Electric cars

IAIN DALE: My 11-hour journey from hell proves Britain is totally unprepared for electric cars

Towards the end of last year, I acquired an electric car, an Audi e-tron GT.  While some of my social media followers claimed I was a

Towards the end of last year, I acquired an electric car, an Audi e-tron GT. While some of my social media followers claimed I was a “signal of virtue”, it was actually a very rational decision.

Or so I thought.

Buying a gasoline or diesel car these days is buying a rapidly diminishing asset because no one will be able to buy a new one after 2030. And when I found out I could offset the costs of an EV ( electric vehicle) with corporation tax, it made perfect sense to buy it through my company.

Also, with electric vehicles, there are very few personal tax obligations – although I’m sure that’s an incentive that will change when more people go electric and the government needs revenue.

fiction

Instead of buying the car outright, I used a contract hire system because I thought that if battery technology improved dramatically, I might end up with a car that had little used value.

Towards the end of last year, I acquired an electric car, an Audi e-tron GT. While some of my social media followers claimed I was a “signal of virtue”, it was actually a very rational decision.

I was well aware that it would take time to adapt to an electric car, and I understood that it would be necessary to plan longer journeys.

What I hadn’t negotiated was that the advertised range of 298 miles would turn out to be fiction. It is, in fact, 206 to 217 miles. Quite a difference.

Maybe I was naive. It’s been widely reported that EV manufacturers are prone to, um, exaggerate the expected range of their vehicles.

Nevertheless, on Friday evening I was due to travel to Yorkshire to speak to curators in Beverley and Holderness at the local racecourse. So I meticulously planned my roughly 200-mile trip using the Zap-Map app, which shows charging locations across the country.

I started from London, having driven from my home in Tunbridge Wells the previous afternoon, using 42 miles of charge. I would have charged at the Leicester Square car park but all three units were occupied.

Obviously, I would have to recharge the car on the way. And so I made a stop at Donington Park service station on the M1, which had three 120kW per hour charging units (most on the motorways charge at 50kW per hour).

What I hadn't negotiated was that the advertised range of 298 miles would turn out to be a fiction.  It is, in fact, 206 to 217 miles.  Quite a difference (Iain Dale pictured on Good Morning Britain in 2019)

What I hadn’t negotiated was that the advertised range of 298 miles would turn out to be fiction. It is, in fact, 206 to 217 miles. Quite a difference (Iain Dale pictured on Good Morning Britain in 2019)

All three were in use, but it was a short wait.

I added 125 miles to charge which took about 40 minutes.

So far so good, although the cost was a bit of a horrifying £25. In effect, this means that it is as expensive to drive 600 miles in an electric vehicle as it was in my diesel car.

Of course, if I am not on the move, I can do most of the charges at home via my reduced overnight rate, on which I only have to pay 5% VAT. (In contrast, for every pound you spend on petrol or diesel, around 60p goes to the Exchequer in taxes.)

But as more people start driving EVs, I’m sure it won’t stay that cheap.

When I arrived in Beverley, I only had about ten miles left on the clock. I was not worried: I had made my schedule. I knew there were four recharging units at Tesco where I could recharge in the morning before heading south to Norfolk. The best plans and all that…

The speech went well. I had a great night’s sleep, a fantastic breakfast, and at 9am I left for the local Tesco.

Five of the six chargers were in use and the other was blocked by an improperly parked car. I waited. And I waited…and after about an hour a slow charger (22kW per hour) freed up.

Twenty minutes later my car had been charged enough to last about four miles. Forget it, I thought.

So I used what little expense I had accumulated to make it – just, with two miles to spare – to a unit at nearby Morrisons, which I thought would be quicker. This was not the case. The fast charger did not work; the slow was.

Five of the six chargers were in use and the other was blocked by an improperly parked car.  I waited.  And I waited ... and after about an hour a slow charger (22kw- per hour) became free

Five of the six chargers were in use and the other was blocked by an improperly parked car. I waited. And I waited … and after about an hour a slow charger (22kw- per hour) became free

I figured out that if I charged my car up to 55 miles I could drive to a pub on the M18 that had an even faster charger. I started charging at 11:03 a.m. and by 12:30 p.m. I had enough to leave. I arrived at the pub at 1:10 p.m.

At this point I just wanted to get to Donington Park, 70 miles away, so I could plug into the fast 120kW per hour unit I knew was there.

After about an hour I had enough charge to get there.

Luckily the Donington Park unit was free – and it worked. After charging there for 45 minutes, I left at 5 p.m. with 160 miles of charge.

By then I had given up on going to Norfolk as I knew there were no 120kW per hour charging units on the way, what if the 50kW ones didn’t work?

Exhausted and furious, I finally made it back to Tunbridge Wells at 7:45 p.m.

A journey that should have taken four hours approached the 11th. A completely wasted day.

I definitely won’t be using the e-tron for a long trip anytime soon. The charging network is simply totally inadequate for the number of electric vehicles currently in circulation. Too many of them are unreliable or too slow.

I definitely won't be using the e-tron for a long trip anytime soon.  The charging network is simply totally inadequate for the number of electric vehicles currently in circulation

I definitely won’t be using the e-tron for a long trip anytime soon. The charging network is simply totally inadequate for the number of electric vehicles currently in circulation

Stump

I’m lucky to have an easily accessible charger at home. But 40% of UK households don’t have access to off-road parking, meaning they’ll have to find a charging point nearby, which is likely to be more expensive than a cable from their home supply.

And if you don’t live in a big city, it’s very difficult to find a charger in the first place. According to a study published last year, areas such as Yorkshire and the Humber have only a quarter of the number of charging stations per capita compared to London.

I knew from my experience on the A11 in Norfolk that this was a problem. Even at Donington Park, a major service station, there were only six EV connectors serving Britain’s second-largest motorway in either direction. And expanding the network won’t be easy. There are currently over 42,000 chargers in the UK, of which only 10,500 are fast chargers.

Yet we are a country of 32 million cars (of all types). If everyone replaces their petrol or diesel vehicle with an electric vehicle, millions of people will need to be recharged almost every night.

In 2020, it has been estimated that the overall cost of installing the hundreds of thousands of public and private charging points needed (assuming every home with off-road parking has one) will be £45.5 billion sterling.

Problems

Not to mention the huge increase in electricity production needed to charge millions of electric cars. Ministers were told the national grid would come under increasing pressure as more drivers buy power unless they are convinced to plug in at off-peak times.

Getting a petrol or diesel car these days is buying a rapidly diminishing asset because no one will be able to buy a new one after 2030

Getting a petrol or diesel car these days is buying a rapidly diminishing asset because no one will be able to buy a new one after 2030

And, of course, an electric vehicle is only as clean as the electricity you use to charge it. If we continue to support inefficient renewables with cheap fossil fuels, we would negate many of the environmental benefits that electric vehicles provide.

Given that personal cars only account for 7% of global emissions, I wonder if the stress and hassle is really worth it.

I’ll be the first to admit that the e-tron drives as well as a limo, but I still prefer to drive my trusty five-year-old diesel Audi Q7 because it comes without “range anxiety”.

In the e-tron, you constantly worry about putting the heating or air conditioning on for fear of losing the charge – and therefore the mileage. Even accelerating quickly too often brings this down.

Many ask me if I would recommend they buy an EV. My answer?

Yes, if you don’t do a lot of long trips. No, if you do.

I realize this could be described as a ‘first world problem’, but anyone considering an EV should be aware of the potential pitfalls – and the added stress that is part of the package.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you!