On the charge to an electrified future

September 4, 2020

This week saw the gathering of 20 of the world’s top car makers at a special electric vehicle event to highlight the growing range of technologies available and to prove just how far the industry has come.

The event was held at the Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire where models could be taken on the fast track circuit or a hill climb route and it was organised by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

It was also the perfect opportunity for the SMMT to call on the Government to commit to more long-term incentives for EV buyers and meet targets to combat fears about the unsatisfactory charging infrastructure throughout the UK.

Although the popularity of electric cars and plug-in hybrid models is growing at a rapid pace, the plan to get the industry down to zero emissions by 2040 may be brought forward to 2035, and we are simply not ready.

As SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes explained: “Consumers need to feel that it’s as easy to charge a car as it is to fill up. And for that to happen we need 1.7 million charge points by the end of this decade and 2.8 million by 2035.”

But it’s not just the charging-on-the-go that is a concern, the initial cost can put buyers off too. It’s a fact that most EVs carry a hefty price-tag, so the SMMT is pressing the Government for a long-term commitment to incentives, including the continuation of the Plug-in Grant and its re-introduction for plug-in hybrids.

This commitment, alongside VAT exemptions for all zero emission capable cars, would reduce the upfront cost of a family car by an average £5,500 for battery electric vehicles and £4,750 for plug-in hybrids, and for an SUV by £9,750 and £8,000 respectively.

Mike Hawes added: “Manufacturers are working hard to make zero and ultra-low emissions the norm and are committed to working with government to accelerate the shift to net zero – but obstacles remain. Until these vehicles are as affordable to buy and as easy to own and operate as conventional cars, we risk the UK being in the slow lane, undermining industry investment and holding back progress.”

But one issue manufacturers have overcome is range anxiety. Potential buyers were often put off by the relatively limited EV driving distance between charges and were worried about becoming stranded on longer journeys. But we tested the new Renault Zoe with an impressive 238-mile range under WLTP testing. This car has recently been upgraded and boasts modern styling inside and out with a very upmarket interior.

It costs £28,620 (after the Government grant has been deducted) so it’s not exactly cheap to buy, but the running costs are very low and there are all manner of financial benefits thanks to the zero carbon emissions figure, such as no tax for the first year and a Benefit in Kind rating of zero per cent.

Out on the twisting hill route, the Zoe was perfectly balanced and there was ample power to conquer the steep inclines with 134hp and 245Nm of torque from this plug-in model.

We also drove the Hyundai Kona on the same test route and once again it was the ultimate proof that EVs are incredibly capable when faced with challenging conditions.

This car costs £41,250 and, with 204ps and 395Nm, can complete the 0-62mph sprint in just 7.9 seconds so definitely no slouch. In addition, a single charge will give a driving range of up to 278 miles (WLTP).

The interior of the Kona is ultra-modern with all the on-board technology we demand these days, including full smartphone connectivity via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, an eight-speaker Krell sound system, a head up display, wireless charging and plenty more besides.

Consumers can now choose from a raft of technologies to suit their driving needs, from plug-in hybrids capable of an average 38 miles zero emission driving on a single charge, to full electric models with ranges of up to 300 miles, and also hydrogen-electric cars that emit nothing but water.

EVs are rapidly growing in popularity with demand more than doubling over the last year thanks to massive industry investment worth some £54 billion in 2019 alone. And over the last 12 months, the number of plug-in hybrid and full electric models has leapt from 62 to 83, with more scheduled for launch in the coming months.

So, the manufacturers have proven their commitment to a cleaner future, now the call is for some long-term strategies from the UK Government too.

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