4th July 2023

Promising the earth

Reluctance to buy into electric cars is understandable when consumers have learned to be wary of over-optimistic economic and environmental claims.

By Matt Allwright
Matt is a journalist and presenter of the BBC’s Watchdog and Rogue Traders
Like any consumer, I don’t need to be shown the wrong path too many times before I end up sticking to what I know

My old Saab estate, Dominic, is looking sad enough to warrant his own country song. His rubber shark fin aerial cover has perished and fallen off. His badges have gone from bright blue to dull chrome and his window seals are mostly moss. I swore a couple of years ago that when his turbo wheezed its last puff I would be going full electric to save the planet and, after the chunky initial outlay, save loads of money.

But there he still is, on the drive, ready to creak into action. And why? Well, because I still need to go to the tip regularly and because, frankly, the shine has come off my Electric Dreams. The cost of buying an electric vehicle is still massive – typically a third more than buying a fossil-fuelled equivalent, the prices of which have also gone through the sunroof. My tiny insurance on the Saab, the cost of occasional bits of remedial work, added to the annual £360 road tax, aren’t a hill of beans compared to £400 a month on an electric car PCP which, at the end of four years, I won’t even own.

The hope of offsetting that huge investment against reduced running costs is looking wafer-thin too. Charging from home is still the cheap option at around 9p a mile, but start travelling distance and you’ll pay the equivalent or more to your spend on Jurassic fluids – and why pay a full year’s wage for a car that makes you nervous to visit a neighbouring county?

‘What about your environmental credentials?’ I hear you ask. Well, what does it take to create a new vehicle from scratch? How much energy, materials, water and other resources would be used? Dominic Saab would be a block of steel in an afternoon, his Swedish magnificence reduced to cubism when we both know he still has a lot to give. Surely any new car, even an electric one, is going to have to work very hard to make up the distance on a car which has done 120k and is still rolling. My gut tells me that sticking with what you’ve got is always going to be the very greenest choice.

I suppose the main reason that I’m an electrical resistor though, is that a few years ago I bought a diesel car when I was told to, and that turned out to be bad advice, both in terms of cost and the environment. Like any consumer, I don’t need to be shown the wrong path too many times before I end up sticking to what I know: pumps and petrol. If we feel as motorists that the £40k-£50k we spend in good faith won’t be repaid in practicality and reduced costs, nobody should be surprised if we aren’t prepared to make the big switch.

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