Spotlight on... Electric Vehicles (EVs)

Electric vehicles (EVs) are growing in popularity, with 2022 marking a record year for registrations, and 2023 already set to be another bumper year*. There are increasing numbers of different models and options coming to the market every month, while older vehicles are also starting to filter through to the second-hand market, making EVs more accessible for everyone. And it appears that EVs aren’t going anywhere any time soon. In 2030, there will be a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel fuelled cars, meaning electric vehicles will play a crucial role in the future of transport.

But despite this clear direction of travel, many drivers remain unsure whether to make the switch to electric. Ongoing concerns about range and charging availability continue to raise uncertainty, while others feel they don’t have enough information about the practicalities of choosing and running an EV.

We look into the first-hand experiences of two people at Lex Autolease about making the switch, as well as what’s on the horizon for EVs, to help demystify the realities of going electric.

Going Electric

Justine McGinty is a Senior Manager at Lex Autolease, who recently decided to make the switch to her first fully electric car, a Volvo C40. She discusses her experience, including the advantages and drawbacks, the factors she took into consideration when selecting the model, and where she sees the future of motoring going.

When it came to deciding to switch to an EV, there were several key reasons that Justine decided it was the right choice for her.

Over the past few years, Justine has seen the technology come on rapidly.

“The specifications of electric cars are absolutely great,” she explains. “A lot of the new technologies in electric vehicles are fabulous, especially when it comes to safety, for example Tesla’s Forward Collision Avoidance System. The features are, in my view, stronger than that you would get in a traditionally fuelled vehicle.” She also emphasised the variety of electric models now available, giving her ample choice to find a vehicle that suited her needs.

Having mainly driven manual cars in the past, Justine has found her new C40 incredibly easy to drive. “I actually enjoy being in the car,” she says. “It’s really smooth, not clunky, nice and quiet. It’s just a lovely driving experience.” She also loves the convenience of being able to charge her car at home and avoiding having to go to the petrol station, which she jokes “my husband never did, it was always me!”

Price was also a key factor for Justine, with tax incentives for opting for an EV helping to make it “hard for people to say no,” she believes. “Benefit in kind rates made it very attractive to go for an EV,” said Justine, also noting the importance of the certainty provided by recent confirmation from government that rates would remain low until 2027/28.

The list price of Justine’s new car is £57,000, which is “a big commitment in terms of expenditure”, she notes. However, the car is leased under Lex Autolease’s company car scheme, meaning she makes a personal usage contribution of £300 a month and avoids the significant upfront cost of buying the vehicle outright.

Despite an increase in the cost of electricity over the past year, Justine also found savings through refuelling with electricity over petrol. “From a cost perspective, for me it’s absolutely still a hands down win,” she explained.

The green credentials of becoming an electric driver were also an important factor for Justine. While she described her previous vehicle, a plug-in hybrid BMW 330E, as “an absolutely fabulous car”, she found she was only getting around 25 miles on electric, meaning most of her journeys weren’t zero emissions. “It’s really important to me to do my bit,” she says, and her new pure-EV allows her to do just that.

What’s more, despite the growing prevalence of EVs, she says that charging a car outside your front door is still a novel sight and provides a talking point with neighbours, helping educate others about the environmental benefits of going electric.

Weighing it up

However, Justine’s transition to electric hasn’t been without concerns, and she did have anxieties surrounding charging and range when she chose to make the switch.

She worried: “What if I can’t get enough miles to get where I want to go? And what if the charging infrastructure there isn’t where it needs to be?”

“With petrol you never really had to think about it because there will always be a petrol station, whereas charging is a different kettle of fish,” Justine remarks. “And even if you find a charger, is it going to be a fast charge or will it be hours and hours before I can finish my onward journey?”

However, as an EV driver, Justine has increasingly realised that many places she visited regularly have charging facilities. “It’s quite rare now that you go somewhere and there isn’t the opportunity to charge your vehicle while you’re having a meeting or going to the supermarket or a hotel.”

The transition has been a learning curve for Justine. “Before you start making your journey you start planning,” she says. And she’s found that this has helped her anxiety about the process.

“I’ve got tips from other drivers on the accounts and apps you need to have to give you flexibility when you’re out, so if you need to charge somewhere you’ve got the tools set up to do so,” Justine explains.

“The software in the car is brilliant,” continues Justine. “It shows me a list of charge points which are nearby, and of those charge points, the speed of the charge available, how many are free at any particular time, and which ones I can use contactless at.”

When it came to range, Justine said: “I did an analysis of the trips I do on a regular basis and thought if I can get 200 miles range, I’m golden.” With an advertised range of 270 miles, Justine was confident her Volvo would deliver that.

