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The truth about electric cars

Three Connexion readers who have bought electric vehicles describe their experiences to Brian McCulloch

France is stepping up its efforts to encourage people to buy electric cars.

So far, initiatives to promote electric motoring have had little result in terms of absolute numbers, with estimates at only around 2% of cars sold, but there is a sense that things are starting to change.

Larger batteries now mean that cars in the €30,000 price bracket can do nearly 300km in ordinary driving, rather than the 120km of the first generation.

Renault still prefers you to hire, rather than buy, batteries so they can be updated but other manufacturers are finding that battery performance over the years remains strong, with older batteries seeing only a limited fall-off in storage capacity.

Figures for the end of the third quarter of 2018, the latest available, show 9,600 electric cars registered in France – a rise of 18% on the same period in 2017, when 8,118 were registered. In total, 2,173,481 new cars were registered in 2018.

For 2019, the bonus électrique or bonus écologique (as sometimes referred to) is maintained at 27% of the price of buying or long-term renting a new electric car or van, up to a top limit of €6,000. Proposals to limit the bonus to cars costing less than €60,000 were not implemented.

Buyers or long-term renters of electric motorbikes, scooters, or quadricycles, such as the Renault Twizy, can also benefit, with a maximum bonus of €900 for vehicles with motors of at least 2kw, €100 for less than 2kw. Lead battery vehicles are excluded.

Electric bicycles can also receive a bonus électrique, but only if you live in a commune which gives grants to help people buy them. You have to be under the tax revenue limit (ie pay no tax) and have been given a grant by the commune.

The bicycle has to be new, not have a lead battery, have a motor of 0.25kw or less, and a system to cut the motor when going over 25kph. The maximum of the two grants must not exceed 20% of the purchase cost, or €200.

In addition to the bonus, there is extra money if your purchase of an electric car results in the scrapping of a polluting older car. This is called the prime à la conversion.

It can be obtained only if a diesel vehicle, first registered before 2001 (this date limit has been raised to 2006 for households not in the income tax bracket) or a petrol vehicle first registered before 1997, is sent to be scrapped when the electric car was bought. 

You must have owned the car or van for at least a year. For buyers of electric cars, new or second-hand, who pay income tax, the amount is €2,500 for electric cars.Those who do not pay tax can receive €5,000, with a maximum of €8,500 for the bonus and prime combined. Official figures for 2017 show only 43% of people in France pay income tax.

The prime also applies to people who scrap older cars to buy less-polluting newer ones with diesel or petrol engines. Again, different rules apply for those who pay income tax and those who do not, and whether the car or van is hybrid electric.

For diesel or petrol new or second-hand cars, the bonus applies to those which meet the requirements for Crit’Air1 or Crit’Air2 stickers, and use 130 grams of CO2 per km or less. In each case, the prime is €1,000. For those who do not pay income tax, the same conditions apply but the prime is €2,000. For hybrid electric cars, the same conditions apply.

If you buy from a garage, the paperwork for the bonus and prime can be done for you by the garage, and usually the drive-away price adjusted immediately. The garage is paid back directly by the government.

If you buy privately, you must do the paperwork yourself – and await reimbursement in the form of a tax credit or cheque. Your local tax office can advise.

Buying secondhand in UK was way cheaper

When Phyl Brinicombe  started looking for a second-hand electric vehicle, she realised there were more for sale in the UK than in France –  and they were cheaper.

She had always driven a right-hand-drive vehicle in France since moving here seven years ago, so was not put off by continuing to do so.

Phyl (pictured below) said: “We bought ours at a specialist electric vehicle garage in Plymouth in September. It had come from a private owner.”

The two-year-old Nissan Leaf had 47,000km on the counter and cost £14,450. It has a mid-sized 30kWh battery, which gives a range of 150km.

A similar car, with metallic paint, was recently advertised for €22,000 in France – a saving, with exchange rates, she calculates at around €8,000.

A retired psychotherapist, she has been driving since the age of 16 and in France from 18.

One big shock came with the price of the plug on the cable for charging at home in South Brittany. Nissan wanted to charge €650 for a new cable. Ordinary converting plugs are dangerous for the chargers.

“It has to be a special plug with a heat cut-out, but they are used by camping cars and I was easily able to find the screws and put on a suitable replacement myself,” she said. “It cost €10 and works well.”

