Guide to Electric Vehicles

Introduction 

Welcome to the Going Green Guide to Electric Vehicles.

I’m Paul Clarke, Founder and Editor of Green Car Guide, the UK’s original green car website, founded in 2006.

The aim of the site was to bring together cars and the environment, communicating about vehicles with the least impact on our planet, because no-one else was doing that. What makes Green Car Guide different to most motoring sites is that we’ve always reviewed cars from the perspective of how good they are as cars and how green they are.

Although I’ve specialised in the area of electric vehicles for the last 15 years, and I’ve been fortunate enough to review every electric car that’s been on sale in the UK, I’ve worked in communication in the areas of the environment, sustainability, renewable energy and climate change for around 30 years. My work has always been driven by a desire to make a positive difference to create a healthier planet.

Electric vehicles offer us a way to reduce emissions – both CO2 emissions that impact on climate change, and also emissions that impact upon local air quality – in other words the air that we breathe when we walk our children to school. Electric cars are also better to drive than petrol and diesel cars!

This guide will provide a brief introduction to electric vehicles, what they are, how they work, and the benefits – both for ourselves and for the environment.

What are electric vehicles?

What are electric vehicles

The term Electric Vehicle (EV) means a vehicle that’s powered by an electric motor rather than by a petrol or diesel engine. A battery supplies energy to the electric motor. You can charge the battery from an electricity source such as a home charge point, a workplace charge point or a public charge point.

‘Electric Vehicle’ should really mean battery electric vehicle – in other words a vehicle with just a battery and an electric motor – however there’s confusion about this. The term ‘Electric Vehicle’ is sometimes also used when talking about a plug-in hybrid. Although a plug-in hybrid has a plug, so you can charge it from an electricity supply, a plug-in hybrid also has a petrol engine (or in a few rare cases a diesel engine). A plug-in hybrid also has a much smaller battery than a pure EV, and a less powerful electric motor.

But the confusion doesn’t end there. Some car manufacturers use the term ‘electrified’ for their vehicles. Many car buyers, understandably, assume that this means the car is electric, in other words fully electric, but this term is also often used to describe a plug-in hybrid, or a hybrid, or even a mild-hybrid. Whereas a plug-in hybrid may be able to drive between 20 and 50 miles on electric power, a hybrid can only drive a very short distance on electric power – typically a few hundred metres – and a mild hybrid can’t drive any distance on electric power at all. So beware of the term ‘electrified’ – if you want to avoid using a petrol or diesel engine altogether, go for a battery electric vehicle.

Why should we opt for an Electric Vehicle?

Why should we opt for an Electric Vehicle?

Electric vehicles are important because they don’t have any tailpipe emissions, so there are no CO2 emissions that have a negative impact on climate change, and there are no emissions that have a negative impact on local air quality.

Although electric vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions, there’s been a lot of talk about EVs having significant emissions from the manufacturing process and from the electricity used to power the vehicles. There have been many studies into the overall CO2 impact from EVs compared to internal combustion engine vehicles, and the overall consensus is that although electric vehicles have higher CO2 associated with their manufacture, during their entire lifecycle electric vehicles have a much lower carbon footprint than petrol or diesel vehicles. This is because over a car’s lifetime the electricity used to charge an EV’s battery has much lower CO2 than the fossil fuels used in petrol and diesel cars.

As the CO2 associated with electricity generation in the UK is reducing year by year due to the increasing use of renewables and other forms of cleaner energy, the electricity used to power electric vehicles will become greener and greener.

There’s also the issue of energy security. As we move to more electricity generated by renewables, we’ll be powering our electric vehicles with more energy produced in the UK.

There’s been debate about the sustainability of the components in batteries and electric motors. Although there have been environmental impacts associated with sourcing materials for EV powertrains, the industry as a whole is moving towards more sustainable materials and supply chains.

