharp depreciation, a second hand one can be a bit of a bargain, and potentially an ideal second car for a family who only needs it for short hops — school runs, shopping and the like. The upside here is that electric cars need minimal maintenance, as electric motors effectively only have one moving part, and so tend to be enormously reliable. The thing to watch is battery life. While we’re still getting a handle on it, batteries do degrade over time with use (just think of your mobile phone) and once a car’s battery pack has fallen below around 75 per cent of its capacity, it’s effectively useless and needs to be recycled. Nissan, for one, has offered a five-year warranty on the Leaf’s battery (eight years for the bigger, more recent battery), but replacing the battery stack is prohibitively expensive if the car is out of warranty. You’ll need to bring it to a dealer and get the car on a diagnostic rig to inspect the battery’s condition properly.
There’s also an issue of charging with some older models. The Renault Fluence Z.E., for instance, which only had a very short one-charge range to begin with, was incompatible with the fast-chargers installed at motorway service stations, which effectively limited you to charging at home overnight.