There’s no doubt that we live in an age of motoring evolution, watching history unfold before our eyes. Hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs) were once the butt of many motoring columnists’ jokes, discarded as a waste of time or, at their worst, as something which threatened the joy of true motoring. In a way it’s an ironic viewpoint, considering that electric cars have been around almost as long as their counterparts which rely on miniature explosions for propulsion. But they’re steadily gaining a foothold in the modern era, thanks in part to government schemes, the interest of early adopters and increasingly efficient technology.
Increasing choice is also attracting more buyers across the globe, though uptake in Ireland remains slow, with somewhere in the region of 2,000 EVs sold here over the past few years. The Nissan Leaf and the Renault Zoe are both affordable, fully electric cars that are comfortable, easy to drive and don’t look like spaceships among their fossil fuel brethren (although the Mitsubishi i-Miev resembles a bug that has crashed into your windscreen at speed). BMW offers two luxury alternatives in the i3 and i8, while Mitsubishi’s plug-in hybrid Outlander melds off-road capabilities with more efficient motoring. At the top of the pile sits the Tesla Model S, a pioneer in the electric vehicle market, though it’s not on sale in Ireland just yet.
So, given the fact that there’s so much choice available, where should you start? First of all, figure out what exactly you want from your new, efficient and earth-friendly automobile. If you mainly drive short or medium distances and can park your car within reach of a charge point or an ordinary socket, then an all electric car could be the one for you. They’re cheap to run and very simple to operate – charge the battery and then keep driving until you have to charge it again, whether via the numerous ESB charging points dotted around the country, or via a home charging unit or an ordinary wall socket. Charging via an ESB fast charge point (free to use) generally takes around 20-30 minutes to get to 80 per cent capacity; when charging at home it’s best to do so overnight for a full charge. The Nissan Leaf, which starts at €21,490, is one of the most popular electric vehicles in Ireland, and comes with a 24kWh battery as standard with an average range of 140km per charge – more than enough for the average trip. With zero CO2 emissions, your annual tax bill is just €120.
Or you could opt for a hybrid, if you’re worried about your electric car suddenly coming to a stop in the middle of nowhere, having just run out of juice (which doesn’t really happen unless you allow it to). Essentially these cars blend electric and fossil fuel power to get you from A to B, resulting in much more efficient journeys. There are two types of hybrids – a hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) uses a petrol or diesel engine to produce electricity, while a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) can be charged up via the grid, and will use the petrol or diesel engine to propel you along when necessary. Take the Toyota Prius (retailing from €31,450), a family car which combines an electric motor with a petrol engine. The combination of its hybrid set-up results in an impressive 94mpg, though you’ll need to drive with a light foot to achieve that. As with all hybrids and EVs, the Prius features regenerative braking, which allows the car to recover energy when you decelerate, and feeds it into the battery to extend the range.
Sweetening the deal
Some people don’t know enough about hybrids or EVs to make the switch, others may be unaware of the potential savings or balk at the price, which is generally more expensive than your average petrol or diesel car. That’s why in Ireland, as with other countries, the government has introduced a few measures to sweeten the deal and to make electric or hybrid car ownership an easier choice. The main sweetener comes in the form of a grant from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) – up to €5,000 for an EV or PHEV, depending on the cost. The dealership will apply for the grant on your behalf and it’s taken off the price you pay on the forecourt. VRT relief is also available – up to €5,000 for EVs, €2,500 for PHEVs and €1,500 for ordinary hybrids. So, depending on your purchase, you could save a total of €10,000.
If you do a little forward thinking, you can also eliminate your fuel bill (for fully electric cars) by using the ESB’s public charge points dotted around the country (which can be located through the ESB’s ecar connect app available on Android and iOS). Although charges were due to be introduced from January 2017, this has been put on hold to give EV and hybrid sales a boost. “Charging is free at any one of the 1,500 ESB charging points around the country. I spoke to a taxi driver recently and he told me that he has reduced his fuel costs to practically zero since switching over to an electric vehicle. He drives 54,000 kilometres a year and the saving to him is enormous,” SEAI’s Declan Meally recently told The Irish Times.
If you’re charging at home, it’s best to leave your car plugged in overnight, as it could take up to eight hours to charge the battery. Charging at night also means you can take advantage of the night rate – a full charge will cost you around €2. Not bad for a full tank of fuel.
Measures already in place in other countries could also be introduced in Ireland in the near future. The Norwegian model is under consideration at present – EV owners could take advantage of no tax or VAT, free tolls and free public parking. They’ve certainly proved successful in Norway – the Scandinavian country has seen EV sales of around 48,000 in recent years.
So the choice is simple – electric or hybrid – and it really comes down to your own particular requirements. Alongside government incentives, decreasing prices and increasing ranges, electric vehicles and their hybrid counterparts are becoming a real option for the modern driver. Don’t simply rely on motoring reviews or other people’s opinions – take a test drive yourself and make up your own mind. But chances are you’ll be quite impressed.
This article was first printed in ICA Home & Living Winter 2016