Electric Cars More Expensive to Run and Number Plate Cloning

The conventional wisdom is that although electric cars are more expensive to buy, they are cheaper to run. The cost of electricity, particularly if you charge at home, means a lower cost per mile travelled in comparison with buying diesel or petrol. But an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph has debunked that assumption.

They say that as the unit cost of electricity will nearly double under the new energy price cap as a result it will cost more to travel in an electric car than a petrol one. They compared the cost of running a Jaguar i-PACE, and electric SUV, with the equivalent Jaguar f-PACE, a petrol driven version. To cover 400 miles the electric version would cost £99 more to travel the same distance. Likewise a Kia e-Niro would cost £88 more than a Kia Sportage.

With electric models often costing twice as much has petrol versions, you can see that there is a big financial disincentive to buy an electric vehicle (a Jaguar i-PACE is 66% more expensive than an f-PACE). The main difference is of course the battery cost and they are not coming down in price as rapidly as expected mainly due to the demand for lithium.

Telegraph article here: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/money/consumer-affairs/electric-cars-will-expensive-run-petrol/

Comment: As the overall carbon cost of an electric vehicle during its lifetime, including construction and scrapping costs, is little lower than that of a diesel/petrol vehicle one has to be a committed green fanatic to ignore the economics. The better solution if you want to minimise emissions, particularly in cities, is probably to buy a self-charging hybrid such as the Toyota Yaris Hybrid – starting price £20,500 (Note: the Prius is no longer made but Toyota now have several hybrid models).

People buying new cars when we near 2030, after which sales of pure diesel/petrol cars will be banned, will need to consider the costs carefully and whether to anticipate the ban.

Cloning Rising

With the introduction of the ULEZ across much of London, the practice of cloning car number plates to save money has grown rapidly. According to an analysis by Fleetpoint, based on TfL data comparing April 2021 with April 2022, there was an alarming rise of 857% in cloning.  

Cloning a vehicle number plate is relatively easy and if you drive a popular car model you may find it wise to mark your vehicle near the number plates so that it can be differentiated from any clone. Otherwise you may find it difficult to prove it was not you when a PCN is issued.

Roger Lawson

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The Death of the UK Motor Industry?

Toyota have warned the Government that it may cease making cars in the UK if a ban on sales of hybrid vehicles is introduced. That is currently scheduled for 2035 but even after 2030 there may be very tight restrictions on what qualifies for an exemption. Self-charging cars such as the Corolla might not qualify.

Toyota have a big car manufacturing plant employing 3,000 people in Burnaston, Derbyshire and in Deeside, North Wales. There is also the problem that Toyota might be impacted by Government mandates on the proportion of vehicles sold that are purely electric when Toyota has promoted hybrid vehicles for some years starting with the Prius.

Honda has also closed their plant in Swindon and these closures will reduce UK car production very significantly. Meanwhile it looks like Aston Martin will need another bailout to keep it afloat.

The Corolla is a reasonably priced self-charging hybrid with either a 1.8 or 2.0 litre petrol engine. It is a reasonable compromise between emission reduction and flexibility. It is a great pity that the UK Government is not encouraging the retention of hybrid vehicle sales past 2030 or 2035 which are not far away now. Purely electric vehicles are far from ideal for those in remote parts of the country where charging points are limited, or for those who do not have off-road parking.

A self-charging hybrid can go some distance on electric power alone so can substantially reduce emissions on short trips which are common in city driving conditions.

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Telegraph Article on Our Right to Drive Freely

There was a very good article by David Frost on the right to drive freely published by the Daily Telegraph today (29/7/2022). He talks about a world where private cars are banned. He suggests Governments haven’t quite done that but there are people who want to ban cars in some large cities and suggests one day some feeble Red-Green mayor somewhere in Europe will surely give in to it. Meanwhile our leaders are doing everything short of it.

