Comment: Electric cars becoming a realistic option

Nissan's electric car
Nissan's electric car
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WHEN you champion electric vehicles (EVs), three main criticisms are thrown at you: they are expensive, risky (because you might run out of charge) and they are for the future, not now.

But things are changing. transport minister Keith Brown climbed into an electric sports car this month to promise that EV drivers on trunk roads will never be more than 50 miles from a public charging point. This helps to tackle the “range anxiety” of a breakdown, as most EVs can go 80 miles-plus on a single charge.

Mr Brown also offered free charging points at home, while Nissan has announced plans to mass-produce Leaf EVs at its plant near Sunderland as battery technology improves and brings down costs. EVs are still more expensive to buy than comparable petrol or diesel models, but running costs are much lower – an electric-powered journey costs around 4p per mile, compared with 16p for a petrol engine. EVs get free road tax, while maintenance costs are up to 35 per cent lower due to fewer moving parts.

A total of 30 new public EV charging points are currently being installed at colleges and universities from the North Highlands to the Borders and Ayrshire to Fife. They are being put in by Edinburgh College, which already leads Scotland’s biggest EV research project, monitoring ten cars used by a mixture of colleges, councils and other public bodies. Feedback from the first year was positive – users like the cars, they are reliable and easy to drive and, over time, will be much cheaper to run – and the project has been extended by two years.

Public bodies are leading the way, but private company fleets are turning to EVs too. They are now more common on our roads, with more charging points to allay the fear of being stranded – and the medium as well as long-term cost savings are starting to look attractive too.

Nissan’s investment shows EVs are here to stay. They are only part of the future transport mix, but an important part. They are a genuine alternative on our roads now, not some futuristic land equivalent of the aerocar from The Jetsons.

• Steve Tinsley is vice principal, corporate development, at Edinburgh College.