Electric cars have also generally been cheaper to run than petrol or diesel vehicles. Before the recent volatility with energy prices, fuelling an electric car was around one-fifth of the cost of fuelling a petrol car. At the moment there’s a lot of change with energy prices, but electric cars are still considerably cheaper to fuel than petrol and diesel cars if charged at home, especially when using a tariff that provides lower cost electricity when charging overnight.

Here at Green Car Guide we’ve reviewed every EV that’s ever been on sale in the UK, as well as driving most petrol and diesel cars prior to EVs becoming mainstream. Our view is that electric cars are much better to drive than petrol or diesel cars, because they’re virtually silent, they’re very refined, and their electric motors provide instant responses. We’ve also been involved in many EV trials, and the hundreds of people on projects that we’ve spoken to agree with us: they also say EVs are better to drive than petrol and diesel cars.

Visit the Green Car Guide for articles and reviews covering every single electric car which has been available to buy in the UK.

Who is supplying Electric Vehicles?

Who is supplying electric vehicles

Most of the traditional car manufacturers have now brought electric vehicles to market, or are in the process of doing so. There have been new entrants into the EV sector, most notably Tesla in the early days. Tesla caused massive disruption in the traditional automotive industry, resulting in many car makers having to catch up in the area of electric vehicles. Other than Tesla, car manufacturers that were early leaders with EVs included Nissan, with the LEAF and the e-NV200 van, and Renault, with the ZOE, Kangoo van and Twizy. BMW was ahead of the game with its electric i3 and plug-in hybrid i8, but has only recently brought the more mainstream all-electric i4 to market.

Since the early days of Tesla, perhaps the most dramatic progress with EVs has been from Hyundai and Kia. Some other manufacturers have been relatively slow to bring EVs to market, but are now catching up and have some excellent models. The Volkswagen Group, with its brands that include Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda, SEAT and now CUPRA, is one example of this, as is Mercedes-Benz.

There are now a number of new electric vehicles that are going on sale from Chinese companies, such as NIO, XPENG and BYD – and many others.

Most new EVs are bought using some form of finance, such as a lease, and more people are driving EVs through subscription models. There’s a need for EVs to be more affordable, so more people can drive them, and this is the focus of brands such as Citroen and MG. There are also increasing numbers of second-hand EVs. Recently, it’s been a challenge to get hold of a new EV quickly due to global supply chain issues.

Most car manufacturers are now making genuine progress in the area of sustainability. Polestar claims that its ambition is to be one of the most sustainable car companies, but other brands are also now starting to take this area seriously – at last.

How to use an Electric Vehicle

How to use an electric vehicle?

Electric vehicles are powered by an electric motor, which gets its energy from a battery – which is charged from mains electricity.

EVs are easier to drive than petrol and diesel vehicles. They have gearboxes that are basically automatic, so there’s no gear changing, and no clutch. Because 100% torque is instantly available from electric motors at virtually all times, electric vehicles are much more responsive than petrol or diesel vehicles – as well as being quieter and more refined.

Motorists who are considering buying an electric car can have concerns about charging them. However once someone has charged an EV a few times, this anxiety usually disappears. This is because charging an EV is generally very straightforward; in simple terms you just plug it in and it charges.

If you can charge at home most people charge their car overnight using a home charger, which is much more convenient than having to drive to a petrol station.

If you need to charge your EV using public charging, again, in simple terms, you just plug it in, pay, and it charges. Most rapid chargers, which means chargers with 50 kW to 150 kW of power, should now accept contactless payment, which is a massive step forward compared to the old days when EV drivers had to access public rapid charging using a wide range of different RFID cars and/or apps for different charging networks. Rapid chargers also have a charging cable attached, so there’s no need to be fiddling with cables stored in the car, and the vast majority of new EVs have the same standard ‘CCS’ connector for rapid charging.

Using a rapid charger, many of the latest electric vehicles can charge from 10% to 80% in around 30 minutes, potentially giving 100-200 miles of driving range. One important point is that electric vehicles have different maximum charging rates, so an EV with a maximum charge rate of 100 kW won’t be able to use the full potential of a 350 kW ultra-rapid charger.

