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Is it better to buy an electric car now or to wait? Conor Pope and Michael McAleer debate the options

Figures suggest many consumers are holding out for better charging infrastructure and battery technology - and lower prices. But what are the risks of waiting?

Michael McAleer: Wait. Hanging on for better infrastructure and battery technology makes sense

We’ll all be driving electric cars (EVs) in years to come. They offer the best solution for private motorists in tackling climate change. But are they the right option for everyone right now? No.

That’s not to say those who already opted for EVs made the wrong choice. The world needs early adopters: they pioneer new technology and provide welcome real-life lessons. They know the supporting infrastructure isn’t in place just yet, prices can be exorbitant and the tech can be patchy. Yet they persevere.

But EVs are now being pitched at mainstream consumers who will not accept the excuse that “things will get better in time”. The car is not a defining part of their lives, a mobile virtue signal or status symbol: it’s merely a mode of transport. An EV needs to be affordable, dependable, and convenient to use. The latest sales figures show buyers remain unconvinced on all three.

Most new EV car prices were, and are, too high for the mainstream market. Chinese rivals are now filling that gap with more affordable models, much to the chagrin of established car brands. These lower-priced EVs are, in turn, impacting used EV prices: why opt for used when you can get a new car with better range and improved technology?

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Used EV prices are further undone by social media and barstool chatter about battery lifespans. A timely survey of 1,000 AA Ireland customers found 53 per cent believed that EV batteries last less than 100,000km, which is about six years of driving for the average motorist in Ireland. This doesn’t align with the eight year and 160,000km warranties that many manufacturers are offering.

Car companies can quickly fix this: put your money where your motors are. Simply extend the current battery warranty even further and clarify the remedial action possible – and costs – to replace cell modules instead of entire batteries. Warranties work in reassuring motorists.

Similarly on range, the current official emissions and economy testing regime was adopted in 2018, partly as a reaction to the “dieselgate” scandal and the testing loopholes that existed in the old New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) test. However, the current Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) test is still overestimating how efficient cars are in real life. An honest appraisal of EV range – and its capabilities – is far better than overpromising and underdelivering.

Finally, the Government needs to do its bit. First it needs to focus on dramatically improving the public charging network, a necessity not just for long journeys in EVs, but also for the thousands of motorists without off-street parking who can’t charge at home right now. Next, it needs to require public charging stations to clearly illustrate their prices, just as filling stations do. Paying for a charge should be as easy as buying petrol or diesel: it shouldn’t require multiple app sign-ups and subscriptions. EU regulations are due to address some of these issues, but the Government should be more proactive too.

The Government must also be clear and transparent about its intentions on incentives and tax plans. It needs to fill an estimated €5 billion hole in the exchequer funding due to the move to EVs. When will the incentives be turned off and what new levies will motorists face over the next decade? That will clearly affect the value proposition of running an EV. The Government has committed to banning the sale of new non-electric cars within the next decade – it needs to give similar commitments on tax changes that will accompany this move.

While all these areas need addressing – and while new and used prices are fluctuating wildly – it is just common sense that many motorists are keeping their wallets closed or opting for the halfway house of hybrids, hoping the infrastructure will improve and the battery tech will get better. EVs are the future, but for many motorists a lot more questions need to be clarified before they commit.

Michael McAleer is Irish Times motoring editor

Conor Pope: Buy now. With the savings over five years and the grant combined, you can save €11,000

If not now, when? That’s the question anyone considering an electric car should ask and while the perfect time to switch may be some way off it remains, on balance, better to make the leap sooner rather than later.

Most people understand the scale of the climate crisis and know much of the blame rests squarely on the oil-soaked shoulders of the petrochemical industry. They are aware things will keeping getting worse until the world stops pumping petrol and diesel fumes into an already overloaded atmosphere.

EVs in isolation won’t fix the crisis, but they’re part of the solution and are – in the absence of us switching to bicycles and donkeys – the least worst option we have.

The figures are undeniable. A petrol car produces one ton of C02 for every 10,000km travelled with five tonnes of C02 generated in the extraction and refining of the oil needed for fuel for six years and a similar amount generated actually making the car. Manufacturing an EV, by contrast requires 10 tonnes of CO2 after which the decline in emissions is dramatic. When the numbers are totted up, someone buying a new petrol car today will be responsible for about 25 tonnes of CO2 between now and 2030 while an EV driver will generate less than half that. It’s not great but it’s better.

The environmental arguments are solid, but I’d be lying if I said I was driven entirely by them when buying my own EV. I was equally swayed by the swish German-ness of the car and its barely perceptible hum while moving through city streets. Oh and the running cost was key too.

Now, all new cars are dear but EVs are particularly so. Earlier this year, a new VW Golf cost about €36,000, while VW’s electric equivalent, the ID3 was more than €40,000. A petrol or diesel Hyundai Tuscon cost €38,000, while its plug-in hybrid equivalent was €49,000. It’s the same story up and down the car chain. But prices have been falling in concert with demand so the gaps are closing. And sticker price isn’t everything. A savvy EV driver can keep their car moving for less than €500 a year or €1,200 cheaper than a more traditional car covering similar distances.

Ireland is, of course, among the most expensive countries in the EU for charging and – because the State lacks the wit to incentivise EVs with discounted parking at public charging points – those who can’t charge at home pay more again. But such details could be fixed with the stroke of Eamon Ryan’s green pen.

The cost of servicing and repairing EVs is cheaper because they’re cleaner and have far fewer moving parts, while EV drivers can pay less in car insurance, less in tax and can get a Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland grant of up to €3,500 – cut by €1,500 by the Government for reasons best known to themselves – once their EV meets certain conditions. When the savings over five years and the grant are combined, it comes in at €11,000, closing the gap between EVs and their petrol or diesel equivalents.

But there are still issues. While more cars are being developed that can cover at least 500km on a charge, range anxiety persists – and is exacerbated by a shamefully shambolic charging network that is inadequate, unreliable and sometimes painfully slow. There are also horror stories of EV drivers facing huge bills for new batteries while the resale value of EVs is uncertain. It’s still an imperfect time to buy an EV and doing so does take a leap of faith, but it is a leap worth taking because, if not now, when? And – as a society – can we really afford to wait much longer?

Conor Pope is Irish Times Consumer Affairs Correspondent and Pricewatch Editor

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