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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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