The eight main benefits of electric cars

December 20, 2023 by

In the world of cars, the future is electric.

In 2030 (ignore the government’s recent rollback to 2035: carmakers are aiming for 2030), new cars powered by an internal combustion engine (ICE) will largely no longer be sold in the UK. That means the majority of new cars will be electric, marking a huge change in our driving and car ownership habits.

In this case, change is good. Driving an electric vehicle (EV) – and there are now almost a million of them on the UK’s roads already – brings with it a range of benefits. The major ones are:

1. Better for the environment
2. Lower fuel costs…
3. … and lower running costs
4. Quieter and more relaxing to drive
5. Outperforming ICE cars
6. Refuel at home
7. More efficient
8. The future, now

1. Better for the environment

Private cars and vans were responsible for more than 25% of global oil use and around 10% of global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2022. Each car in the UK produces, on average, 1.42 metric tons of CO2 every year.

Why is this important? Because the huge amounts of CO2 being pumped into the Earth’s atmosphere are causing global temperatures to rise, which is resulting in a rise in sea levels, leading to the loss of coastal land, changing weather patterns, increased risks of droughts and flooding and threats to biodiversity.

We all need to lower our CO2 emissions and, as road transport is such a major contributor to those emissions, switching away from cars that use fossil fuels (and emit CO2 as a by-product) to EVs that don’t emit any CO2 is a logical step.

There are naysayers who point to the CO2 emissions from building EVs, and the mining of rare earth materials such as lithium and cobalt, used in batteries that power electric cars, but neither of those is worse than the current situation. And as we create more electricity from renewable sources, instead of burning fossil fuels at power stations, the CO2 emitted across the lifetime of an EV will fall even further.

The other environmental benefit of EVs is cleaner air. ICE cars, in addition to CO2, emit a wide range of pretty nasty pollutants, including carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2), hydrocarbons, benzene (C6H6) and particulate matter, tiny particles of sooty dust that we breathe in. EVs will eliminate all these. However, it is true that not all particulates will disappear: dust from brakes and tyres will continue, but we can expect to see these addressed in the coming years.

2. Lower fuel costs…

On a more practical, day-to-day level, switching to an EV will mean reducing the amount of money we spend on fuelling our cars.

Calculating direct comparison costs has been trickier in the last few years, since energy prices spiked and the cost of a barrel of oil has fluctuated, but numerous studies show that EVs are cheaper to run.

For example, we used one online cost calculator to compare the Hyundai Kona Electric with a regular petrol 1.0 T-GDi Kona. Same car, different powertrain. Based on covering 1,000 miles a month, the cost per mile for the EV variant was 7.5p, compared to the 20.2p for the petrol car: over a year, that means you’ll spend £904 on electricity and £2,421 on petrol – a £1,517 difference. With the cost-of-living pressures we’re all under at the moment, that’s not to be sniffed at.

It’s worth noting that the cost of electricity for this comparison was set at 16.5p per kWh (it’s closer to 27p at time of writing), while the petrol cost was 120.4p per litre (the last time this was the case was early 2021, so the cost will also be even higher now). If you can charge at home, with the cost of electricity at the level of a domestic tariff, it will be considerably cheaper than using public charging – especially the rapid chargers found at motorway services.

3. … and lower running costs

If you own and drive an EV, it’s not only fuel that is cheaper than a petrol or diesel car: pretty much every other cost associated with running a car is cheaper, too.

The maintenance costs of an EV, for example, are much cheaper than with a petrol or diesel car. An EV has far fewer moving parts than one with an internal combustion engine, so there’s a lot less that can go wrong. An EV doesn’t need any engine components replaced because of wear and tear or failure: neither does it need regular oil changes.

Car tax (Vehicle Excise Duty, or VED) is also cheaper for an EV than for an ICE car. How much we pay for VED is based on the car’s CO2 emissions: as an EV emits no CO2, there is no charge at present. For a petrol or diesel car, you will pay between £130 and £2,605 a year.

Company car drivers will also save money on the Benefit in Kind (BiK) taxes they pay, with EVs rated at 2%, as opposed to up to 37% on a petrol or diesel car.

EVs are also exempt from any payments for entering any of the UK’s clean air zones (CAZ) – they currently cover seven cities: Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Portsmouth, Sheffield, and Tyneside (Newcastle and Gateshead) – or the London Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ).

