The vast majority of electric vehicle owners don’t want to go back to fossil fuel. In fact, a survey by the UK’s Zap-Map at the end of 2020 showed that just 1% said they missed their internal combustion vehicles. It’s easy to assume from statistics like this that battery electric vehicles are the perfect choice for everyone. But they could be another example of how some can afford to take advantage of the benefits of new technology while others will find it much more difficult and get left behind.
Although EVs have seen huge growth in the last year, with 40% more of them on UK roads at the end of 2020 than there were at the beginning, the people buying them are primarily the more financially comfortable early adopters. An EV is still £5-£10,000 ($7-14,000 ) more than an equivalent fossil fuel car. There are also much fewer of them on the used market, with only a small number of cars available in the UK, for example, for less than £5,000 ($7,000). This already puts EVs out of the reach of those who can only ever afford a cheap used car.
It’s a problem that will diminish with time, as the increased number of cars bought new in the last year or so enter the used market. But it will probably be at least another 5 years before we see lots of decent EVs within the price bracket many people can afford. Right now, the cheapest used market is mostly old Nissan Leafs with 24kWh batteries that probably only deliver 50-80 miles of range, which is a far cry from the 200+ miles available from an increasing number of the latest EVs. The latest base version of the Tesla Model 3 now offers 278 miles, and even the latest Nissan Leaf provides 239 miles. But these won’t be available second-hand in numbers for at least three years.
Even more telling, however, is that further research has shown how around two thirds of current EV owners claim they wouldn’t have gone electric if they didn’t have home charging. It is perfectly possible to own an EV without private parking and charging, but it is more complicated and loses one of the most enjoyable benefits of EV ownership. Being able to charge at home and set off on a journey with a full battery whenever you want makes EVs more convenient than any fossil fuel vehicle. If the vast majority of your journeys are within the range of your EV, you will almost never need a public charger, so one of the usual criticisms from the EV hater crowd – that you can’t refuel in 5 minutes – is irrelevant.
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Unfortunately, there’s a significant number of people in most countries who don’t have access to home charging and never will. In the UK, only 38% of households have access to private parking where charging can be installed. The figure is much higher in the US at 63%, but that still leaves a significant proportion without. The desire to install home charging will also vary with levels of home ownership, which differs a lot across Europe, for example. In Romania, 95.8% of people owned their own homes in 2019, but in Germany it was just 51.1%. You won’t want to spend money on installing home EV charging if you’re only renting and might move on soon.
Not only are those without home charging going to be more reluctant to get EVs in the first place, they also can’t enjoy their killer benefit of leaving home with a full charge, or the cheap driving it entails. Home electricity supplies can be half the price per kWh of public chargers, or even less, and there are tariffs around that make this even cheaper if you charge at night. Most countries provide other financial benefits from EV ownership, too, such as cheap or zero vehicle tax, cheaper residents’ parking, and cheaper or zero toll charges for city use. Servicing costs less as well and can have longer intervals – often two years instead of one.
If you have the financial means and the possibility of home charging, EVs are already a no brainer. Once you’ve got past the higher initial purchase price, the running costs will be peanuts, and unless you make a long journey beyond the range of the vehicle, you will never need to worry about the lack of public charging infrastructure. You just need to remember to plug the car in occasionally overnight to keep it topped up.
For those who can’t afford an EV yet, however, and don’t have home charging, it’s a different story. There will still be plenty of cheap-to-buy second-hand fossil fuel cars available for at least the next decade, but they will be increasingly expensive to run compared to EVs. The fuel prices will continually go up, servicing is more expensive, and there will be more penalties based on levels of pollution, similar to the London Ultra-Low Emission Zone, which is expanding to a huge area of the city later in 2021 and entails a charge of £12.50 ($17) every time you drive. It may even be increasingly hard to refuel an internal combustion engine, as fuel stops decline in numbers. The Californian city of North Bay just banned the building of new gas stations, and as EVs gain in popularity this will hasten the closure rate.
The end result could be richer people who own homes with home charging enjoying the benefits that EVs offer, while the less well-off are relegated to an increasingly dilapidated fleet of used internal combustion engine cars that cost more to keep on the road every year. This is why government input will be so important over the next decade. This won’t necessarily mean lots of financial expenditure, but it will entail other incentives, such as relaxing the planning permission for street chargers or for people living in terraced houses to have parking in front of their homes with charging. Otherwise, many will get left behind by the EV revolution, which will limit how far the environmental benefits can reach alongside lots of other negative side effects on society.