owning and operating an electric car in NI – Slugger O’Toole

Some readers of Slugger might remember, in 2016, that I decided to take the plunge and lease an electric car. Recently, more attention has been given to this issue; BBC NI recently ran some segments about it, and I noticed at the end of one of the leader’s debates before the elections that all leaders were asked if they had plans to switch to an electric car. Then, this morning, I noticed that the Infrastructure Department had dusted off its 5-year-old Nissan Leaf to pick up the new Minister for the cameras. I thought it might be a good time to talk about my own experience retrospectively, and also give my idea of ​​how I think it is necessary to develop policies in this area.

I did not renew my Nissan Leaf lease when it expired after two years. After some longer cross-border trips that ended up taking much longer than necessary, due to the lack of adequate fast loading facilities, I found it difficult to justify the significantly higher purchase price and the additional inconvenience. The absence of enthusiasm emanating from the government has not been useful either.

That does not change my point of view, which is that, ultimately, we must move to make the transition from all transportation to electricity as soon as we can. Within my life, I hope all cars are electric, and I think the transition will be substantially complete, certainly for passenger cars and public road transport, before the UK ban on new gasoline cars and Diesel enters into force in 2040.

Why electric?

The case of electric cars is compelling. Despite the disinformation campaigns that arise from time to time, they use significantly less energy to move the same weight at the same distance, and do not contaminate from an escape. They can be charged anywhere where there is a plug, and the energy can come from any source that can be used to generate electricity: wind, solar, nuclear, natural gas, as well as coal and oil, which is important when it comes to reduce our consumption energy dependence They are based on standard technology, well understood and common, and their batteries are soon expected to become commodities. There is likely to be a lively market for the reuse of older EV batteries for energy storage in homes and businesses. This is important because energy storage is the key to making renewable energy viable and reliable.

But we are not there yet. Cars are still too expensive and the load is still too inconvenient for many people. These are problems that will eventually be solved by the market; but governments must be more actively involved to get the ball going.

We must not forget that electric cars do not solve all problems. While they eliminate pollution from the exhaust pipe and help reduce energy imports, they do not resolve traffic congestion or traffic accidents, and do not encourage people to live more active or healthy lifestyles. Particularly silly are the proposals to allow electric vehicles to use bus lanes or provide free parking; These ideas actively mitigate efforts to make transportation scale effectively. I will address this point in more detail later.


An electric car is extremely easy to drive, much easier than a normal car. There is no gearbox, since electric motors supply power primarily linearly throughout their RPM range (usually through a fixed reduction gear). There is also no turbo delay: the total power is immediate, which is ideal for getting around the city, getting out of the crossings quickly, etc. There are no inconveniences at all from a driving perspective.

A minor but really nice feature of an EV is that it can remotely turn on the heating or air conditioning without putting the key in the car. This is ideal for defrosting windows in winter or cleaning condensation, or cooling the car if you have been sitting in the sun before starting your trip.


Unfortunately, electric cars are still significantly more expensive to buy at the entry level. Looking at the Nissan website, the initial list price for the Leaf’s base model is £ 27,995, including grants. In comparison, the base model of Juke, the nearest equivalent gasoline car, is £ 17,995. It’s a similar story at Hyundai: the i30 or the Kona can be purchased for £ 17,355 or £ 17,350 respectively, where the fully electric Ioniq starts at £ 29,450, including the incentive. At Volkswagen, the Golf S base starts at £ 22,080, while the e-Golf is priced at £ 27,575 (in any case, I think this tells a story of how expensive the Standard Golf is!).

In general, manufacturers equip their base electric vehicles with a higher specification than their base gasoline models, so these are not comparable comparisons. But it shows that you can expect to spend between £ 5K- £ 10K more to go to electricity.

Running costs

Some advocates argue that the higher purchase price of an electric vehicle is offset by lower operating costs. For most people, this will not be the case.

As a very rough guide, you will save approximately £ 1,200 / year on fuel costs and taxes if you buy a base level EV compared to buying a base level equivalent gasoline car. This assumes that you do about 10,000 miles per year and that you charge the car at home using Economy 7 with a standard three-pin plug.

Since it is an approximate figure, there are many warnings that depend on how you drive and what type of mileage you make. The mileage performance of an electric car decreases at higher speeds, such as on the highway. It also falls in cold climates, for several reasons: the battery works less efficiently in the cold, and has to use more energy to maintain a comfortable temperature in the cabin. On the other hand, when driving through the city in good weather, an EV is extremely efficient.

If you are a long-distance driver, driving a diesel car where you routinely get 60mpg, realistic on many modern diesel engines, saving an EV is significantly reduced to around £ 700 / year. Modern diesel engines are, of course, a bad choice if you rarely drive distances due to the DPF cleaning cycle.

It turns out, therefore, that motorists driving gasoline cars over short distances and diesel cars for longer distances are looking for between 7 and 8 years to cover the purchase cost. Anyone who buys an EV with the hope of saving money in general will wait a long time.