EVs are also exempt from paying the London Congestion Charge, so commuters who travel to work in the capital by car will also save £15 a day.

4. Quieter and more relaxing to drive

Anyone who has already driven an EV will have been struck by just now much quieter an EV is on the road, with the occasional distant high-pitched whine to confirm that the car is actually switched on. At motorway speeds, the sound is much quieter than with a petrol or diesel car, with no sound or vibrations coming from an engine. There’s still some noise from wind resistance and road noise from the tyres, but it’s still quiet.

The quietness of an EV also makes it much more relaxing to drive than an ICE car. There is no dissonant engine sound in the background, the silent running of the car somehow subconsciously making us feel a little more relaxed.

This is backed up by recent research, including a 2018 study of London taxi drivers. Their brain activity was monitored as they drove both electric and diesel black cabs: those driving EVs were more focused, calmer and happier than the diesel drivers. Another US study found that EV drivers adopt a calmer driving style, with smoother acceleration and braking.

If this phenomenon is reproduced globally as EVs replace ICE cars, it could potentially lead to lower levels of road rage, fewer crashes and happier drivers.

5. Outperforming ICE cars

For many drivers of a certain age who remember slow-moving, electric-powered milk floats, perceptions of EV performance aren’t exactly positive.

However, anyone who has driven EV models such as the Porsche Taycan will tell you that they perform just as well as (if not better than) ICE cars. Take the Tesla Model S Plaid, which has a 1.9-second 0-60mph time, making it faster than a Ferrari LaFerrari supercar. OK, so the Plaid has an absurdly powerful 1006bhp output from its two motors, but it’s still a family saloon car.

There are a few reasons why EVs can outperform ICE vehicles. First, there’s maximum torque (a twisting force that transfers power along the driveshaft from the motor to the wheels) from a standstill that gives EVs the ability to accelerate quickly. Electric cars also generally only need one gear, so the power is transferred continuously to the wheels without being interrupted by gear cogs changing. And, as EVs also have fewer moving parts, power is transferred more efficiently within the vehicle than in a petrol or diesel car.

What all this means is that the EVs that we buy over the coming years, gradually replacing the petrol and diesel cars that we’re used to, will perform better.

6. Refuel at home

Imagine, in 20 or 30 years’ time, describing to your grandchildren how you used to have to drive to a special place in order to put a load of inflammable liquid into your car, instead of plugging it in at home.

Because, if you think about it, going to a petrol station to fill up will seem as strange as going to a phone box to make a call to future generations, for whom charging their car at home will be the norm.

Owning an EV (especially if you have off-street parking) means being able to conveniently charge a car at home, saving time and energy. When you’re ready to drive it, simply unplug and head for your destination, without having to make a diversion to a petrol station. It may seem like a minor thing, but fuelling where you are, rather than having to make a special trip to do it, will make our lives easier.

7. More efficient

EVs directly convert electricity into movement, which is significantly more efficient than an ICE car, which burns fuel to create heat and then converts that heat into energy that can be used for motion. This means that EVs can be more than 77% efficient in converting energy to movement, while petrol or diesel cars only use about 20% of their fuel to propel the car forward: the other 80% is wasted on heat and other components that use up energy.

In short, if you drive a petrol or diesel car, for every five litres (just over a gallon) you pay for at a filling station, only one litre actually moves your car. The efficiency gains that we’ll all make as we transition to EVs will benefit us all.

8. The future, now

In the UK’s journey towards Net Zero emissions by 2050, we’re perhaps not seeing the progress that we need in most areas of our lives. The switch to zero-emissions cars is perhaps one of the few areas in which we can see some change, even if the rate of that change is slightly slower than in some other countries.

But the direction of travel is now unstoppably in favour of EVs. The UK now has more electric vehicle charging stations than petrol stations, with more public chargers being installed every week.

Another futuristic aspect of EVs that might be worth noting is that they’re likely to have a longer life than ICE cars, because they will increasingly automatically update their software, thanks to over-the-air (OTA) updates. As when a smartphone receives a software update, our cars will also continue to improve, as bugs are eradicated and new technology is incorporated into older cars.

There’s no doubt that electric cars are the future, so we might as well get used to it and embrace it now.

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