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Two-thirds of London electric car charging points go unused

Many of London’s electric car charging units are going unused from month to month, official data suggests.

Figures for June 2014 show that of the 905 units across the capital, only 324 were used (36%). The remaining 581 were not plugged into at all.

By way of comparison, in June 2013 there were 892 charging units in London and during that month a quarter (24.3%) were used.

The data shows that there were 504 units which went unused in both June 2013 and June 2014.

However in June 2014 there were a total of 4,678 charging sessions, more than double the 2,243 figure a year earlier. This reflects the quickening take up of electric cars of which there are now about 16,000 in Great Britain.

The RAC Foundation analysed data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from Transport for London (TfL). Until September 2014 TfL operated the Source London network of electric charging points in the capital. Since then it has been operated by the Bollore Group.

The analysis also shows that 80% of all charging takes place in inner London even though only 46% of the charging network is in this area.

The most heavily used charging unit was at Victoria Station. It recorded 302 charging sessions in June 2014.

This was followed by two units in Hinde Street, W1 (114 and 113 charging sessions respectively).

In the same month the average length of charging session across all units in London was five hours and 35 minutes.

The encouraging news is that electric car sales in the UK are at last showing signs of improvement, but we still have a charging network that is running far from capacity.

The Mayor of London has committed to rolling out another 4,500 charging points over the next three years, on the way to meeting his ultimate target of 25,000, yet official data shows the bulk of the units we already have are significantly underused.

One reason for this could be the large number of units that appear broken. A glance at the Source London website suggests around a third of charge points are out of service, so you couldn’t charge your car from them even if you wanted to. Before we splurge money on more units we must ensure the existing network is fully operational and accessible.

Hopefully our analysis will give an indication of where further money should be spent and where extra infrastructure might be needed.

It should be noted that many units have more than one socket as in June 2014 there were 1,410 sockets recorded in London.

Half (49.5%) of the Source London network of charging units are in off-street locations such as NCP and supermarket car parks.

(Note: a charging unit could have more than one socket.)

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A report from CAP Consulting has suggested that the Plug-in Car Grant (which offers buyers of ultra-low emission vehicles a subsidy of £5,000) will eventually do more harm than good. Why? Because it risks depressing the used car values of the type of vehicle it is trying to promote and hence makes the purchase potentially less attractive to those hoping to benefit from the low running costs associated with these products.

But is CAP correct? My initial reaction was to question what data there was for such an assertion. Indeed, is there actually a second-hand market for these cars at all given that they are so new and relatively few have been sold? To my slight surprise, a quick look at the Parkers website suggests there is. On it 117 Nissan Leafs are listed for sale. The Leafs first appeared in the showrooms in 2011, when they would have cost – after allowing for the £5,000 grant – about £24,000.

Today you can pick up used versions for anything from about £12,500 (this for a 2011 model with 12,000 miles on the clock) through to around £17-18,000. There are some outliers at the upper end of the price range but the vast majority sit in this band.

(My favourite is a 2013 Leaf which has done a mere 16 miles – surely a snip at £14,995? – though, ominously, there is no photo available; perhaps it is decked out in green with yellow spots…)

At first glance all of these cars seem to be dealer sales so maybe they are display models or trade-ins looking for good homes.

But how do these prices compare with what is happening in Europe? In Germany for example, where there is no upfront subsidy? A visit to www.mobile.de shows that the cheapest Leaf available there is 22,690 Euros which is about £19,000.

The CAP analysis goes on to argue that things will be no better when the subsidies come to an end:

“Our analysis of used market values across markets with and without a subsidy clearly shows that grants are ineffective as a means of reducing ownership costs and, worse still, their inevitable eventual removal will cost new EV owners thousands in additional depreciation.

“This is because the used value is now established in each market and when the subsidy is removed in the UK and France, the additional cost of a new vehicle will never be retained by a higher residual value.”

Unfortunately this won’t make happy reading either in Westminster or for those weighing up the financial considerations associated with going green. On a positive note at least there is a second-hand market for this brand new technology.