To quote from the article: “But this is not just about technology. It is about human flourishing. The bicycle first allowed people to move from where they lived. The car hugely expanded it. The van and delivery lorry got goods all around the country and the car gave people access to this huge choice. People could go out whatever the weather. They could buy enough food for a week and free up time for things they preferred doing. The disabled, the old, or just those seeking a day out somewhere different, all could get to where they needed to go”; and “There is obviously no substitute for the car outside urban areas. But, even in big cities, public transport will never do everything we need. It runs where the planners want it and when the transport unions allow it. Not everyone wants to travel to the city centre or along a tube line. Only the private car, under autonomous control, can take you where you want to go. Too many of our modern rulers would rather you didn’t.”

He concludes with the comment “Cars are about freedom – going where you want and no one saying you can’t”. That well summarises what the Freedom for Drivers Foundation stands for.

To read the article go here: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2022/07/29/must-never-surrender-right-drive-freely/

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How the World Really Works – Book Review

It is important for everyone to understand what factors are driving the world’s economies. This is particularly so when there are concerns about global warming and the alleged degradation of the environment as the world’s population continues to increase.

A good primer on this subject is a recently published book by Prof. Vaclav Smil entitled “How the World Really Works”. The author covers wide ranging topics from energy supply to food supply in a very analytic way based on established facts rather than polemics which he criticises as being far too common in the modern world.

His chapter on food production is particularly interesting and he shows how we now manage to feed 8 billion people reasonably well which would have been inconceivable 100 years ago. How do we do it? By using energy supplied mostly from fossil fuels to create fertilizers and by manufacturing farm machinery and road/rail/shipping transport to distribute the products efficiently. The author points out that if we reverted to solely “organic” farming methods we would be lucky to feed half the world’s population.

He covers the supply of key products such as steel, plastics and cement which are essential for our modern standard of living and how they are not only energy intensive in production but that there are few alternatives. He clearly supports the view that the climate is being affected by man’s activities but points out that the changing of energy production, food  production and the production of key products cannot be easily achieved. Certainly it will be difficult to achieve that in the timescales demanded by European politicians when the major carbon emitters of China, India, USA, and Russia are moving so slowly.

Meanwhile any forecasts of the use of oil declining or reserves running out should be treated with scepticism as the price of oil reaches a 7 year high of $95 per barrel. No doubt there will be the usual gripes by motorists who drive petrol/diesel vehicles over the price of fuel and the claimed excess profits being made by oil companies, which in my view are a persistent myth. If you look at the profits of companies such as BP, which it has been suggested should be subject to a “windfall tax”, they are not particularly great if averaged over the last 20 years. In fact returns on capital invested are worse than for many other public companies.

The author looks at the risks in the future for the world, many of which are uncertain. He mentions the risk of a big “Carrington event” – a geomagnetic storm occurring today would cause widespread electrical disruptions, blackouts, and damage due to extended outages of the electrical grid. If that is not enough to scare you he suggests that another pandemic similar to Covid-19 is very likely as such epidemics have happened about every 20 years in the past and might be more virulent in future. But planning for such events, which were historically well known, was minimal and continues to be so.

He does not propose solutions to global warming other than that we do have many tools to enable us to adapt and cope with the issue. For example, farming could be made more efficient and wasted food reduced. Electrification of vehicles might help in a minor way and he is particularly critical of the increase in the use of SUVs in the last 20 years which has been particularly damaging (I cannot but agree with him on that point – if folks are concerned about the high price of fuel they should purchase more economic vehicles and particularly avoid SUVs). But this is not a book containing simple remedies to the world’s problems. It is more one that gives you an understanding of how we got to where we are now and where we might be going.

For example, the use of coal in energy generation can be much reduced, and oil/gas also to some extent. Nuclear fission is a good source of clean energy and fission is a possibility even if he was not aware of the latest announcements on the latter. But it is inconceivable that there will be short-term revolutions in energy supply.

Altogether the book is worth reading just to get an understanding of how the world currently works – as the book’s title suggests.

