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.

The Press - - Opinion -

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.

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