Socket To ‘Em: The Chirpy, Cheapie EV

Car and Driver recently ran a feature about second-hand electric cars, pointing out that battery-powered conveyances are creeping on to the American used market in ever larger numbers, and at very enticing prices.

2015 Renault Zoe white

A cursory glance at Auto Trader shows that this is indeed the case in the UK too. Leaving aside quadricycles, milk floats and cars from niche manufacturers boasting the crashworthiness of a yoghurt pot placed in a pressure cooker, the site lists more than 450 full electric cars currently for sale across this decreasingly green and pleasant land. Two things are surprising here: how inexpensive they are, and how little mileage the cars have accrued.

One can only speculate as to the reasons why EVs are beginning to appear on the used market in such numbers. Many may have been owned by companies taking advantage of tax incentives to greenwash their fleet with a few token EVs, the cars then staying rooted to the car park whilst their Next suit wearing sales reps continued to plough their patches in their 320d tractors. More may have been chopped in by early adopters moving on to the Next Big Thing. Others may simply be dumped on the market by manufacturers.

Whatever the reason, letting someone else take the sting of depreciation makes buying a battery-powered car a substantially foreshortened leap of faith. One might even judge the jump to be distinctly tempting.

I feel a list coming on. The following precludes plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) from a host of manufacturers, all of which are vastly more expensive and have limited EV range. If you want a car with two engines, look elsewhere.

(Gonna Walk Down To) Electric Avenue
Renault Twizy. Doors and dignity optional. Image: Renault

So what’s on the second-hand EV market? Cheapest of (or on) the lot is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Renault Twizy. For all intents and purposes a four-wheeled scooter, the Twizy seats two in line. Despite often lacking external doors (they’re optional extras), with a range of 56 miles and a maximum velocity (I hesitate to say speed) of 50mph, the Twizy is fit for the majority of urban commutes. As I write, a 12 plate model with a whole 500 miles on the odometer is currently being offered for £2,795 – expensive for a plastic toy, granted, but a drop in the ocean for a second or even third car. You might even have fun in one, not a given in the world of EVs, even if you do look like a prat.

Mitsubishi I-MIEV: dinky but delightful. Image: Mitsubishi

Moving up market slightly, the next cheapest EV that could be termed a “proper car” (or maintain any semblance of dignity for the driver) is the light weight but acronym heavy Mitsubishi I-MIEV. Tiny but tidy, the car looks like a five door Smart, certainly more so than an actual five door Smart ever has. Boasting four seats, a hatchback and doors as standard, I-MIEV ownership entails a lot less compromise than the stripped out Twizy. The 66bhp motor is good for 81mph and 100 miles of range (although not likely at the same time), making it half useful outside of town. A 2009 example with 16k on the clock can be yours for a tenner shy of £5k, with lesser mileage for pennies more. Also keep an eye out for the Peugeot iOn and Citroën C-Zero – they’re the same car.

Renault Zoe: better looking than a Clio. Image: Renault

Next on the sliding scale of cost and compromise is the Renault Zoe. Basically a last generation Clio with an electric drive train and superior styling, this is the first EV you could conceivably get a full size baby seat into (or indeed, conceive said child). The 87bhp motor can muster 84mph and a range of 120 miles. A 2013 example with 11k on the odo can be yours for just short of £6k. There are also plenty on the market, a small proportion of which are not painted white.

Renault Fluence ZE: I would have called it the E-Fluence, but what do I know? Image: Renault

Entering the Focus/Golf size class, you might expect to find the Nissan Leaf next, right? Wrong: we have yet another Renault, the Fluence ZE. Recognisably a Megane in ugly drag (and that’s saying something), this four door saloon has similar performance stats to the Zoe, with a 95bhp motor, 84mph peddle to the metal, and a range of 110 miles. It does however feature a 317 litre boot, comfortably the biggest so far. A 2012 example with 8k on the clock can be yours for £6k, which it transpires is substantially cheaper than the Leaf.

Nissan Leaf: don’t go around the front, you’ll only upset yourself. Image: Nissan

Speaking of which, if there has ever been a “breakthrough EV” then the Leaf is it. A shame then that the styling can most charitably be described as akin to a truncated bullet train, or less charitably as a Proboscis Monkey. All Leafs boast 107 bhp and a top speed of 87 mph, but a couple of different battery packs and year on year specification changes affect the range, the least you can expect being a slightly disappointing 109 miles between charges. A 2014 model showing 6k miles can be yours for £8k – hardly conspicuous value compared with the other cars listed, but the Leaf is likely the best supported EV out there.

Electric Ladyland

And that’s your lot for the UK cheapo second-hand EV scene. As always, you pays your money and takes your choice, but what is apparent is that all comers offer very similar results in terms of speed and range. Partly this is a consequence of the Renault-Nissan group comprehensively dominating this end of the market, but it also demonstrates the state of the EV art in 2012.