Incidentally some of the events covered in How the World Really Works are also discussed in my own recently published book entitled “A Journal of the Coronavirus Year” which covers not just the recent pandemic but the changes that have happened in the last 75 years of my lifetime including some of the vehicles I have owned. It’s now available from Amazon – see https://www.amazon.co.uk/Journal-Coronavirus-Year-2020-2021-Biographical/dp/0954539648/ for more information.

Roger Lawson

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Range Anxiety Solved?

One of the concerns of purchasers of electric vehicles is that the range on a single charge is limited so they might run out of power before getting to their destination. This is known as “range anxiety”. With a typical practical range of 200 miles or less for less expensive electric car models, they do not match the distance achievable on a single tank of diesel or petrol. A Tesla Model 3 Long Range claims a range of 370 miles but at £47,000 list price it’s out of the affordability of many people even if running costs might be lower than a diesel/petrol vehicle. Longer ranges require bigger electric batteries and that makes the vehicle expensive.

But recent announcements suggest than in few years’ time the range of electric vehicles will be enormously improved. Mercedes have released a concept car named Vision EQXX that has a range of 1,000 km (625 miles) using a relatively small battery. They achieve this partly by making the vehicle very lightweight with a low drag coefficient but the battery and motor system are also improved.

Tesla have promoted a modified Model S with a new battery that is able to travel 1,200 km (750 miles) on a single charge. That’s more than even diesel/petrol vehicles with large capacity fuel tanks. The new battery is named “Gemini” which in production will be based on LFP (Lithium Iron Phosphate, also known as LiFePo4).

These vehicles and batteries may be a few years away from volume production but you can see the way the trend is progressing. With fast charging times and more extended charging networks, many of the objections to electric vehicles will disappear.

Already for most people who can charge their electric vehicles overnight at home, the ranges provided on low-cost cars are sufficient for most daily purposes. While their running costs are lower and taxation benefits make them overall a better buy.

Roger Lawson

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Electric Vehicles and Pod Point IPO

If the Government has its way, we’ll all be driving electric cars (EVs) soon. One of the concerns of drivers though is they might run out of battery power so the provision of chargers is of key importance in driving acceptance of electric cars.

There is clearly a big potential market for chargers, not just in homes but also in public places, at office car parks, supermarkets and other venues. One of the providers of chargers is Pod Point Group (PODP) who recently undertook a public stock market listing (IPO). The prospectus they issued (see link below) gives a very good overview of the market for electric vehicles and the charging infrastructure in the UK.

Pod Point was founded in 2009 and has installed over 100,000 charge points mainly in the UK. There are government grants available (OZEV) for home installations although those are likely to be withdrawn or altered from 2022. The government is also funding from 2022 large on-street charging schemes and rapid charging hubs across England. Meanwhile car manufacturers are focussing on production of new electric only (Battery Electric Vehicles – BEVs) and hybrid models. Some 6.6% of new vehicles sales were EVs in 2020 and by 2040 it is estimated that 70% of all vehicles on our roads will be EVs.

Chargers fall into two main categories – AC and DC with the latter providing more rapid charging. Home charging is typically via slow AC because UK homes do not have 3-phase electricity supplies. There are several different connector types. Pod Point estimate they have 50-60% of the UK home charge points and 29% share of public installations. But there are a number of competitors include BP Pulse. Petrol station forecourts are one location where chargers are being installed but it is unclear where the dominant charging location (home, office, etc) will be in future.

Those people with homes with no off-street parking will need to charge at public locations unless viable “pavement” chargers are developed. London-based Connected Kerb plans to install 190,000 on-street chargers by 2030.

Pod Point owns some installations under commercial arrangements with venue locations and that includes 396 Tesco sites where slow chargers are installed. Is that to encourage shoppers to spend more time in the store while their vehicle is recharging one wonders?

Pod Point doubled its revenue in 2020 and more than doubled its revenue in the first six months of 2021, but still made a large operating loss. The market cap of Pod Point at the time of writing is about £380 million.

How the market for the provision of EV chargers will develop is unclear and there are the usual numerous risk warnings in the prospectus. Government interference in the sector is clearly one risk and when a market is growing rapidly there are often folks willing to plunge in regardless of short-term profitability. The big oil companies are also moving into the sector and might provide significant competition.

