Driving an electric car could soon become the norm - here's everything you need to know

  • Video report by ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi; words by Digital Producer and Presenter Rishi Davda

Every year, we see more electric vehicles on the UK's roads. A total of 108,205 fully-electric vehicles or EVs were sold in 2020, representing a 185% increased compared to 2019.

That's according to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which says that 1,631,064 cars of all types were sold in the UK last year.

Coronavirus meant that 600,000 fewer cars were sold compared to 2019, the largest year-on-year decline since the Second World War.

While the number of new petrol and diesel cars sold fell, the number of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid cars sold increased.

Just over 10% of all vehicles sold in the UK last year had some level of zero emission running capability and could be plugged in.

The Renault Zoe was Europe's best selling battery-electric car in 2020. Credit: Renault

What are the reasons behind the increase in sales?

There are a number of reasons behind the move towards electric and eco-friendly vehicles. Drivers who are conscious of the environment see driving an electric vehicle as their way of doing a little bit to reduce CO2 emissions.

More people are being drawn towards EVs as their prices begin to fall. A greater number of carmakers are producing electric vehicles, not just high-end, expensive brands like Tesla.

People with a more modest budget are now able to shop in the electric market. Electric car owners can get vehicle tax reductions, cheaper public parking and make big savings on re-fuelling.

Arguably the most important reason for the present and predicted future shift in buying approach is the Government's environmental ambitions.

It has announced plans to end of the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars in the UK by 2030.

Between 2030 and 2035, new cars and vans can be sold if they have the capability to drive a significant distance with zero emissions (plug-in hybrids or full hybrids). From 2035, all new cars and vans will be fully zero emission at the tailpipe.

A poll by the RAC of 3,068 motorists showed a rise in the number of people who plan to make the switch to electric when they next change their car, from 6% in 2019 to 9% in 2020.

Plug-in hybrid vehicles combined battery power and a combustion engine. Credit: PA

What is the difference between the car types?

  • Electric Vehicle (EV): A car that runs solely on electricity that's stored in an on-board battery that you charge using a cable. It doesn't have a petrol or diesel engine, so that means it produces zero emissions.

  • Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV): A car that also has an on-board battery that powers an electric motor. You plug the car in to charge the battery. A PHEV also has a normal combustion engine, which needs fuel, that kicks in once the battery runs out of charge. The engine also generates more electricity to help recharge the battery. Depending on how far you drive, you may only need to use the battery power but the combustion engine is there if you run out of juice.

  • Self-charging Hybrid Vehicle: A car that has both an electric motor and a combustion engine. You don't need to plug this type of car in, instead the car charges itself by recycling energy mainly through the braking system. You only get a fraction of the electric range that a PHEV gives you, meaning the combustion engine will be in more regular use. As a result, you will emit more CO2 when driving.

Many major carmakers have made promises to deliver more electric vehicles. Credit: Ford/Audi

What are the big brands promising?

Ford has today announced that all of its cars on sale in Europe will be electric by 2030. It's said to be going "all in" on electric, spending £720 million to create its first all electric vehicle factory in Europe which will be in Cologne, Germany.

Meanwhile, Jaguar Land Rover is planning to make its Jaguar brand all-electric by 2025. The company will also launch electric models of its whole Land Rover line-up by 2030.

Audi has set itself a goal to offer 20 different fully-electric vehicles by 2025. It expects that 40% of all Audis sold by 2025 will be electrified in some way.

German rivals Mercedes-Benz hope to have at least 6 different EVs for sale by the end of 2022. By 2025, bosses want 15-25% of the Mercedes range to be fully electric and expect PHEVs to make up 50% of their range.

Vauxhall launched four electric vehicles last year and has committed to offering an electrified option of its whole model range by 2024.

Kia is another brand on the electric track, with the ambition to have seven different EVs on sale by 2026. The company is aiming for 40% of its sales to be electrified models by 2030.

There are currently 35,000 public charging points in the UK. Credit: PA

Is it practical to own an electric car?

Charging is the big issue when it comes to owning an electric car, because in pretty much every other sense it is exactly the same as owing a fuel-consuming vehicle.

You can charge your EV at home, using either a regular 3-pin socket or a dedicated charger. The dedicated EV charger is much better because it is about three times as fast. However, it costs around £800 to have a home charge point installed - but there are grants available to help with some of that.

Public EV chargers can be found at service stations, car parks, supermarkets, cinemas and even on the side of the road. They are faster than regular home chargers, giving you 100% charge in as little as 1.5 hours, according to the RAC.

To fully charge an electric car at home costs around £5, while to charge an EV to 80% at a public charger costs around £7-£10.

Zap-Map says that 90% of EV owners use public charging stations but there are concerns that there aren't enough charging stations available if electric sales continue to increase.

A report from Policy Exchange says that the UK will need 400,000 public chargepoints by 2030, currently there are only 35,000. It also says that small towns and rural areas must be provided for to avoid "charging blackspots".

At the end of last year, the Government pledged £1.3 billion to accelerate the rollout of chargepoints and hopes to make charging an electric car "easier" than refuelling a petrol or diesel vehicle.

Green number plates have been rolled out to easily identify EVs. Credit: PA

It's beginning to feel like moving to electric is a valid and important conversation that drivers are having when discussing changing their cars.

Whether it's the impending ban on petrol/diesel vehicles, a desire to be green or the more accessible price point, EVs are slowly and quietly taking over the roads.

Analysis by AutoTrader found that sales of electrified cars could outstrip those of petrol and diesel models by as soon as 2025.