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Everyone knows electric vehicles are expensive – far too expensive to make them a mass-market proposition. Or are they? Seemingly not in the US. A comparison done by the RAC Foundation of outright purchase and leasing/battery leasing costs of a Nissan LEAF between the UK and US reveals a rather interesting story:

Nissan LEAF price comparison US v UK

Put into a table:

Lease

Purchase

US

UK

US

UK

Length of ownership/ lease

36 months

Purchase incentive

£4,777 ($7,500)

£5,000

£4,777 ($7,500)

£5,000

Upfront payment

£1,273 ($1,999)

£4,083

£13,566
($21,300)

£20,990

Monthly payment

£127
($199)

£189
(£119 vehicle; £70 battery)

Residual value after 36 months

£0 (car returned)

50%

Average annual mileage

5,000

Average electricity price

£0.10 ($0.15)

£0.15

£0.10 ($0.15)

£0.15

Energy consumption

22 Wh/mile

Total Cost

£5,869

£10,937

£6,816

£10,545

Sources include Next Green Car and Nissan.

Note: Figures updated in light of helpful comment from Next Green Car (thank you!).

The calculation assumes an exchange rate of 1.57 USD to GBP, and that at the end of 36 months you no longer have the car. Either the LEAF is returned as part of the lease agreement or sold on the second-hand market if initially purchased outright.

A look at the table demonstrates that it is the purchase price/upfront payment that makes all the difference – the other costs and government kickback are broadly similar.

What the calculation does not take into account is the affordability of the car – the ratio of price to income. It would also be very interesting to know at what price Nissan regards a LEAF as being commercially viable and how they explain the large price differentials on either side of the Atlantic.

Perhaps the mass-market for EVs isn’t that far away after all. In the US that is. Comments welcome!

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Reported EV sales for March 2013 were nearly twice as high as sales for March 2012, according to newly published data.  Although EVs represented only one in every 200 new light vehicles sold in March, plug-in sales were at an all-time high and included the highest monthly sales for the Nissan Leaf.

New_EV_sales_in_US-March_2013

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Although not comparing like with like – the Leaf has been on sale in Britain for 18 months or so now, while the Prius only appeared in September – this is a very interesting breakdown of the sales figures of vehicles bought using the plug-in car grant.

The number of claims made for the Plug-in Car Grant, and validated for payment in the period January 2011 – October 2012 is broken down by vehicle type in the table below:

Manufacturer Car No. of Claims validated for payment to end October 2012
Mitsubishi i-Miev 179
Mercedes-Benz SMART fortwo 74
Renault Fluence 22
Nissan Leaf 1,044
Toyota Plug-in Prius 279
Vauxhall Ampera 323
Peugeot iOn 152
Citroen C-Zero 51
Chevrolet Volt 55

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Ever wondered how electric vehicle insurance premiums are set? So have we.

Apparently it’s not all that different from how they are set for normal petrol and diesel cars. Thatcham – or the Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre to give it its full title – provides 70% of the data that insurance companies (which also fund the not-for profit organisation) use to score a vehicle’s insurance risk. The main criteria include:

  • Performance (0–60 mph time for petrol cars, and torque for diesel and electric vehicles) and power-to-weight ratio;
  • top speed;
  • repair times;
  • cost of repair;
  • new car price; and
  • vehicle weight.

Added together, these make up the overall ‘insurance group rating’ (IGR), although the final rating may change to take account of specific vehicle characteristics. IGRs are merely guidelines and insurance companies are free to set their own rate for each vehicle. At the end of the process a vehicle will fall into one of 50 insurance groups.

In the case of electric vehicles, account is taken of uncertainties surrounding the battery technology. A small risk factor is applied to take into account difficulties with salvaging the batteries and simply because of the inexperience with the technology.

To give some examples: the Vauxhall Ampera falls into group 21, as does the Nissan LEAF (which initially fell into group 28 because it didn’t have an alarm system).

One interesting issue with electric vehicles is the risk of electrical faults in the home and, in the worst case scenario, your house burning down. This is covered by home insurance, not vehicle insurance. When thinking about insuring their electric vehicle, potential buyers (or indeed current owners) should therefore look at the ‘total cost of insurance’.

In any case: rest insured, people are thinking about the issues.

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Just to prove that there is nothing new under the sun here is a picture of a 1901 Coumbia electric car on display at the Royal Automobile Club.

It might be described as the Renault Twizy of its day: small, fun, battery powered and slightly lacking on the door front!

The car had a top speed of 28mph and its open lead acid batteries gave a range of 45 miles with a recharge possible overnight. It could have been yours for $650. In today’s money that is very roughly £11,500, while the Twizy starts at £6,700 to buy plus battery lease fee of £480 a year.

This vehicle was first bought by Queen Alexandra to drive around the grounds of Sandringham House in Norfolk. It was later purchased by a Mr R G J Nash who made regular use of it in the 1940s when petrol was rationed.

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