My own preference? A bargain £3k Twizy fun runabout is sorely tempting – I am 37 with a wife and a child, so my sexual attractiveness dissipated long ago. Marginally more enticing than the prospect of seeing a middle-aged man riding a gussied up shop-mobility scooter is the Zoe, which is easily the most handsome sub-£10k EV. Hey, take your plaudits where you can get ’em, Renault.

She’s Electric

Power shower. Image: Icarus Solar Power

The expenditure doesn’t stop there, of course. Being second-hand, the list price does not include the installation of charging facilities at home or work. The Energy Saving Trust suggests you should budget £1400 for this, a not insubstantial sum but still doable, and government subsidies are available to offset some of the cost. Most cars can be topped up with 60 minutes, with a full charge being achievable overnight when electricity is cheapest.

Talking of fuel prices, charging costs varies by car, by domestic electricity tariff and whether you have solar panels installed at home. Next Green Car says to expect around 3p per mile, with forum users suggesting £4 per full charge. Peanuts, either way. Tight-wads can also charge up for free in many car parks whilst they wander around the shops chuntering at prices and not buying anything. Additionally, in the UK EVs are exempt from car tax.

Nissan Leaf battery pack. Image: Clean Technica

The biggest worry for the iPhone generation of course is battery degradation. The battery in the Nissan Leaf comes with a 5-year, 60,000-mile warranty to cover excessive capacity loss. A full replacement costs £4,920, offset by a £1000 trade in on the old battery. Other manufacturers offer similar costs and warranties.

But what about servicing and parts? Forum chatter indicates that servicing a Zoe at a Renault main dealer costs £80. Brakes and tyres cost the same as an average Clio, with the caveat that EVs tend to use their brakes less.

Are Friends Electric

All said and done, there has never been a better (read: cheaper) time to go electric. Fancy plugging in? There’s plenty of information to help.

The Energy Saving Trust has information on various grants available to UK EV drivers

Next Green Car has plenty of information including reviews

Author: chrisward1978

Professional pixel pugilist and word wrangler. Unprofessional pub snug raconteur.

22 thoughts on “Socket To ‘Em: The Chirpy, Cheapie EV”

  1. Chris, do the Renault prices include the battery or are the cars being sold with the remainder of an existing battery hire plan?

    1. Thanks for the reply. I remember when Renault launched its EVs that much was made of the low purchase price of the car and a range of battery lease options, so I was wondering what that meant for prices. I’d have the Zoe or the Leaf. In the spirit of Renault-Nissan partsbin mashups, a Cube EV using Zoe components could be cool.

    2. I forgot to mention: I phoned up a local non-Renault dealer who had a Zoe on the forecourt, and asked if there were any additional battery leasing costs. The dealer said, and I quote, “It’s got the battery, mate. Couldn’t sell a petrol car without a fuel tank, could I?”

    3. Thanks again Chris, you’ve definitely earned a beverage on this one. I guess the battery hire scheme was just a payment plan to buy the battery rather than an ongoing subscription service? Maybe I’m getting confused with that company that was planning battery swapping stations to get around charging issues.

  2. Depending on one’s long-term intentions for the EV, the low mileages are both good and bad news. The downside is that it suggests that, for many, their day-to-day usability ends up not being as good as they wished. On that basis, depreciation per mile travelled is pretty appalling, and that is something to factor in to future running costs.

    What impressed me when I looked at used Vauxhall Amperas last year (and, although you might call them hybrids, at 35 miles on a charge you could use them as an urban commuter and never have the ICE kick in) is the high mileages they had covered, testament to the drivetrain practicality – just a pity the low saloon format was such a turn-off.

    Nevertheless, driving an EV still really appeals to me. Mark is almost inspiring me to look out a cheap Leaf or Zoe and get to work with my Halfords socket set to transform my Cube. For more on my dire history of delivering on such fantasies, stay tuned for next Thursday’s post.

    1. If the Cube & Clio were made by Honda then someone in America would have already done an ‘F20R swap FDM* style RS Cube’ and be selling imported engines, the custom mount kits, wiring loom etc. Nissan enthusiasts seem to be preoccupied building drift monsters out of old Skylines and other RWD Nissans instead.
      (*French Domestic Market)

  3. The £1000 trade in for the Leaf battery pack illustrates that considerable value remains locked inside an EV’s drive train. The Lithium alone must be a substantial recoverable cost. I am also of the opinion that in the future there will be a substantial market for degraded EV battery packs for home use. Chaining together a number of battery packs with a 50% retained charge rate will create a substantial sink for solar energy, blackouts or off-grid use.

    1. Also a market in partly-used / reconditioned / generic replacement battery packs for people who don’t want to spend the manufacturer’s price. For anyone who has gambled on Ebay for a replacement phone / laptop / camera battery, look forward to seeing angry stranded people at the roadside, or the actuality of all those much vaunted fires.

