Frequently Asked Questions
What are the differences between the various electric vehicles?
Electric vehicles fall into five categories:
- Battery Electric Vehicles or BEVs (e.g. Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i-MiEV) are charged from a household power supply and drive using an electric motor. These have no tailpipe emissions, but usually have a range of less than 100 miles before needing to be recharged.
- Extended Range Electric Vehicles or E-REVs (e.g. Vauxhall Ampera, Audi A1 E-tron) are charged from the mains like a BEV and only ever drive using an electric motor. To provide extra range, they also have a low capacity petrol engine which kicks in at low voltage to keep the batteries topped up but provides no direct power to the wheels.
- Hybrid Electric Vehicles or HEVs (e.g. Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid) have an efficient petrol or diesel engine and use an electric motor to provide additional power. They are refuelled like a conventional car and generate their own electricity. Despite the low capacity batteries, some, like the Lexus CT200h, can be driven for around a mile entirely on the electric motor.
- Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles or PHEVs (e.g. Toyota Prius Plug-in, Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid) have higher capacity batteries than a traditional hybrid, and can be charged for up to ten miles of fully electric driving. These also have a petrol engine which cuts in to provide extra power for hard acceleration, and they work like a regular hybrid setup once its full electric range is used up.
- Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles or FCEVs (e.g. Opel HydroGen4, Honda FCX) use hydrogen and a chemical reaction to generate the electricity used to power their electric drivetrain. These can be refuelled in minutes and emit only water vapour, but the lack of filling stations and high cost means there are no production models available yet.
Is the technology safe?
Electric vehicles are built to as strict production standards as conventional cars and vans. Most are crash tested and can even be submerged in water without putting occupants at risk. Outside charging points are also weatherproof, to avoid electric shocks during poor weather.
Is it reliable?
As a relatively new technology, we’ve yet to see how well the components last over time. However, like all cars, electric powertrains have gone through years of development before being offered on sale and shouldn’t cause any problems for owners. They’re designed to be as durable as any other vehicle, and the much simpler drivetrain actually has fewer components to go wrong.
Do the batteries degrade or discharge over time?
Lithium ion batteries will lose charge steadily, but only over a long period of time. Even left in an airport car park for a fortnight most electric vehicles which rely on a battery won’t have lost a significant amount of charge and should still be suitable for the drive home. It’s also true that the batteries will eventually lose capacity, but this too is a slow decline. Nissan says the units fitted to the LEAF, for example, should have as much as 75 per cent capacity even after ten years of regular use.
How will battery leasing schemes work?
Unlike most EV manufacturers, Renault’s Zero Emissions (ZE) range, due next year, will be based around a battery leasing scheme. It means a lower screen price for the vehicles, but also cuts the cost of the batteries out of the car’s depreciation and removes the risk of having to replace the unit. The scheme will cost £59 per month, which is less than the price of a tank of fuel for most cars.
Will they cost a lot to service and maintain?
Although the technology itself is still expensive, electric motors have fewer moving parts and, as such, require less labour intensive servicing than a conventional engine. Consumables such as brakes and tyres will need to be replaced in the same way as they are in a petrol or diesel car, and hybrid vehicles will require servicing for their internal combustion engine. However, servicing costs for pure electric vehicles should be lower than fossil fuel powered alternatives.
Will it work in all weather conditions?
Winter weather can cause regular car batteries to fail, but the lithium ion units used in fully electric cars are very different and more resilient to temperature changes. Although extremes of hot and cold can affect range, the UK’s moderate climate means even cold snaps or heatwaves won’t leave drivers stranded. The biggest issue with hot or cold weather is the additional drain from air conditioning. Some cars, such as the LEAF, can have the climate control set remotely while it’s still plugged into the mains, giving defrosted windows or a cool cabin before the driver gets in, and without reducing range.
Where can I charge my electric car?
The Government has pledged £43m so far to introduce public charging points at locations around the UK as part of its Plugged-In Places scheme, and many businesses with electric fleets or company cars are buying their own units. Some manufacturers offer fast-charge stations at certain dealerships, which can top batteries up to almost full charge in under an hour. However, the added convenience of electric cars is that for drivers with a driveway or garage or companies with an in-house charging point, vehicles can be can be recharged overnight without needing to go to a fuel station. If their daily mileage falls within the range of the batteries, they’ve got an even more convenient fuelling setup than conventional cars.
What’s the best time to charge my car?
During peak times the National Grid experiences a surge of energy use, which means a switch to predominantly fossil fuel power to keep up with demand. This has a knock-on effect for charging prices and emissions, too. Research has shown that charging overnight could reduce emissions by up to a third, with much lower off-peak charging costs for certain tariffs. While it won’t always be convenient to do so, EVs are at their most cost-effective and environmentally friendly when charged at night.
What is CHAdeMO?
CHAdeMO is an international standard for fast-charging, established by an association comprising Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Fuji Heavy Industries (manufacturer of Subaru) and the Tokyo Electric Power Company. The name is an abbreviation of “CHArge de Move” – “charge for moving” and a pun on the Japanese phrase “O cha demo ikaga desuka”, meaning “Let’s have a tea while charging.”
The CHAdeMO Association aims to standardise its advanced quick charging method across most of the automotive industry, to make infrastructure development easier.
Can the electric powertrain be recycled afterwards?
Electric vehicles are usually bought by eco-conscious buyers, and manufacturers have considered what happens at the end of their lifespan. Most materials are as easy to recycle as a conventional car, if not moreso. The electric powertrain is designed to be recyclable too. Early hybrid manufacturers have well-established systems to recycle the nickel-metal hydride battery packs, and everything can be reused down to its smallest components. Lithium Ion, found in more modern EVs, is just as easy to recycle, with lithium retaining its value even after years of use.