FreakoutITGeek's Blog

Random IT postings from Freakz

Our Friends Electric

My car is on it’s last legs.

After 5+ years of driving to and from work, in heavy peek time traffic (often stop-go) on Scotland’s M8 and M74, is starting to take it’s toll on the poor machine. The last few visits to the garage, to have it’s annual MOT test, have come with another list of at least £500 of repairs needed.

To be honest I’ve never seen the point in purchasing a car that’s pristine, shiny and just off the sales floor, with a massive price tag that drops as soon as you get it home. I often try to find a car that’s a few years old for around £6K, with my last car (A diesel Seat Altea) being roughly 5 years old when I took ownership of it.

The Altea has been a great car, with loads of space (deceptively so at times) for those odd times you need that extra space for moving PCs for work, moving old furniture from the house and going to the local recycling centre with garden rubbish. The Altea has found a place in my and my better half’s hearts because it’s the only car I’ve had that we can use to take us and our nice, nephew and all the baggage required for a short trip for both Alton Towers and still have space and still allow the same group to take a 3 day camping trip in the North of Scotland without needing a roof rack for our 5+ person tent.

Now I’m finding out that the Altea is starting to show it’s age, is struggling with the 108K and growing miles on the clock and this is showing as increased garage bills each year (not to mention the fuel costs which until recently have been continually increasing, year on year if not month by month).

I have now started the search (starting on-line) for a new car around the £6K mark and found that the price of second hand cars, in the estate/family car range, is way out my league. But I have found something strange.

Before I go on, I’d like to say that I am surprised to find that over the last 5 or so years that Electric or even hybrid cars have not become more mainstream, especially given the high cost of fuel and the low milage most people do on a day to day basis. I’ve always wanted to own an electric car, for environmental and economic reasons. My view is that there are fewer parts to go wrong and if you can generate your own electricity (eg solar Photovoltaic cells) they should be really cheep to run.

Whilst searching on the internet I first came across a Citroen electric car for only £8K, capable of 100+ miles on a single charge. Since my daily commute to work is currently just under 30 miles one way, even if I needed to use the car for a few miles for work use, it would be feasible to run the car and charge it at night (even with a 6+ hour charge from the standard 250V mains socket).

After a quick search, after a vague remembered discussions from TV or Radio, (or maybe Robert Llewellyn’s excellent Podcast on Electric cars ?) I found that you can currently get an external charge point installed for free via a UK government grant and The Scottish Energy Savings Trust will also pay for the install of a high Amp quick charge power point at the same time.

So after some quick calculations, I believe that it currently costs me between £2-3k ( fuel, road Tax, repairs) at present to run the Altea. At the suggested £2 rate per charge I estimate that the cost or running an Electric car would save me at least £2K a year.

The downside is that the car is “Compact and Bijou”, ie good for commuting but not much else. Therefore whilst it’s an electric car it’s not really suitable for my needs. ( although I could always hire a car or van for the trips that the electric car is not suitable for).

Then my search came up with 2007 & 2008 Toyota Prius (as driven by Brian Griffin in Family guy and featured in a Southpark episode about hybrid cars and “smug”). The Prius is a hybrid car, using the electric motor for slow speed travel (ie traffic jams and non motorway driving) with a petrol engine for the motorway driving (anything over 40 MPH, I believe). This is the best of both worlds, at lest a way to save money on travel, without needing a charge point. It may also be good for those long trips, but may not have the space for camping etc without digging out our old roof rack.

Inquisitive, I then went to find out how much these cars actually cost new. I was floored to find that most electric cars are still selling for around the £24K mark!!? I even tried Nissan’s Leaf “how much could you save” calculator and it said that a new electric car (and battery hire) would cost me £200 a month, over £2k a year !!!

The I was thrown another curve ball.
A second hand Renault Fluence, for £6K!!
Back in 2012 I had the opportunity to try out a Renault Twizy electric vehicle during their EV tour in Glasgow’s George Square. Whist the Twizzy was a great wee run around for short journeys it clearly wasn’t suitable for my travel needs as it’s a 2 seat vehicle with no boot and a Max Milage (range) of 50 miles. I had tried to get a test drive of the Fluence but the promotional team were too busy (chatting) to deal with my request, despite having at least 3 vehicles free.
After a bit of checking the Fluence (which was originally sold in the rest of Europe as both an electric and Petrol versions) is no longer in sale in the UK, which is a concern as the batteries were (as is currently the standard) rented from Renault. So the car is either for sale with no batteries (no mention of that on the car dealers website) or the batteries may not last ( with no indication that there are any replacements available) or Renault may demand the battery(s) back. Whatever Scenario is the reality it’s an expensive gamble which could end up with a car that won’t run and nothing that can be done.

Whilst the Fluence is a full electric car, long journeys would be possible to Alton Towers as many motorway service stations now have quick charge stations, which charge up to 80% in 30 minutes (ie a bathroom / lunch break). I’ve spotted these in the past from companies such as Ecotricity and others (charged via a solar cell or small wind turbine).

At present I’m no further forward but Renault have advised that the Fluence’s battery hire would be about £127 per month for my 18K annual mileage. It could be a good option, depending on the actual size and space for storage for longer trips and if that’s good news then a call to the dealership may be in order, although it does appear that the car in question is presently a few hundred miles away in England, which makes a test drive more of a long (possibly wasted) trip to try a car that may not be suitable or if it is I’d still have to organise finance and get it shipped to my home.

So it looks like, whilst an electric car is becoming more feasible, there are still a lot of hurdles to be jumped for those who would be interested in purchasing an electric car as their next vehicle.


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