A Special Report is content that is edited and produced by the Special Reports unit within The Irish Times Content Studio. It is supported by advertisers who may contribute to the report, but who do not have editorial control.

Irish motorists not feeling the buzz of the electric car

Base line is very low with only about 4,000 EVs in Ireland today

The cost of driving 20,000km in an EV is somewhere between €250 and €500 a year depending on the home electricity package used, while running a petrol car for the same distance will cost at least €2,000. Photograph: Getty Images

The cost of driving 20,000km in an EV is somewhere between €250 and €500 a year depending on the home electricity package used, while running a petrol car for the same distance will cost at least €2,000. Photograph: Getty Images

 

It is safe to say the Irish motorist has not exactly been electrified by the electric car. At least not yet.

But the times they are a-changing and, with diesel cars getting an increasingly bad rap and electric ones widely (and rightly) viewed as both environmentally sound and very easy on the wallet (not to mention sexier thanks to the super-sleek Tesla, which is as far from the electric milk floats that trundled along our roads in the past as it is possible to get), we may be approaching a tipping point.

The point does, however, have a very long way to tip.

Viewed purely in percentage terms electric vehicles – or EVs – look to be a runaway success in Ireland with an increase in sales of new cars of almost 60 per cent last year. However, the baseline is very low indeed: all told there were 622 EVs sold last year, up from 392 a year earlier.

There are only around 4,000 EVs in Ireland today and, as it stands, new EV sales make up less than half of 1 per cent of the overall market. And things could get worse before they get better, with the number of EVs sold in January this year – which is always one of the strongest sales months – falling by almost 40 per cent compared to 2017.

A recent report from Liberty Insurance found that just one in 10 Irish motorists had ever driven a plug-in hybrid vehicle

In January there were only 104 sold, or 0.28 per cent of the market, according to the Irish EV Owners Association, so by any measure sales are sluggish in Ireland compared with sales in many EU countries.

Outlier

In Norway, for instance, almost 40 per cent of new car sales were electric last year. That country is, however, something of an outlier when it comes to early adoption of the new technology and is a long way ahead of Iceland, in second place on 14 per cent, and Andorra, in third on just 5 per cent.

All three are a long, long way ahead of Ireland, which makes the Government’s plans to have 10 per cent of the national fleet – or 230,000 cars – powered by electricity by 2020 seem somewhat ambitious.

A recent report from Liberty Insurance found that just one in 10 Irish motorists had ever driven a plug-in hybrid vehicle, while only 8 per cent would even consider buying one in the next year.

This is despite the fact that by almost every single metric, electric makes sense.

It is cheaper for a start. The €5,000 grant which can be put towards the cost of buying an electric car if it costs in excess of €20,000 takes the sting out of the initial cost, while a further €600 is available to cover the installation of home-charging systems .

The cost of driving 20,000km in an EV is somewhere between €250 and €500 a year depending on the home electricity package used, while running a petrol car for the same distance will cost at least €2,000. The cost of servicing an EV is around €80 less than servicing a more traditional model and because there are less moving parts and less filthy oil deposits to clog up the engine, they are widely perceived to be more reliable. EVs are also classed as having zero carbon emissions, although at least some of the electricity they need is generated from burning gas or coal.

Range anxiety

Range anxiety remains a problem. While some models on the market can travel up to 200km on a full charge, it is widely accepted that a distance of around 140km is more likely before a visit to a charging station is necessary. That would take someone from Dublin to Kinnegad and back.

The SEAI and department believe sales will jump over the next few years, as more manufacturers introduce mass-market models

The reluctance on the part of the Irish motorist to go electric has prompted the Government to launch a range of measures aimed at boosting sales.

Several weeks ago it launched an information hub as part of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland’s (SEAI) new Driving Electric campaign. The hub will seek to correct what the SEAI describes as “many misconceptions” about electric vehicles and “will provide unbiased information to anyone considering making the switch to an EV”.

The SEAI and department believe sales will jump over the next few years, as more manufacturers introduce mass-market models. Toyota Ireland is certainly on board. It reckons that diesel sales in Ireland are in freefall, while its hybrid sales have grown dramatically and now account for over 50 per cent of all its sales here.