What type of electric car is right for you?

Electric vehicles are an irresistible force. 36,907 new pure electric and plug-in hybrid cars were registered in 2016, more than ten times as many as in 2013. Whether due to environmental concerns, fuel costs or simply personal taste, more and more people are choosing to buy or lease one.

This happy trend is one that we at Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions would like to encourage, which is why we’ve written this post. It’s a guide to help you find the right type of electric car, taking in all the main considerations – emissions, range, costs and more – when deciding on your electric car.

Electric car emissions

Perhaps the defining feature of electric cars is their low emissions, but it's worth noting that some have lower emissions than others. For instance, pure battery electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles emit no carbon dioxide at all, whilst plug-in hybrid vehicles have emissions of anything between 12 and 75g CO2/km.

For those looking to be as green as possible, a battery electric car or hydrogen fuel cell car is the way to go. Yet there are other considerations that may push motorists towards plug-in hybrid cars.

How far can you go in an electric car

In recent years, advances in battery technology have greatly extended the distance that battery electric vehicles can drive on a single charge, making them a realistic option for more people. The Renault Zoe, for example, goes for 103 miles before needing to be plugged in, while the 30KWh Nissan LEAF can go 124 miles and the BMW i3 can do 156. Telsa's 90kWh Model S can travel an amazing 277 miles on a single charge.

Given that the average car journey is just 9 miles long, and 98% of trips cover less than 50 miles, these ranges are more than adequate for most of us, most of the time. However, for those regularly undertaking longer journeys, a plug-in hybrid vehicle or a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle may be more sensible.

For example, the ‘range-extended’ BMW i3 – which has a small petrol engine to top up its battery on the move – can go more than 200 miles on a single charge. Other plug-in hybrid cars take a different approach, with a smaller battery powering zero-emission driving for short trips, and a larger petrol engine taking over for longer ones. The beauty of this system is that the engine doesn’t need refuelling as often as those in traditional petrol cars. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV achieves an equivalent of 157 miles to the gallon, whilst the figure for the Mercedes C 350e is 135mpg.

As for Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles, there aren’t many on the market – but those that are available can cover impressive distances on a single tank. The Toyota Mirai, the Hyundai ix35 FCEV and the forthcoming Honda Clarity Fuel Cell all boast ranges of over 300 miles.

Upfront costs

Generally speaking, electric cars have higher sticker prices than their petrol and diesel counterparts. However, these prices are mitigated by two factors. First, there is now much more variety than there used to be, so that not everyone needs to spend the £85,000 required for a luxurious Tesla Model X. The Citroën C-Zero and the Peugeot iON, both listed at £16,995, are just two of the models available for those on tighter budgets.

Second, there are various Government incentives on offer for ULEVs. Foremost among these is the Plug-in Car Grant, which gives buyers up to £4,500 off the cost. As the table below shows, the exact amount of the grant depends on the type of electric car you choose: pure battery electric cars with no CO2 emissions can get the maximum of £4,500, while plug-in hybrid cars with higher emissions are eligible for £2,500.

And there are tax benefits too. Cars with lower emissions pay less Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) in their first year, while zero-emission battery electric vehicles or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are not subject to VED at all.

If you’re getting your electric vehicle as a company car, bear in mind that lower-emission cars face lower Company Car Tax (CCT) rates too. Currently, those emitting less than 50g CO2/km face a 7% rate, while those emitting 51–75g face an 11% rate. From April 2020, a new CCT system will come into effect, with greater differentiation between different ultra-low emission vehicles, depending on their emissions.

Of course, leasing rather than buying also helps to alleviate upfront costs. It’s also especially beneficial when it comes to the fast-moving world of electric cars. When you lease, you don’t need to worry about your car’s resale value. And, if you choose to upgrade to a newer vehicle when your lease term is up, you’ll benefit from the latest technological improvements.

How much does it cost to charge an electric car?

Simply put, electricity is much cheaper than petrol or diesel – especially as there’s no Fuel Duty to pay on it. Charging an electric car costs about 2 pence per mile, compared to the 10–12p per mile cost of petrol or diesel. The more you use your car, therefore, the more you stand to save by going for a pure electric car compared to a hybrid.

Hydrogen currently costs more per mile than petrol or diesel, but as uptake increases suppliers hope to bring the cost down so that Fuel Cell Vehicles are cheaper to run.

Where to charge an electric car

Electric cars need somewhere to charge, and most drivers plug their's in at home overnight. If you’re buying or leasing a battery electric vehicle or a plug-in hybrid vehicle, you’ll also probably want to install a charge point. Standard ones take about six hours to fully charge a battery, and cost around £900. Government grants are available to cover £500 of that total, through the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme. 

If you’ll be driving your electric car to work regularly, you might be able to persuade your employer to install a charge point too, if they haven’t got one already. The Government also offers help with the cost of that, through Workplace Charging Scheme vouchers worth £300 and a 100% First Year Capital Allowance. 

It’s also worth checking the availability of public charge points near you and along the routes you often take. There are now over 12,000 in the UK, and 96% of motorway services have rapid charge points capable of bringing your battery up to 80% charge in just 30 minutes. A subscription may be required to use some providers’ charge points, but these fees are generally relatively low.

We hope that this guide makes the process of choosing a new electric car clearer and easier. Good luck with plugging in!


Note: The information, materials and opinions contained in this article are for general information purposes only. They are not intended to constitute legal or other professional advice, and should not be relied on or treated as a substitute for specific advice relevant to particular circumstances.