She has found a quick-charge station around 20km away, which she also uses, usually being the only car there. She said she drives with an eye on consumption and mainly uses the car’s “B” mode, where the battery recharges when the car brakes and when the foot is off the accelerator.

“I tend to drive more slowly and, with a good view of the speed indicator, tend to stick to speed limits more than before.”

Long trips are planned carefully – a lesson learned when, on the first trip in France, off the ferry, a planned recharge point was out of order.

“It was a terrible feeling, but I had planned a back-up, and we made it there. It is lovely knowing that you are not polluting, and the Leaf is a joy to drive,” she said.

Choosing plug-in Hyundai has saved us €1,000 a year in fuel costs

Katy and Anthony Butcher bought their Hyundai Ioniq nearly two years ago and they say they have no regrets.

The couple (pictured above) tested three other electric cars before choosing the Ioniq, with a 28kWh battery that gives them 250km on a charge in warm weather.

“For us, it was by far the most comfortable and practical car we looked at,” said Katy. “It is bigger than the others and has enough space for luggage, and passengers in the back seat.”

She said she and her husband, who both worked in IT before moving to France 13 years ago, considered buying a hybrid, but decided it made more sense to go fully electric. “We like to think we are doing our bit for the environment,” she said.

Using the car mainly for local trips of between 20km and 50km, they keep it charged up most of the time from a domestic wall plug in their garage, which takes around 12 hours for a full charge.

“We did have a new wall plug put in to make it easier with the cable, but that is all we had to do at the house,” said Katy.

She estimates they have saved nearly €1,000 a year by not buying diesel, and the car’s first service last year cost them €45.

They bought the car through the main Hyundai concession in Poitiers, their nearest big town, paying around €23,000 once the grants and trade-in value of their diesel automatic were counted.

The list price of the car for 2019 is €34,450 in France, before grants are deducted.

Because most of their driving has been local, most of the time their domestic electric supply has been enough, but they sometimes use public chargers.

Fast chargers give a 95% charge in 30 minutes, while medium chargers take around four hours for a full charge.

“It is the one big disadvantage, having to plan longer journeys to make sure you have a charger on the way,” said Katy. “But on the two long journeys we have done, to visit Anthony’s parents in the east of France, 450km to 500km away, we have not had any difficulty.”

It takes longer than it used to in the old diesel due to longer breaks while the car charges, though if you are not in a hurry to get to your destination and have planned it, that is not a big problem.

“It is something which will improve as more people use electric cars,” said Katy.

She added that the car is nice to drive, especially the lack of vibration compared to the diesel.

“Overall, we are happy,” she said. “It is comfortable, drives well, and is well made.”

We now only use our diesel for longer trips

Gareth Jefferies (above) has used an electric BMW i3 as his office car for three years.

Gareth, a marketing and IT partner for an estate agency in the Alps, is now on his second i3, with the new car having more range and faster charging than the first.

“I am very pleased with it,” he said. “We make a point of using it when we have short trips to make, and obviously when I need to move around our area, which roughly covers the Haute-Savoie department.

“For the furthest runs, it is a bit stretched on range and I might plug it in at a public charge point, but most of the time it is plugged in at home and charges each night.”

He has installed solar panels on the roof of his garage to compensate for the electricity used by charging the car.

“An electric vehicle is an ideal second car,” he said.

“In fact, it has become the first car, with our large diesel estate being used usually only for longer journeys where the need to charge the i3 will make the journeys take too long.”

He said most people who say they cannot buy an electric car because of the range look at the problem with eyes coloured by conventional vehicles. 

“It is not a question of how far you can go on one charge, which is the equivalent to buying a tank of petrol, but how far you need to go in daily driving, because the car is ‘filled up’ every night,” he said.

As well as benefiting from the low cost of electricity compared to petrol, the tax advantages for use as a company vehicle also represent a saving. 

“There is an individual tax in France on people who have company cars, which is zero for electric vehicles, which makes a nice difference,” he said. 

“Very often, it is that tax which discourages people from having company cars, but with electric cars it does not apply.” 

The attraction of electric cars was partly due to his father working on project vehicles while he was growing up.

Driving in the winter has not been a problem, with the narrow wheels fitted with snow tyres.

Electronic control of the power compensates for the rear-wheel drive, which comes with a reputation for being more difficult in snow. 

Range is reduced in the cold, though only by around 30km compared to summer.

There are still few electric vehicles in the Haute-Savoie area, but the others Gareth has seen have also belonged to estate agents. “We seem to have started something,” he said.

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