The Accidental Electric Car Driver
A diary of my experience as a new electric car driver, by GEM’s chief executive Neil Worth
At the beginning of 2020, we sat in the GEM office discussing the impending prohibition on the sale of new petrol and diesel-powered cars in 2030. The change to all electric vehicles was coming and we wanted to understand what it would mean for motorists. We had some discussions with the Office for Low Emission Vehicles about how they had started to advertise electric and hybrid cars as being the “new normal,” and how we could perhaps help members to pick their way through the ever-increasing technobabble about electric and hybrid vehicles. What’s the difference between a mild hybrid, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) or a pure electric vehicle for example? Our technical advisor Rob Marshall was on the case, alongside David Motton the Good Motoring road test editor, and had started to put together some frequently asked questions for members. Then the pandemic hit and other things took priority.
As an organisation, we are supportive of the need to reduce our impact on the environment (making changes to how Good Motoring is produced and packaged is a good example) but there are several unanswered questions about how easy the switch to electric vehicles is going to be. How will I charge it? How much will that cost? What happens if I’m driving it and I get stuck in a traffic jam – will I run out of power? If you put aside the various arguments for or against and look practically at the issues, we will be unable to purchase a new combustion engine vehicle by the end of the decade. The sale of new hybrids will also have stopped by 2035.
When I took over as GEM’s chief executive last June, I was driving a lovely little Ford Fiesta with a 1 litre EcoBoost engine that had been well looked after throughout its life. Unfortunately, due to another driver’s poor judgement, our beloved Fiesta ended up being written off. This gave us the opportunity to look at an alternative. Living in a village that consistently has higher air-pollution than central London, we as a family had already discussed whether we would go hybrid or electric when the time came. And so, it was then that the decision was made that our next car would be electric with yours truly as the guinea pig on your behalf!
I’m not a motoring journalist, nor am I writing a review of the car we chose, but instead I thought I’d share some of my experiences as an electric vehicle driver and answer some of the frequently asked questions we’ve received.
Why Did You Choose an Electric Vehicle?
So, starting at the beginning there were many benefits to purchasing an electric vehicle, not least of which was the government grant which meant the price was reduced by £3,000 and the fact that electric cars are currently zero rated for road tax. As the car emits no pollution at the roadside, which has an impact locally already explained, it felt like the right decision for us as a family. That doesn’t mean that I was without my doubts though!
How have you found adapting to driving an electric vehicle?
The biggest thing I noticed when I got the car was that it makes no noise when it’s stationary, so on start-up the only way you know it’s running is because the dashboard says “Ready.” It was a little disconcerting at first but like most things you adapt and it becomes normal. Next, it’s automatic which was a big change and it also has regenerative breaking which means when you take your foot off the accelerator, depending on the setting you’ve chosen, the car will brake for you without you touching the brakes. Again, that was a bit disconcerting to start with as the car doesn’t coast so it means you have to adapt your driving style as you approach bends or junctions.
What were your biggest concerns in converting to an EV?
The obvious concern was the battery range and I still have a bit of range anxiety if I’m going somewhere I haven’t been before. What it has meant is that I now plan journeys more thoroughly than I perhaps used to, so I know the location of the nearest charging points, remembering that not all chargers are equal as they can offer different speeds to charge the battery. It also means that I have adapted to not using the air conditioning as much as I did as that can reduce the available range, so going old school, the car has a sunroof which my children think is a great novelty.
What has surprised you most about driving an EV?
How nice it is to drive! It’s a very smooth, quiet and comfortable drive. The cost of charging was also a nice surprise – when compared to the cost of filling a petrol or diesel car, there’s a significant saving by going electric.
How easy do you find it to charge your EV?
When choosing to go electric, this was one of the big questions that needed to be addressed. At the moment I can’t charge the car at home so I’m reliant on the public charging infrastructure. Thankfully the BP filling station in the next village isn’t that far away and has a couple of rapid charging points that I make use of. I’ve had to wait a couple of times when they’re both being used but other than that it’s quite straight forward. We’ve also recently had charging points installed at GEM HQ making use of a grant from the government who have also pledged to invest in public charging points across the country. As charging points are provided by different companies, I’ve got at least four apps on my phone with accounts for each one – thankfully Zap Maps lets me see charging points at my destinations, so I can make sure I’ve got the right app making sure I can charge when I arrive.
What have others reactions been to your change to EV?
It’s sparked a lot of interest with friends and family who have all been keen to see the car and hear my experiences with it. There is still a lot of uncertainty from people about electric vehicles and they are still relatively rare, so when people see them they do ask questions.
What are your overall thoughts on electric vehicles?
Looking back at the decision to go electric, I’m happy that I made the right choice for me. It has saved me a significant amount of money each month on fuel and once I got used to it being so quiet, I really started to enjoy the driving experience. As an organisation, we’re working hard to help members to make the choice that is right for them and to demystify some of the issues around electric and hybrid vehicles. With the inevitable increase in the number of electric vehicles on the roads, there needs to be a greater investment in the charging infrastructure to help people make the switch if they choose to. In terms of breakdown cover, you’re covered driving an EV in exactly the same way you’re covered if you were driving a petrol or diesel vehicle, so there’s no need to worry there.