However, on her first long trip from Manchester to Solihull, which is exactly 200 miles, Justine was “shell-shocked” when she turned on her engine and found she would only have a range of 160 miles. She compares it to advertised fuel economy on a petrol or diesel car, where you can often find this figure can only be achieved under perfect conditions, and the reality can significantly differ from what a manufacturer advertises.

Justine admits still not being completely proficient with the car’s range. “It’s still something I need to get to grips with, and that’s a bit more about me and the learning cycle.”

With battery charge measured from 0 to 100%, it’s generally recommended to avoid allowing your car to reach either extreme of this range so as to preserve battery life, Justine acknowledged: “I never expected I was going to get the full 270 miles advertised, I always knew it would be lower than that. But I’m now starting to consider, how does my driving style impact range? Is there something I need to do differently, like minimising my use of aircon?”

She added: “It’s about understanding what I do that impacts the economy of the vehicle, so I can maximise my range and get the best that I possibly can out of the car.”

Making the switch

Driving an electric vehicle does take a bit of planning and there can be a little bit of inconvenience, but the benefits outweigh the cost,” says Justine. However, having concluded that an EV was the right choice, her next challenge was identifying the model that would suit her needs.

The vehicle would be Justine’s only family car. She would need to use it to visit her son in Sheffield, as well as for work to see clients and attend team meetings in the Midlands. “For me, it was about what car is going to give me what I need in terms of getting there and back in one journey without having to stop to charge, or as near to that as possible” she explained.

“It was absolutely all about the range,” emphasised Justine, “I had a minimum in my mind of 250 miles and wouldn’t really consider anything lower than that”.

This prompted her to choose to pay a higher personal usage contribution, to enhance her choice of vehicle: “I could’ve paid a lower contribution but only had the choice of vehicles with a range closer to 150 miles.”

However, cost was still important to Justine. It was important for her to feel that she was getting good value for money for the quality of the car, while also selecting a model that met her needs in terms of specification and would be comfortable to drive.

To help her decide, Justine took advice from other EV drivers. “In my job, we’re speaking to customers all the time and they get lots of feedback from their drivers,” Justine said, highlighting the value of hearing from others on their EV experiences.

Looking to the future

“People should really consider an EV for their next vehicle,” concludes Justine.

She highlights that for those put off by the initially high list price, the second-hand market is also now beginning to take off. “There’s lots of vehicles which are now available in the nearly new and used market. We’ve now got the first iterations of electric vehicles that we had three to four years ago, such as the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe and the e-Golf becoming available second hand.”

And Justine really does believe that electric is the future. “When you think about the uptake and the way people have adopted it, it’s really not an insignificant change and it’s something completely different from what we’ve been used to.”

She draws the comparison with the transition from VHS to DVD, to streaming, where each new technology challenges the previous dominance of an established technology. “That technology is gone and we’re going to have to have something completely different. But people vote with their pockets, and they’ve adopted it really quickly.”

Early adoption

Mel Holmes is a Customer Relationship Manager at Lex Autolease. Unlike Justine, Mel was an early adopter of electric technology, deciding to switch to a Jaguar I-PACE in October 2019. However, her electric journey hasn’t been without its issues. Mel discusses the challenges she’s faced, as well as reflecting on how far the technology has come and why she’s ultimately decided to stay electric for her next vehicle.

Like Justine, Mel’s first foray into the world of electric vehicles was with a hybrid. “I had a Lexus NX and I absolutely loved it, but its electric range was very limited – you were lucky to get 20 miles,” she explained.

Swayed by the tax benefits and keen to lead the way in adoption and set a positive example, Mel decided to make the switch to full electric. “I didn’t want to sit on the fence,” she said. “I’m out talking to customers about EVs every day, so I thought I should really give it a go.”

Teething problems

Initially, Mel loved her new EV. “It’s a beautiful car, its quiet, it’s lovely to drive,” she emphasised.

“At first, it was great,” Mel continued. “During lockdown we weren’t going out very much, I was doing short journeys and I didn’t need to charge it as much.”

However, as Mel’s life returned to its ordinary pace, she quickly began to identify some pitfalls.

The advertised range was 295 miles, which Mel confessed she thought was “fairly decent at that time”. However, she admits to having never got more than 220 miles on a good run, and even less during the winter months.

As her job role is nationwide, which sees her travelling all over the country to meet customers, Mel found herself having to put a lot of time into route planning and experienced significant range anxiety.

“I found I had to plan my journey without a shadow of a doubt, no matter where I was going, and know exactly where charging was available.”

Mel also discovered significant flaws in the UK’s charging infrastructure which sometimes derailed her carefully laid plans.

“I often found that some of the chargers at a location weren’t working, or that they were busy, so when you arrive, you’re queuing,” Mel admitted.