But if you are interested in electric vehicles, it’s worth reading the Pod Point prospectus.

Roger Lawson (Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Drivers_London )

Pod Point Group Prospectus: https://investors.pod-point.com/prospectus

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The Changing Face of Car Ownership

The way people buy cars has been substantially changing in recent years. Few people buy new cars for cash – indeed it is quite difficult to do so with attractive leasing or hire purchase options with very low interest rates being pushed on you by dealers.

Car supermarkets offering a range of vehicles with click and collect purchasing systems are now common. You can now select a vehicle over the net and even have it delivered to your door.

Now there is a further revolution being promoted by a company named Onto (www.on.to) which have been advertising on television. They are offering an “all inclusive electric car subscription”. You need only commit for one month, with no deposit, and servicing and breakdown cover is free, road tax is included, insurance is included if you are over 35 and charging on public networks is free.

For as little as £399 per month you can hire a Renault Zoe ZE50 with a range of 190 miles – see photo above. They also offer Volkswagen ID4 and Audi E-Tron models but at higher prices. In comparison the Renault’s list price starts at £27,595 so at £4,800 per year to hire you can see that it makes for a very attractive financial option particularly as it removes the worry of batteries degrading over a few years.

Onto has been in business a couple of years and there are other subscription services such as Care by Volvo, Elmo and Cazoo.

You can see that the electric car rental option might be very attractive for those who do relatively low mileages.

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Electric Cars – Government Encouragement and User Experience

The Transport Secretary has issued an announcement encouraging drivers to go electric. It includes the release of a new app that helps UK drivers see which electric vehicles would best suit their lifestyle. In addition there will be additional support to small businesses and renters to install EV charging points. See Reference 1 below for more details.

The free app is named EV8 Switch and I downloaded and tried it out. It is not exactly clear how to install it and after ten days usage and driving several hundred miles in total there was no apparent data to analyse even though it was clearly recording data. But it was obvious that it was consuming a lot of cpu cycles and running down the phone battery so I deleted it. If anyone else tries it with success, please let me know whether you found it useful.

Coincidentally I happened to meet up with a couple of people who I used to work with but had not met for 20 years. One had bought an electric bike plus a Jaguar XKR recently. The other had bought a Tesla Model S five years ago. He was exceedingly happy with it.

As a company car user he saves on tax and charging is very low cost – in fact although he can charge at home he does not do so because he can charge it for free at a Tesla Supercharger facility (free charging seems to be something only on offer for limited periods of time). He has never run out of power while driving it.

No doubt some readers will say that they cannot afford a Tesla – current list price of a Long Range Model S is £73,990 and a Model 3 is from £42,500. But prices have been falling and there are of course cheaper electric cars on the market (but new ones might be on long lead times). You do save on running costs even if the capital cost is high.

It is very clear that electric cars are perfectly practical for most car users and with shortages of petrol/diesel at filling stations because of the recent panic over fuel deliveries, they can have distinct advantages!

I will certainly be considering an electric vehicle when my current diesel car is due for replacement. I don’t switch vehicles very often because depreciation is the major cost of any car so it is best to only replace them when they become unreliable or expensive to maintain.

Roger Lawson

Reference 1: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/transport-secretary-encourages-uk-to-switch-to-electric-vehicles  

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Would Micro Cars and Cargo Bikes Help?

Two initiatives that might help to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution in big cities are the promotion of “micro” cars and cargo bikes. The former take up less space on the road and the latter might remove a lot of trips by LGVs to deliver goods.

Micro cars such as the BMW/Isetta or Messerschmitt KR200, otherwise known as “bubble cars” at the time, were popular in the 1950s as they provided very cheap transport with a lower tax rate. From my personal experience of a ride in one they were uncomfortable and very noisy – like sitting in a metal can with a motorcycle engine next to you. But at least they carried more than one person and enabled you to get out of the rain.

