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Electric vehicles: what's going wrong?

Electric vehicles are going through a tough time at the moment, with American companies going bust and sales not meeting national expectations. But is it really all bad?

The Renault ZOE is one of the newer electric cars hoping to turn the tide in favour of petrol-free driving

The Renault ZOE is one of the newer electric cars hoping to turn the tide in favour of petrol-free driving

What's going wrong?

You could say electric cars have had a bad time recently, especially in the USA:

  • Coda, a Californian electric car manufacturer, filed for voluntary bankruptcy on May 1st.
  • Better Place, a global promoter of switchable batteries, filed for liquidation in Israel.
  • Fisker, an American electric car company, nearly collapsed - and reports are stating that used Fisker cars are worth far less than their new counterparts.
  • Fiat-Chrysler is making losses of $10,000 on each electric 500e it sells - but it has to sell them due to California imposing quotas regarding 'zero-emission' vehicles
  • The UK government offers incentives to people who choose to go electric but less than 4000 have been bought through the scheme so far.

What's going well?

However, there has been plenty of positive news:

  • Tesla, another Californian company that makes battery-powered sports cars, reported its first quarterly profit - and paid back its $452m government loan early.
  • According to the Electric Drive Transportation Association, a total of 56,550 hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery-powered cars were sold in the US in May 2013.
  • Closer to home, a free charging station has been installed in Stratford upon Avon.
  • The BMWi range will be rolled out this year, featuring a very different take on electric vehicle design and functionality.
  • There are also due to be more electric cars launched in 2013 - the UK Government grants only cover a small number of models at the moment, so the relatively low uptake could be down to that.

So... where does that leave us?

Some would argue that perhaps the 'experiment' of petrol-free driving has failed, but this may be oversimplifying the case. Yes, they can be expensive and tend to have a limited range. But one of the major problems faced by the companies trying to revamp the automotive industry has been mismanagement, and also the competition with regular cars.

Because of targets set by politicians, cars across the world have been getting greener - so electric cars may only form part of the solution to the environmental damage caused by automotive pollution. Indeed, the American model of state subsidies has been largely ignored in Europe, where overall emission standards are set and businesses are left to their own devices to work out how best to meet the required targets. Regular cars are getting greener and greener, meaning drivers don't have to go 100% electric in order to save the planet. (You can view our range of low-CO2 cars if you can't take our word for it!)

According to the Economist, “sadly, politicians see electric cars not as a means to a greener future but as an end in themselves.” This is true not just in America and the UK - Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has stated her aim to have 1 million electric cars on the road by 2020, but Germany appears to be far away from reaching this target. The Economist goes on to say “the odds are that pure electric cars, despite their slow start, will be part of tomorrow's cleaner traffic: they will just not be the whole answer.”

The issues with going electric

Many commentators see poor infrastructure as an issue, with a lack of charging stations - as well as access to off-road parking - possibly putting people off. The truth is, creating the right culture for widespread electric vehicle use will take more than just financial incentives and clever marketing.

Another problem is the cost of going green, but recent entries to the electric car market have tried to combat the issue of affordability by operating a different kind of payment scheme. Like a mobile phone contract, you can pay for the car - with help from the Government grant - and then lease the battery for roughly £70 a month. (You will also enjoy free road tax and lower running costs, so the cost of the car may be putting people off more than it ought to.)

See if you can go green for less than you might think: Arnold Clark has a range of electric vehicles on offer, such as the brand new Renault ZOE as well as various hybrid models. You can search our 100% electric vehicles by clicking below.

About the Author

Kirsty Cooke

Staff writer at Arnold Clark