Electric vehicles require less maintenance, and are more reliable, than petrol and diesel vehicles. This is because an EV’s powertrain is primarily comprised of just a battery, an electric motor, and power electronics, compared to the thousands of components in a petrol or diesel powertrain. Servicing an EV will mainly cover items such as suspension, brakes, steering, wheels, tyres and lights.

There’s been much debate about how long EV batteries will last. Although some early EVs had battery degradation problems, most new EVs are expected to cover well over 100,000 miles with no battery issues.

Quick tips

Quick tips

Battery size – Different EVs have different battery sizes – stated in kilowatt hours (kWh) – and sometimes even the same models have different battery sizes. If you’re looking to buy an EV, make sure you know which size battery it has. And battery sizes are sometimes expressed in terms of their actual size, or in terms of their useable size, which is smaller – so make sure you compare like-for-like.

Driving range Different size batteries deliver different driving ranges – the variation could potentially be up to 100 – 200 miles. There’s an official ‘WLTP’ driving range figure for an EV – but this is still not necessarily a realistic expectation of what can expected in real-world driving due to variables such as driving style, weather and load.

Charging – Most EV drivers currently charge their car at home, typically overnight. Doing this is as simple as plugging a cable from a home charger into the car. If public charging needs to be used, the vast majority of new EVs use just one type of charging connector for rapid charging – CCS – and charging at a rapid charger should be as simple as connecting the charger’s CCS cable to the car’s socket and making a contactless payment.

Charger speeds – There are lots of different charging speeds – slow, fast, rapid and ultra-rapid. Slow charging should refer to charging using a 3-pin plug, or up to 3 kW. Fast charging should refer to 7 kW (a home wall box) to 22 kW (typically found at a long stay public charging site). Rapid charging refers to public charging that’s between 50 kW to 150 kW, and ultra-rapid charging refers to charging at rates above 150 kW.

Maximum charge rate of an EV – Chargers have different speeds, but EVs also have different maximum charging rates. If you plug into a 350 kW charge point but your EV can only charge at 100 kW, then your charging will be slow compared to an EV that can charge at 350 kW.

Drop-off in charging speed – EVs don’t charge at a constant rate, instead their charging rate drops down in steps. This is because an EV is likely to charge at a fast rate when its battery is almost empty, but when the battery charge increases, the rate of charging will drop significantly. It’s for this reason that EV manufacturers will typically quote rapid charge times from 10% to 80%, rather than to 100%.

Efficiency – A ‘miles per gallon’ figure has been quoted for petrol and diesel cars for many years, so buyers can compare how efficient one car is against another. A ‘miles per gallon’ figure isn’t applicable to an EV, but, with rising energy costs, it’s important to know how efficient an EV is compared to rivals. Efficiency figures exist for EVs and should be stated as ‘miles/kWh’.

Power – EV buyers should be aware of the power of the electric motor, or motors. The output of an EV’s electric motor is quoted in kW – although sometimes this is quoted in PS, HP or BHP. The power output of an electric motor in a plug-in hybrid is usually fairly low, whereas the power output of the electric motor of a pure EV is usually much higher, which is the reason why EVs have strong performance, but PHEVs typically have poor performance when driving on electric power.

Commercial vehicles – There are now increasing numbers of pure electric vans, which are more expensive to buy than diesel vans, but they can have lower total whole-life cost of ownership in many use cases. We’re still not there with heavy goods vehicles, although more manufacturers are developing electric trucks to bring to market.

More information – For more information about electric vehicles, including independent and expert electric car reviews, a Green Car Buyers Guide, latest news, and electric cars that are coming soon, visit Green Car Guide.

Sign up to our newsletter for guides, articles, updates and events. Let’s stay connected 💚

Thank you to our partner Green Car Guide for their contributions to this guide to sustainable shopping.