Alternative fuel cars (hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric) are becoming more popular, with sales rising by 31% in March 2017. March saw an impressive 562,337 new cars registered, with alternative fuel vehicles now having a market share of 4.3% – still low in comparison to fossil fuel cars, but gaining momentum due to increased awareness of harmful emissions from diesel cars.
Buyers previously enticed by the tax incentives and fuel economy of diesel cars are now faced with increasing charges – London Mayor Sadiq Khan recently announced that diesel drivers entering London will now be charged a £12.50 congestion charge, up from £11.50, if they do not meet emissions standards.
With electric and hydrogen model cars exempt from car tax and boasting low running costs (averaging around £400-£700 per year) they can surely only grow in popularity. But do the drawbacks of alternative fuel cars make them an unrealistic alternative to fossil fuel cars? Or is it now time to buy?
Electric cars use no fossil fuels at all, unlike hybrids. Running solely on electricity means there are no emissions from the vehicle itself.
Electric cars can be charged at the mains – using a standard wall socket. This can take some time, usually 24 hours for a full charge, but this can be cut to around 3-8 hours by having an outlet installed which provides high-voltage charging. Want faster charging? With a Tesla you can get an 80% charge in around an hour using the Tesla ‘supercharger’ network at locations throughout the UK and globally.
Most electric cars s are powered for around 100 miles on a full charge, but some models can go for 200 miles on a full charge.
Why buy an electric car?
Electric cars themselves do not produce harmful emissions and are exempt from car tax, with some exceptions. Electric cars are considered to be very easy to drive – there are no gears to change and they can accelerate quickly. Government grants of £4,500 are available when purchasing an electric car.
What are the drawbacks of electric cars?
You’ll need to plan out your longer journeys to make sure you are able to recharge the battery, making sure you devote adequate time for charging and research the charging points along your route. Electric car purchase prices are relatively expensive when compared with fossil fuelled cars.
Is it time to buy electric?
There are benefits to buying an electric car, including £0 tax and low running costs. However, the initial costs are comparably high and unless you have local charging points and mainly drive shorter distances then there will be some logistical limits to owning a fully-electric car. There is also an argument against the true eco-friendly nature of all electric and hybrid cars as the electricity used is likely to have been created from fossil fuels.
Hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars
Hybrids, unlike electric cars, produce some emissions due to their regular combustion engine. They are powered by a battery and an electric motor, along with diesel or petrol in the engine.
The Toyota Prius is the most popular hybrid car. The Prius uses ‘recuperation technologies’ to charge the battery, using any potentially wasted energy from the engine to charge the battery. When accelerating, the battery assists the petrol engine and can power the car alone at low speeds and over short distances.
Want to charge through the mains? Then you’ll need a plug-in hybrid model, where you will get up to 30 miles of driving from a fully charged battery, with no emissions. The plug-in hybrid then reverts back to the fossil fuelled engine, meaning that you can regularly drive over short distances without using fossil fuels if you keep the battery charged.
Why buy a hybrid?
A hybrid gives you flexibility – you can fill up at any petrol station and will not face the range limits which are a drawback of electric cars. If you regularly travel at slower speeds, for example in a city, then the electric motor will power the engine more frequently, increasing fuel efficiency and keeping emissions to a minimum. Government grants of £2,500 are available for many plug-in hybrid models.
What are the drawbacks of hybrid cars?
Car tax will still be due – as you will still likely be using some fossil fuels and creating emissions when driving over longer distances. Over longer distances and for motorway driving fuel economy is likely to be no better than similar fossil fuelled cars.
Is it time to buy hybrid?
If you mainly drive short distances then the electric motor will be utilised more and you will see the benefits in fuel economy. If you cover longer distances regularly the benefits to your pocket will not be as noticeable.
What is the best long-term low emission driving option?
Manufacturers are currently mainly pushing electric cars, but a more viable and flexible long-term option could be fuel-cell hydrogen cars.
Hydrogen cars use hydrogen gas combined with oxygen to create electricity in the tank – which is an obvious advantage over electric cars which use (potentially) fossil-fuel created electricity. This means there are zero harmful emissions, as the only by-product of the process is water.
Hydrogen cars can be filled up like a diesel or petrol car, which would be more convenient than electric cars – however there are presently very few hydrogen filling stations and it will take some time before fuel-cell cars become a viable option.