Don’t buy an EV just yet
Should rising petrol prices prompt you to dump that gas guzzler and go electric? Think before you leap, says motoring writer Damien O’Carroll.
Welcome to EV week here at Stuff. Actually, it isn’t, but it sure feels like it. You see, the drastic rise in petrol prices has cranked office chatter about making the switch to an electric vehicle to save on fuel costs up to the maximum, even prompting some usually timid souls to venture over to the dark corner of the office where the motoring section lurks to ask if they should buy an EV.
There is actually a very simple answer to that question too – it depends.
Now I didn’t say it was a satisfying or informative answer, did I? Just a simple one. The decision, however, is not quite so simplistic.
Before I get going I must clarify that I am a massive car nerd. I love cars. And that means I am fascinated by all of them, not just the ones that go fast and make lots of lovely petrol-powered noise.
I actually don’t care that much what powers a car, as long as it does it well. And a lot of electric motors do it very well indeed, so it is safe to say I am neither a committed EVangelist nor an EVnaysayer. My attitude towards EVs is the same as it is to all cars; I like some, I dislike others and there are even some I am largely ambivalent about.
So with that in mind, if you are considering an EV, the most important thing to consider is this: is an EV going to be right for you?
Do you do a lot of open road motoring? Lots of trips up and down the length of the country? Then an EV probably realistically isn’t for you, unless you have enough money to drop six figures on a new Tesla.
New Zealand’s charging network has grown impressively quickly, but it isn’t everywhere yet and you still have charging times to consider – the Hyundai Kona has an impressive real-world range of more than 400km, but it also has the associated 75-minute charging time.
And that is on a fast charger – it literally takes almost two days to charge on domestic power. But then, you wouldn’t do that – you still have to ‘‘graze’’ and grab a charge wherever and whenever you can and leave it plugged in at home overnight, but again; this won’t suit everyone, so be aware of the changes you will have to be prepared to make to accommodate an EV in your life.
But does it actually suit your lifestyle? Live in the country and can only charge it at home? Likewise, an EV may not be the best vehicle for you.
Head off road regularly? Carry a load or tow a lot? Like to go camping a lot? Got a big family and regularly carry seven people? Look somewhere else. Just as a tiny petrol-powered city car wouldn’t suit any of these lifestyles comfortably, an EV currently isn’t the answer to every problem.
While it may be tempting to consider all of those free EV chargers popping up as the major reason for buying an EV, that’s probably not the smartest in terms of long-term planning – after all, most of us plan on keeping a new car for a while (and by new, I mean ‘‘new to us’’ – it is most likely to be a used car), so counting on those staying around forever is not advisable.
Precisely none of the companies that currently supply fast chargers without cost around the country has claimed this will last forever (even Tesla has stopped the free lifetime supercharger use for new customers unless they are referred by a current owner) and as the population of EVs grows, those companies will become less inclined to subsidise their running costs.
And as for the ones operated by electricity suppliers around the country, well, that is essentially a case of a drug dealer giving away free samples to get you hooked. After all, electricity suppliers have a vested interest in getting us to all switch to electrically powered vehicles, so offering free juice now will pay dividends (literally) to them over the long term when we are as beholden to them as we are today to oil companies.
OK, so that’s a wild conspiracy theory with no real proof to back it up and certainly doesn’t apply in every case, but whatever their reasons, it won’t last forever, so all those queues of Nissan Leafs and their elderly drivers hanging around McDonald’s parking lots will almost certainly be in for a massive disappointment eventually.
Then there are the inescapable road user charges that will eventually be levied on EVs – the ones they currently get a free ride on.
Now, I don’t begrudge them this – and am resigned to the fact it is as good an incentive on EVs as we are ever likely to get from our Government – but there is a looming air of inevitability there too. They are coming (eventually) and they will add to your running costs – not enough to make it more expensive than running an ICE vehicle, but you need to be aware of it when making a purchasing decision.
While none of these future costs should dissuade you from buying an EV now – in fact, I would encourage you to get in now and make the most of the current savings – you do need to consider them for the future.
But here’s the biggest financial question – will it actually save you money?
Changing cars simply to save money almost never works, even with an EV. Unless, that is, you are willing to buy a car that is significantly cheaper than the one you already own, not just cheaper to run.
So, yes, going from a new Mercedes-AMG G 63 to a used Nissan Leaf will save you a fortune, but going from an old Corolla and upgrading to that same Leaf, well, depending on the difference between your trade and the new car it could take you quite a few years to recoup that money in lower running costs. And, yes, maintenance costs are lower on an EV, but there are still costs and you still need to get that warrant of fitness.
So, if you are seriously considering getting an EV and you are due for an upgrade and it suits your lifestyle, habits, hobbies and location, then go for it – driving an electric car is an absolute blast and most people get hooked instantly, saying they will never buy another petrol car again.
But if you can’t say an equivocal yes on all of those things, then think long and hard, because there is little worse than buying a car that doesn’t work for you.
The king of the local EVs is the Nissan Leaf, but just because it is cheap doesn’t mean it will be a good option, says Damien O’Carroll.