My new car is saving me about €3,000 every year in running costs compared with my previous motor – and that’s a conservative estimate based on easily measurable things such as road tax and fuel as opposed to imponderables such as maintenance and all the rest.
Deciding to sell my 1.9 litre VW Transporter was a wrench. It had been at the centre of two fantastic family holidays and had taken me and my family from Dublin to Rome and back twice – that's more than 10,000km.
But, as our “bus” was getting on and costing more and more to maintain, it was time to look at a replacement. Given that we were unlikely to be crossing the Continent again, I figured we could downsize. Our motoring is almost entirely based around providing a 24-7, on-demand taxi service to our offspring in support of their social and school lives in Dublin. All six of us were unlikely to all be in the car at the same time, so we could buy a five-seater; if we ever all decided to do the Wild Atlantic Way together, a large car could be rented for the week.
Next up was to determine the budget. We had €15,000 in savings, plus €4,600 trade-in for the beloved VW and were comfortable taking up to €10,000 in car finance. That gave us a budget of about €30,000, which is not too shabby by any measure.
Electric cars had intrigued me for years but their short range and lack of a comprehensive public charging network were a major drawback.
However, Elon Musk's Tesla Motors has given the sector a shot in the arm and proved that electric cars can be sexy (Tesla Roadster) and travel up to 500kmh between charges (Tesla Model S). But, for now, Tesla cars are way beyond my budget – although Musk is promising to release a Model 3 some time in the next year or so priced from $35,000 (€33k) and with a typical range of 340km.
Fear of the disruptive promise of Tesla has forced other car manufactures to up their electric offering. The leader of the pack – at least in terms of family motoring – would be the Nissan Leaf and VW e-Golf (it's also worth checking out the recently released Hyundai Ioniq). We settled on the 30kWh Nissan Leaf, which gave the best combination of range (typically 180km per 100 per cent charge) and price.
Its list price was €33,590, but a €5,000 government grant for new electric vehicles reduced this to €28,590 and the €4,600 trade-in on our old VW brought the price down further to €23,990. Our €15,000 in savings left us taking car finance of €8,990 over five years, at monthly instalments of €187.
But what really clinched the deal for us were the savings going forward. Road tax on the Leaf is €120 – on our VW Transporter it was €750 – a hefty annual saving of €630. The VW consumed €50 a week in diesel, while the Leaf costs us virtually nothing. Yes, you read that correctly: the Leaf costs us virtually nothing to fuel.
This fact may make painful reading for motorists who are now paying more for fuel than at any point since autumn 2015, according to the AA. Its recently released fuel price index showed that the average price of a litre of petrol rose by 4.9 cent and diesel by 5 cent in just one month. A car doing 19,000km a year with a fuel consumption rate of 9.5 litres per 100km now costs €306 more a year to run.
So, how does it cost me almost nothing to fuel my Leaf? The answer is simple: charging your car at one of the ESB’s public chargers is free. If you’re lucky enough to live close to a charging point (like I am), especially a fast-charger which gives an 80 per cent charge in 30 minutes, it is possible to include a charge in your day or every other day.
For example, at Tesco Honeypark on what was the old Dún Laoghaire golf course, there are three charging points – including a rare enough fast charger. So, after plugging in the car, you can pop in to do some shopping, have a coffee at Costa and come out to a nearly fully charged car. In Blackrock, there's a charging point beside the Dart station, so you can park there for free (charging electric vehicles do not pay parking fees), meet friends in the village and return to a topped-up car. Other charge points I've found convenient are at Booterstown Dart station (great if you're going into town for the afternoon) and The Park in Carrickmines for extended family shopping trips.
It's important to point out that the ESB tried to introduce flat-rate monthly charging fees across its public charger network early last year but decided against the measure over fears it might kill the nascent market for electric vehicles.
If you can’t plan a free charge at a public point into your day, then the next best thing is charging overnight at home on low-cost electricity rates. Cost will vary depending on your electricity supplier, but a full home charge of my Leaf costs around €4.50 and that’s adequate for two days of typical motoring. At the time of writing, the ESB will install a home charger for free (as long as your house is suitable. My semi-d with front garden was).
In my experience, the Leaf’s range is reduced by about 20 per cent during the winter months due to greater use of heaters, air-conditioning and lights. The battery’s charge is also used up more quickly on motorways but, thanks to its regenerative braking system, which effectively charges the car when you brake, city driving ranges are much better. During the summer, for example, I got 220km of city-centric driving from one charge.
Electric vehicles may also have a long-term maintenance edge over fossil fuel cars, given that, for example, there are no oil filters to replace and, mechanically speaking, they have far fewer moving parts than a combustion engine car. I was amazed recently when a friend opened the bonnet to display the complicated systems of his hybrid Toyota Prius and compared it with the simplicity of my Leaf's inner workings.
In addition to being an ideal city car, an electric vehicle could also be great for commuters if your employer has a charger on site. One multinational company in the Dún Laoghaire area, for example, installed a charging point outside its premises to boost its green credentials and quickly found it had to install others after some of its workforce changed over to electric cars. Employees who once faced fuel bills of up to €300 a month driving to work from Athlone and Drogheda were now making a serious saving. Just like me.