The electric car elephant in the room

The 'affordable' Zoe
There was a discussion on today's Today programme about the pros and cons of introducing green numberplates for electric cars, enabling their owners to use bus lanes, park for free and such, to encourage us all to buy electric cars. There was rightly some doubt expressed that this would do the trick. But I was amazed there was not a single mention of the electric car elephant in the room - pricing.

I want an electric car - I really do. I would have one tomorrow. But I simply can't afford one. I can get a new petrol car at prices starting around £7,000. The cheapest mainstream electric car, the Renault Zoe, would cost me £21,000 - three times the amount. And that's for a silly short range. If I want an electric car with a range that is suitable for journeys other than commuting (which I do) there's nothing under around £35,000. But the cheapo petrol car can manage that range and more.

There it is, quite simply. Fiddling around with green numberplates just makes life better for those who can afford to spend a lot on a car. The majority of people can't. Long term, it shouldn't be a problem - the more electric cars they sell, the cheaper they are likely to become. But we don't have the kind of subsidies in place to make current electric cars affordable now. If the government really wants us to go electric soon, it's not a sales barrier they have to overcome, it's pure affordability.

This has been a green heretic production.


  1. Yes, this is a real problem. The lanes are necessary, perhaps, as an additional incentive at the beginning. But they need to be re-evaluated from time to time.

    Almost half the new cars in Norway are electric. Not only are the people rich, but the government can afford big subsidies, and the government is rich from selling petroleum which is burned outside of Norway (99% of electric power in Norway is hydro).

    In Norway, they stopped the free parking and so on because people were buying additional electric cars to take advantage of them, while keeping their petrol cars.

    One thing people get wrong is range. Above a certain minimum range, what matters is not how far one can travel, but how long it takes to charge. Actually, charging 15 minutes for 200 km is better than 30 minutes for 400, because the smaller battery will be cheaper and lighter and, to first order, the time spent charging is the same.

    Another problem: how to pay. With petrol or diesel, I see the price before I stop and can pay with cash or any common card. How many different systems are there for charging stations? How transparent are the prices?

    1. That's a good point about payment. I'd disagree slightly about charging, but that's because the only long range drive (about 200 miles/320 km) I do regularly is all on country roads except for the first 30/40 miles (50/60 km), and as such, recharging on the way is not an option.

    2. Maybe not now, but presumably by the time you buy an electric car it will be possible to recharge on country roads as well.


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