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Could an electric car save you money?

Car with money spilling outElectric cars have faced a lot of criticism in the UK press recently but what are the real advantages and disadvantages of swapping petrol pumps for plug sockets?

Nissan recently began taking orders for its new electric car: ‘Leaf’, and expect it to become the world’s first mass produced electric vehicle. Mitsubishi are also getting in on it and are preparing to launch the i-miev.

However, with most electric cars costing around £30,000 – that’s after a government grant has knocked off £5,000 - are they really a cost effective way to travel?

Figures suggest it would cost roughly 2.5p to cover a mile in an electric car and 17p in a petrol car – an 85 per cent difference*. And Nissan claim that the Leaf will run for as little as 1p per mile.

But experts are keen to remind the public that electric cars are only as green as the electricity they’re powered by.

Author of the RAC book, ‘Electric Cars – The Future is now’, Arvid Linde explains: “The difference in cost per mile is quite significant. There's just one important point to remember.

“Because the grey energy needed to manufacture a new electric car is equivalent to 15,000kg of CO2, buy an electric car only if you really need a new car. Otherwise keep driving your current car, especially if it is a diesel, which is more efficient than a petrol car.”

Another factor to consider is the cost of a battery for an electric car.

They should last six to eight years but when the pack dies, it’s likely your car will be worth less than the cost of replacing the battery.

Negatives aside, there are further savings to be made by running an electric car; zero road-tax, no congestion charge if you're living in London and free or cheaper parking.

As for car insurance costs, few mainstream insurers offer electric car insurance so as it stands, it’s difficult to assess whether insuring an electric car is cheaper than a petrol or diesel.

Robert Spare, company principal of specialist electric car insurance company, Pluginsure says the reason it’s difficult to analyse whether insuring an electric car is cheaper than a petrol or diesel is because the cost is governed by similar factors to those affecting conventional insurance. Although, this may change if more people opt for electric cars.

He added: “Government figures reveal that less than 0.1 per cent of the UK's 26 million cars are electric, so clearly the number of people looking for electric car insurance is determined by the number of such vehicles on the road.”

Despite the small number of electric cars on the road, there is evidence that the UK is preparing to plug in, with electric car parking bays popping up in Britain’s major cities.

Cabot Circus in Bristol was the first public car park to install electric car charging bays, which they say have been popular already.

And according to a new report from independent technology market researchers, Pike Research, electric car sales are expected to total 3.2 million worldwide by 2015.

Although Linde says it will be difficult to persuade private owners to go electric because of the high prices and low range battery - electric cars manage about 100 miles on one charge - but he expects them to become popular eventually.

“I simply cannot see how it could fail. Many people are ready to embrace the idea and although the electric cars are not a panacea for the environment, they are a part of the solution.”

(*based on Arvid Linde’s calculations in his book ‘Electric Car’s – The Future Is Now)


Lois Avery

Lois Avery

Lois joined in 2010 after working for Dyson and as a local newspaper reporter in Wiltshire. After a year writing financial journalism at, Lois won the 2011 'most promising newcomer' at the BIBA journalist of the year awards.

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