As her vehicle was an older model, it was only compatible with lower voltage charge points. This meant she often had to wait several hours to charge enough to complete her journey, exacerbating the issues she experienced with the charging infrastructure.

Mel has also found navigating the different charging options and suppliers across the network challenging. Many operators require drivers to have their app, rather than simply paying by card. “When it’s dark and throwing it down with rain and you’ve got to spend time downloading an app to pay, it’s tough,” she explained.

She’s also experienced dramatic pricing inconsistencies between different chargers. “Within the same week I’ve paid 83p per kilowatt at a service station, and 22p per kilowatt when charging at an NHS trust. There’s no consistency and it adds another layer of complexity to journey planning.”

Staying the course

Ultimately, Mel decided to return her Jaguar I-PACE early and has now opted for a fully electric Audi Q4 e-tron, which is a much better fit for her mileage needs.

“There was a cost involved for the business in allowing me to do this, and I appreciate this won’t be an option for every customer, but I encourage fleet managers to be flexible with their drivers wherever possible,” highlights Mel. “Fleet managers need to be advocates for sustainable change in the industry and help educate drivers on the benefits of going electric, while also working with them to find an EV that’s going to meet their needs.”

But despite the issues Mel’s faced, she’s still a firm believer in an electric future.

“The transition to electric is going to be a good change. It’s better for the environment and it’s obviously advantageous from a tax perspective, for both businesses and drivers.”

Mel has learnt the importance of understanding your requirements when choosing a car. “You need to ask yourself, what type of driving do I do?” says Mel. “I’m an extreme case because of the mileage I do, but a lower range vehicle may be ideal for someone just going to school or their office and back.”

She encourages those who have faced challenges with an EV previously not to allow it to put them off choosing one in the future. “The technology is evolving so quickly, and the infrastructure is constantly improving. I do believe within the next 12 months it will continue to improve and drivers shouldn’t be put off by a negative experience in the past.”

What's on the horizon in the EV space? 

The next few years is set to be an exciting time for EVs, with a host of new models, manufacturers, and technologies on the horizon.

Many traditional manufacturers are committing heavily to EVs within their existing product ranges. Citroen have promised to launch a pure electric or plug-in hybrid version of every new model by 2025.

Likewise, Audi have set a bold target for 40% of sales to be electric by 2025, with the aim to release a further 14 pure electric models, bringing them to at least 20 models across their range. The Q6 e-tron, a fully electric SUV, is the next to come for Audi.

Fiat has announced four new electric models due for 2023, including the Abarth 500e Scorpionissima and the Electric Panda. Honda has also announced the e:Ny1, a new, small electric SUV, which will form the centre of its line-up for future years.

There are also new Chinese players bringing electric options to the UK market. GWM ORA plan to deliver 25,000 cars a year in the UK by 2025. Additional variants of its flagship model, the ORA Funky Cat, are set to land in the UK around Q2 or Q3 this year, while the currently unnamed next model, a mid-sized saloon similar to the Tesla Model 3, is slated for Q4 2023.

Chinese manufacturer NIO’s launch in the UK has also been widely reported for 2023. With 75kWh and 150kWh battery options with ranges from 342 up to 620 miles, and an alleged 0-60mph of 4.3 seconds, this new player could be one to watch.

Range is also a key focus for manufacturers, with many looking to boost their offering over the coming years. The Vauxhall Corsa-e, part of the UK’s best-selling car range*, will be getting a bigger battery in September, increasing its range to 248 miles.

The Volvo C40 and XC40 Recharge will also see battery upgrades in June, which will increase range by 20-40 miles and cut the time taken to charge from 10 to 80% to 27 minutes, down from 37.

Meanwhile, the Peugeot E-208 is getting an upgrade to increase its range to 258 miles, while the Lexus UX300e will see a significant 40% boost to its range, taking it to 280 miles, as well as upgrades to its infotainment system.

There are also some exciting developments coming in the van space. The Ford Transit E-Custom is the second of five planned fully electric vehicles from Ford due by the end of 2024. It’s slated for a November 2023 release, with a planned range of 236 miles. Meanwhile, Fiat will be releasing the E-Ulysse, an MPV based on the Scudo van with a range of 205 miles, and the E-Doblo, which will be based on the Berlingo and will be released in both commercial and passenger formats, with a 174-mile range.

With the Government’s Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) mandate on the horizon, which will require manufacturers to sell a certain percentage of EVs annually with targets increasing year on year, manufacturers are doubling down on efforts to bring more EVs to the UK market. Technology is evolving rapidly, seeing more and more models released in an electric format and boosts to the range of existing models. It’s certain to be an exciting time for electric, and we’re well on the road towards net zero transport.

*Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, Car Registration Data, 2023: