Electric Vehicles (EVs) are sure to play an integral part in the UK’s future. With its government’s stated commitment to becoming a net zero carbon emitter by 2050, the country has made a bold statement regarding its desire to get fully on board in the international fight against climate change. As the world’s sixth largest economy, this is widely welcomed. Along the way, one practical milestone also announced is banning the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030. For this to be achieved, the country’s EV fleet will need to step into the breech. Unfortunately, these vehicles are proving to be very expensive to fix, which will not help boost their sales.
The cost of repairing vehicles is very specifically measured, thanks to the receipts and VAT claims submitted by the garages which perform these repairs. The latest available figures show that the average cost of repairing traditional petrol and diesel vehicles was £211 per breakdown. For an EV, this figure was £596. By any measure, facing a bill of almost triple that of other drivers is something of a caution. In more bad news for EV enthusiasts, costs were found to be at their highest for plug ins, rather than non plug in hybrids. It is the plug in only EV design that is by far the most environmentally friendly.
To make matters worse for promoters of plug in EVs, garages reported more breakdowns of these vehicles than others; for every 1.9 booking of petrol and diesel driven vehicles, there were 3.1 for plug ins. Of course, this technology is relatively new, and long established motoring infrastructure like MOT test centres have been playing catch up in many ways over the last few years. Indeed, with other costs included, such as tax incentives, road charging incentives and less downtime during repairs, taking the electric option can have its advantages. The fact remains, however, that repairs need to be cheaper sooner rather than later if EV take up is to fulfil its potential.
For many commentators and analysts, it is only when EVs are bought en masse as fleet vehicles that the real ground shift away from fossil fuel power will happen. Already, the government has in place generous tax incentives for businesses which invest in EV technology for their fleet cars and vans. For those who are responsible for actually buying these fleets, however, there is a high degree of scepticism. The main reason for this is the compressed timetable; fleet buyers say that there is nowhere near enough time for businesses to integrate electric vehicles in time for 2030.
The Royal Mail has a fleet of 50,800 vehicles. While this is by no means typical (and the company is already committed to EV take up), it gives an idea of the magnitude of buying new vehicles to replace old. In the past, fleet buyers would have deals with their vehicle suppliers, so that, as their fleets aged and needed replacing, that supplier would step in with a newer model. This is just not possible in the case of non traditional vehicles; even hybrids have not had the time to become established as fleet vehicles. So, for fleet buyers, it is very much a question of starting from scratch.
Battery powered cars and vans are becoming more established as time goes on; indeed, MOT test centres already have the technology and expertise to ensure their roadworthiness to the same degree as traditional vehicles. However, the market for low emission vehicles now has a rather important disruptor; hydrogen power. As with EVs, there is already an option to buy these vehicles in their hybrid version; and like their predecessors, it is certain that most early adopters will choose this option. However, it is reported by industry experts that hybrid or fully hydrogen powered vehicles will be realistic competitors with EVs as soon as the mid 2030s.
One major advantage the hydrogen design has over EVs is its range. Hydrogen can be compressed to a huge degree, so one tank of this completely natural fuel can take a car or van 300 miles. This compares to the average of 100 miles for an EV, or 200 miles maximum. Depending on the speed of EV take up, and the costs of owning such a vehicle (such as getting it fixed), hydrogen could be another stressor affecting the electric market. It could even be that conquering the problems encountered in EV maintenance might benefit its successor.