The EV tax clock pump

Electric vehicles seem cheap from the above statistics, but this is an anomaly due to the fact that there are no fuel taxes or full-rate VAT to pay for electricity.

In a gasoline car, you are paying approximately 9p / mile in taxes. Eliminate those taxes, and the gap in operating costs between a gasoline car and an EV is almost non-existent. If you discount diesel fuel taxes, diesel cars are actually cheaper than electric vehicles for long-distance drivers.

As participation in the electric vehicle market increases, tax revenues in VAT, excise taxes on vehicles and fuel taxes will decrease. One way or another, the government will eventually have to plug this hole. It is practically not possible to apply this tax during charging, since most of the charging will be done from home and can even be done outside the network through solar panels.

A mileage tax is the only mechanism that makes sense, although it would be necessary to develop mechanisms to deal with the collection of cars registered abroad. I hope the government will introduce punitive taxes in the future for gasoline and diesel cars to ensure there are enough incentives to change.

I cannot see the government moving forward in this matter, while electric vehicles constitute a very small proportion of cars on the road. But driving without taxes will not last long.

Service costs

Some EV advocates claim that it is not necessary to repair an electric car. This is a matter of interpretation. It is true that electric vehicles are inherently less maintenance. An electric motor is a simple machine with much less to go wrong. You do not need oil changes, filters, spark plugs, heaters, injectors and their cleaners, oxygen monitors, timing belts / chains, clutch plates / fluid, or any of these other precision components necessary for fuel-based engines to work. (Some electric motors need fluid changes, but only after 100,000 miles.)

However, electric vehicles still require periodic inspections, mainly for safety reasons. The service schedule on my Leaf still provided full and intermediate service, and these included brake controls, CV boots / steering rack / etc., suspension controls, bearing controls, dust / pollen filter, air conditioning, etc. . Interestingly, due to regenerative braking, the brake pads / discs tend to wear much more slowly and, in many cases, they will not need to be replaced during the life of the car.

Nissan currently charges £ 159 for a basic service on the Leaf vs £ 209 for its gasoline cars. This is not a big savings, so for now I will argue that there is no difference worth considering here.

Anxiety range

Most of the time, typical EV drivers do not need to worry about range anxiety. This is because the average motorist travels 30 miles per day. If the car charges every night, it will never run out.

However, most car drivers want the ability to travel longer distances when necessary: ​​a race along the coast, a trip to see family members or friends who live further, etc. In these cases, you need the ability to quickly charge your car during your trip. This is where you need a reliable network of fast chargers, which can charge it near its maximum capacity in approximately 30 minutes.

I don’t think people care to wait 30 to 45 minutes to charge, as long as they don’t have to do it frequently during a long trip, since most will stop to take a rest anyway. However, these delays may end up taking much longer due to the lack of available chargers. When I had my EV, there were holes in the network, which was aggravated by the fact that the free charge encouraged private sector operators who felt free and discouraged to establish their own networks. On many occasions, the chargers would be out of service and, due to lack of funds, it often took many weeks to repair the defective chargers.

Recently, ESB activated the payment rate for fast chargers in the south, which (according to the anecdote) has significantly improved the availability of the charger. This has not yet happened in the north, probably due to the absence of a minister. We are also lagging behind in terms of maintenance and charger upgrades in the north.

Whats Next ?

As I write, electric cars are getting closer and closer to the mainstream. But we are still far from the price parity at the lower end of the market. I hope 2020 is a record year for electric vehicle sales, but it will be at least a couple of years before electric vehicles on the road become commonplace.

If the UK government wants to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles, it should significantly increase taxes on gasoline and diesel cars and use this to finance huge subsidies for electric vehicles. This policy is unlikely to be popular, so it depends largely on the type of political capital you have.

Within our own delegated government, the first priority must be to address the availability and reliability of the charger. Therefore, the government has to move to make the necessary legal changes to allow the introduction of rates for electric vehicle chargers. You should also analyze how repairs, upgrades and network expansion can be financed, and analyze the operation of the market to see what can be done to attract other private sector operators.

It is probably not sensible or realistic for the delegated government to introduce additional EV subsidies for the general public. Personally, I would oppose electric vehicles being allowed to use bus lanes or have free parking. On the other hand, providing incentives or matching funds to public sector / local government agencies to enable them to electrify their fleet could generate good performance and help normalize electric vehicles in public view.

Hydrogen power advocates must be shown the door. When an electric vehicle charger is a relatively simple machine, the equipment for producing and storing hydrogen gas is not, which rules out one of the great advantages of electric vehicles, namely the ability to charge overnight with more electricity. cheap. The production process wastes a significant amount of the input energy. Gas cannot be efficiently produced at scale; It is a dangerous and highly explosive substance. It creates more problems than it solves, especially for private cars.

I wish our new Minister of Infrastructure, as she assumes responsibility for this matter, as well as a wide range of other more serious matters. I hope you succeed in presenting arguments to collect infrastructure improvements at the Executive Board, especially because this feeds the established priorities of local parties on climate change and pollution. Northern Ireland has been behind by pollution and climate change for too long, and it is time for us to deal with this.

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