I talk a lot about vehicles and emissions from a systemic perspective.
Subsidies, fleets, models, range, batteries… and it’s all good.
But I think I’ve been lacking a core part of my analysis of the electric vehicle (EV) transition.
This has been building for a while now, but today is a good day to write about this.
I helped my girlfriend buy a new car over the weekend, a little Mini Cooper from 2006. It was incredibly cheap thanks to the economic rationality of mates’ rates. (Forecast that, A-level economics).
It’s great and she loves it and to be honest, I’m a little jealous of the buzz she’s getting.
My battered old Ford Focus from 2006… trusty Harrison the Ford (I bought it the year Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released…) – well, Harrison is currently squatting on borrowed time I’m afraid.
Battery’s been dead since November. Not that he’s had many places to go.
I got it jump-started one weekend. By the next, it was flat again.
I need to replace the battery I know, but it’s also nudged me into wondering whether five years into our beautiful adventure through the galaxy together, it might be time for me to hook up to something a little more interesting.
And before you ask, I play club cricket and like golf – two venues which are basically allergic to public transport, and require a lot of gear (and a lot of picking up friends). So although the best thing to do is cycle (I used to, to work) and take public transport, a car is important to me for the foreseeable.
And judging by the second-hand car market figures, that’s true for a lot of you too.
A change of heart
I have tried to survey the wider market, and here’s what I have found.
I was floating around all the classic second-hand sites looking at all the boring, usual suspects. No insights from me on that front.
But I like to try and be a little different, and because of the work I do on investing in the energy transition here at Southbank Investment Research, my thoughts quickly turned towards hybrids and EVs.
I know the benefits. Much lower running costs. Better for the environment. A bunch of benefits, and possibly even subsidies.
But I didn’t have any grasp on the details or what they felt like as a prospective buyer.
When you are forced to think about putting your money where your mouth is, it can change your opinion sometimes (this is why I think it’s important that what I write here is almost perfectly correlated to how I myself invest. I have “skin in the game” so to speak, and am not just an armchair pundit, unaffected if I’m wrong).
So here goes.
With a car there is the upfront costs, and then there is “OPEX”. Operating costs, which recur every year.
I’m only talking about second hand here, so subsidies don’t come into play sadly, and they’re not enough to warrant going new in the UK (they only go up to £3,000 off a new vehicle).
I was thinking that if you go hybrid or full electric, those ongoing costs are much lower. The government wants to cut you a deal on road tax, you spend a heck of a lot less on fuel, and engines are smaller so insurance is often cheaper too.
This is a key argument for EV supporters.
Like calculating the net present value of a stock, it’s important to consider all future costs, not just the sticker price.
This is important because hybrids and EVs are still more expensive than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles in terms of sticker price. But from then on, they are much, much cheaper. So the all-in cost of owning the vehicle is often cheaper if you go electric.
Look at all the taxis going electric. When you drive as much as they do, it makes perfect sense. Fleets are also keen to go electric because they can organise the logistics and cut fuel costs dramatically.
Anyway, I said this would be a granular, buyer’s perspective.
There are problems with hybrids, from a personal standpoint.
Firstly, there are three types of electrified passenger car. Full electric, plug-in hybrid (PHEV), and hybrid. And from 2030, no new hybrids are allowed to be sold, not even PHEVs. Electric or bust, for the next car market.
A PHEV has a battery which can be charged from a charge point like an EV, but also has a petrol engine and fuel tank like an ICE vehicle.
A hybrid, meanwhile, just has a battery which is charged by using the car, so it essentially acts as a huge mileage improver. This makes sense to me.
Let’s be aspirational and look at the Audi range.
Audi only does plug-in hybrids.
The electric motor in its A3 e-tron has a range of 30-40 miles, while the petrol engine can do 200.
Since 2017 or something, Audi stopped doing normal hybrids.
In a very ideal world, the point is to be full electric for every little trip to the shops, school run, and game of golf – the majority of your drives essentially.
Then, if you occasionally head down the motorway to visit a friend, an away football match or a staycation, you’ve got the petrol engine for that, instead of charging for two hours every 35 miles (two hours’ charge on a fast charger gets you nearly full battery capacity, I believe).
Crucially though, I live in a flat and the nearest street with charging lamp posts is round the corner, and only has three. This is why the full electric car is probably a stretch for me right now.
So I’d have to get lucky with spaces every time I parked. And the engine doesn’t charge the battery (or at least only does so very minimally, I can’t quite figure it out). So I’d probably be lucky if half of the miles I drove were electric.
I think if you have a driveway then this system is the dream.
You can be almost fully electric, but not have to struggle when you face a long drive.
But in my situation, which I imagine many people share, I can’t charge right from my house. And I’m also lazy. So I wouldn’t go massively out of my way to ensure I was maximising battery time.
So it’s tough.
I sympathise with most consumers. It’s easy to think everyone should be thinking their next car should be electric. But the ball is still only just starting to roll, and this is why.
People are still focused on sticker price, which isn’t unfair. And charging networks aren’t perfect. I read a review of all the different ones (apparently certain cars can only use certain chargers? Do these companies want the transition to fall flat on its face?!).
I shouldn’t say.
Or… I’m not sure.
I don’t know. Maybe there’s another way.
Just to get through the next few years.
I don’t want to go into it now, but on Friday I’m going to try and tell you how you can buy the gassiest guzzler out there, and still preen like the worst kind of Tesla-owning self-annointed climate-champion.
Until then, have a great week.
All the best,
Editor, UK Uncensored
PS James Allen has gone all in and drives a BMW i3 – I think it’s his partner’s company car which they chose. Cut the man and he bleeds green, because his service is dedicated to helping investors like you find companies which are solving the problems of the energy transition, just like the ones that car buyers face today.
There’s a huge opportunity in sectors like transportation, with so many new models, vehicle types and charging networks coming in the next few years.
I work alongside James, helping him to find the best small companies driving the biggest changes.
If you want to find out how to join us…