Japan encouraged the production of very small vehicles by lower taxation on “kei” cars that had limits on engine capacity – more latterly 660 cc. These proved very popular in Japan and a few other countries but not in western economies with a few exceptions. One such exception was the Suzuki Cappuccino (see photo above) which my wife owned for a time. It might look like a full size car but in fact was less than 11 feet long. Leg room was OK but otherwise the cockpit was cramped for those of even average size.

There are now some new vehicles being sold that attempt to meet the need for very small vehicles. These include the Citroen AMI which is available in France but not the UK.  With a battery under its floor (it’s a BEV electric vehicle), the Ami weighs 485kg, has a range of 43 miles and a regulated top speed of 28mph. But it looks like a brick.

A similar vehicle but somewhat more stylish and which is available in the UK is the electric Renault Twizzy (see photo above). It has a range of up to 56 miles but typically somewhat less. It does not get great reviews in the motoring press and is rated as expensive.

There are competitive vehicles such as the petrol-engined Kia Picanto,  Hyundai i10 and Volkswagen up! plus the battery-powered VW e-up! (range up to 159 miles) and SEAT Mii Electric. My oldest grandson just bought a Picanto as his first car having recently passed his driving test and it’s very impressive in terms of facilities. It looks like a conventional small car.

Another possible contender in the market is the Microlino (not yet available in the UK). This is an electric vehicle which is similar in styling to the old BMW/Isetta and with a good range. 

The pricing of extremely small vehicles tends not to be much less than more conventional vehicles which may be one reason why they have never taken off in the UK. They may be seen as good for driving short distances in big cities but in reality they can be tricky to pilot in heavy traffic where there are much larger vehicles such as buses and HGVs who may not see you.

The countries where they have taken off have been those where there are substantial tax benefits or other fiscal encouragements. In the UK these have been missing. For example, vehicles such as the Renault Twizzy qualify as a “light quadricycle”. Such vehicles have to weigh less than 350kg (not including batteries if they are electric) and have a top speed of less than 28mph. But there’s no plug-in grant money available from the government for the Twizzy because a) it doesn’t travel the required distance on electric power alone and b) in official terms, it’s a quadricycle, not a car; however there’s no road tax to pay. They will not be exempt from the London Congestion Charge after 2025 though.

There could certainly be more incentives to drive very small vehicles in the UK particularly in big cities where they would be environmentally better and ease the parking problems. But in London Sadiq Khan seems keener to discourage all vehicles and to raise the maximum in taxes from them.

Cargo Bikes

Another way to reduce traffic congestion and cut emissions is to promote the use of E-Cargo bikes. The Government has provided £400,000 via the Department for Transport in 2021/22 for the purchase of e-cargo bikes. Funding covers up to 40% of the total cost of an e-cargo bike, up to a maximum of £2,500 for two-wheel models and £4,500 for three-wheel models. See https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/grants-and-loans/ecargo-bike-fund/ for details.

Photo above is from the Energy Savings Trust’s document “Electrifying Last Mile Deliveries” which covers the benefits and applications of cargo bikes, electric vans and micro vehicles. There are certainly many options now available if people wish to dispense with the conventional “white van”. Whether they are easy to maintain and cost effective to run I think will only become clear after more user experience.

Roger Lawson

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Making Electric Vehicles Practical

Two of the reasons why people do not buy electric cars are 1) The limited range before a battery recharge is required; and 2) The time it takes to recharge the battery when required. Who wants to break a long journey for an hour or even 30 minutes while waiting for a recharge?

But the Government has just announced £91 million of funding for low carbon auto tech including hydrogen engines and ultra-fast charging batteries. Electric vehicle (EV) batteries with a range similar to internal combustion engines and which can charge in as little as 12 minutes are among projects awarded £91 million of government and industry funding.

Let us hope these projects come to fruition successfully before all new internal combustion engine cars are banned.

For more details see: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/91-million-funding-for-low-carbon-auto-tech-including-hydrogen-engines-and-ultra-fast-charging-batteries

Roger Lawson.

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