  4. Several centuries ago my car was stolen and I had to replace it. At the time I drove ~ 130 miles/day (long commute, alas) and fuel cost ~ $3.50/US gallon. Honda had recently introduced the Insight and given my situation it was a serious candidate for next car.

    The Insight was then so new that Honda hadn’t set a price for replacement battery packs. After a bit of probing I got a Honda representation to suggest that I budget no more than $4,000 for the next battery. No one had any idea how long a battery pack would last.

    I didn’t buy an Insight but I paid attention to posts on an Insight forum. Aftermarket battery packs priced at under $1,000 came to market. Battery rebuild services — replace only bad cells — turned up. Less expensive. Batteries lasted longer than initially expected. And Honda extended battery pack warranties. Buying an Insight wouldn’t have been the insane gamble it appeared to be when I decided not to buy one.

    I’ve paid no attention to the market for EV replacement battery packs but have to wonder whether as time passes the Insight experience will be repeated.

    1. We are pack animals prey to spooking, seeking safety in the familiar. We think nothing of the costs associated with a BMW 320d gearbox lunching itself (apparently quite a common occurrence and very expensive), yet the prospect of a battery pack performing at less than 100% fills us with mortal dread.

  5. Great stuff. A barely used Zoe for £6k sounds like a bargain. One lives on our terraced street – not a charging point in sight. I don’t know which of my neighbours it belongs to, but I assume they charge it at work.

  6. There’s been a wrinkle with my research: several dealerships have finally responded to my enquiries (I don’t think they ‘do’ email) and it would seem the issue of battery ownership is not clear cut. I will follow up with another article when I get time.

  7. The Zoe is rather lovely, but the whole range-anxiety thing, and scant charging infrastructure thing is a total turn off. I’d love a Tesla, but there are 3 dealers in the whole of the UK and they are out of my price range in any case – come back in 10 years, methinks.

    1. Funnily enough, having not seen one before, over the weekend I saw three different Teslas on the streets around our village. An impressive piece of kit.

  8. Chris- Denmark is different. Teslas are so common they
    are unremarkable. Until last month they were cheaper to lease and run than a Fiesta. I’ve spoken to owners. Most have swapped from a big Volvo or Mercedes.

  9. There’s a Twizy, with doors, in my small French town. A rare car created essentially for fun, with the elec element a bonus. Small rear passenger window is a flapping bit of soft poly stuff, which looks fragile, and detracts from the overall effect. Residents like to act cool, so rarely turn to watch it, which seems a shame. But I don’t see how you’ll get spouse PLUS infant into it.

    Renault’s elec offerings are worth considering seriously, as almost all that maker’s considerable reliability problems involve its ICEs.
    A friend has had a Zoe a year, blue not white, which she loves for her 40km commute. Her bloke, more of a petrolhead, likes it too.

    France has more charging points than UK, as it needs to boost French (ie, Renault’s) position in this future.

    I’ll return to design parameters soon.

  10. The Honda Urban concept on yr related thread looks just right. Like a Lancia Appia for the 21st Century: wheels at corners, no external frippery.

    That’s why I can’t like the Mitsibishi: just a complex mess even though the basic shape’s a good one.

    Fluence lacks signs that it’s elec at all. Still sells a few, in France anyway.

    Several Teslas around London NW1, earlier adopters. Along with hundreds of hybrids and a few ICE Infinitis, a car I think is a total con.

    Main problem for designers is human ergonomics. Elec allows lower-slung cars, but normal families want to get in and out easily, and enough metal between themselves and the front to feel safe. So the front has to be higher than it need be, as Zoe has. Front spare tyre and jack storage, anyone, saving disturbing luggage?

    For Leaf, a complicated story: all prospective buyers must visit the Wiki page on them.

  11. I feel your doing a dis-service by precluding PHEVs in this article since I believe most prospective buyers would find they only used the PHEV as an electric a big percentage of the time.
    I’ve certainly found this in my situation using an Ampera, Indeed this is why I went from a Leaf to a PHEV because the Leaf had reserve capacity I hardly ever used but was inadequate for the odd long journey unless I was feeling adventuresome and planning stops. Having the PHEV has proven in my case and probably many others that the lessor electric range can be more fully exploited in daily use while longer trips are tackled as a hybrid without range anxiety but still with the option of charging at remote points if desired.
    Its really down to personal requirements but for those sitting on the fence they really need to consider their daily driving habits when making a choice.
    While a Tesla style range may be the goal for some it requires a Tesla type charger for those extended trips and if used locally either the battery will not be fully utilised or will take forever to charge when its not topped up daily.
    There are comments as to why lug around the extra weight of an engine and its ancillaries but that weight is offset by the smaller battery pack so really no difference.
    The PHEV may prove to be just a “stepping stone” until an affordable long range quick charge pack appears but until this happens its a viable choice that answers many questions for those still on the fence.

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