We’ve had our Renault Zoe just over six months. We got the government grant, but we’d still never paid that much money for a car before. In fact, we’d never bought a brand new car before – but I was really keen on going electric.
Before that we had the smallest and most ecological car we could find, which was a Volkswagen Up. It was really economical and that's what we were looking for – the one that did the least environment damage. We ran that for about six or seven years and then we had no choice because my dad was taken ill, so we needed a bigger car to be able to give him a lift.
I’d wanted an electric car for some time, but 90 miles range is no use to me. The Zoe claims to do around 250 miles and I thought that would do me fine – I could get from here to Liverpool in one go if I needed to. Of course, you don’t actually get 250 miles, so it does require a stop between here and Liverpool, but it’s a stop the length of go to the toilet, grab a coffee, get back in the car and drive on again.
I’m enjoying driving again for the first time for many, many years. At the back of my mind I believe that I've done the right thing for the environment. It allows me to get out and drive, it's quiet and it's flexible enough to allow me to do everything that I want to do.
I don't feel held back in any way and it's great because we wave at the petrol stations as we drive past them. We always used to look and see how the petrol prices were going up and up. Now we don't care what the price is because it doesn't affect us.
We did make mistakes to start with, basically driving it as though it was a petrol car. Late braking, over-zealous accelerating, that runs down the battery. So I have adapted a little bit and I think I’m a better driver now, because I'm having to think ahead a bit more.
The one that we were told constantly was they don't go far enough. Well, the majority of people aren’t going to drive more than 200 miles a day. At the moment, we’re getting 170 miles, we’re hoping to get closer to 200 when the weather warms up. I don't know what it does, but it just allows the battery to take in more charge. That will do us.
The second one is it takes hours to fully recharge. Well, yes, it does. But I drove back from doing some bird watching yesterday, plugged it in, went and did other jobs, came back and it was ready to go again – and I didn’t have to drive to the petrol station.
It's super quiet. You can have a sensible conversation without all the engine noise. And the myth that you'll break down on the motorway because you’ll run out of juice – well, that happens with petrol cars.
What you do have to do with an electric car is you have to plan ahead. The majority of driving is probably done in a very close radius to home so it's not an issue. But if we go somewhere further afield you obviously have to think about getting the car charged up.
Definitely. Even in the Volkswagen Up the petrol costs were in the region of about 12p a mile. We're now down to about 3p a mile, so we’re saving nearly £1,000 a year in running costs. That offsets a bit of the additional cost of the car. We’ve got it on a three-year hire purchase agreement so we're going to save about £3,000.
We drove up to Norfolk the other week and managed to find free charging points at our hotel and a local pub, so it didn’t cost us a penny to get there and back.
Well for me, it's birdwatching. I'm going out this afternoon to Basildon. That's a 20-mile round trip. So I'll go there, hopefully spot the bird, come back and probably won't charge it. My wife will use it for the shopping tomorrow and then we'll charge it so it's ready to go. But you can use it for long distance as well. I go to Minsmere Nature Reserve in Suffolk which from here is 80 miles.
They’ve got a charge point there so if I need to, I can go for a two-hour walk round the site while it charges up, but I can get there and back on a single charge. It's about the limit that I would want to do in a day but, you know, how many people drive 300 miles in a day?
Yes, on the eco side of things we like to try and look after the environment. We were early adopters of solar panels, we grow our own vegetables and fruit and stuff like that. We get energy from the solar panels and that helps with the running costs of the car.
It certainly generates a lot of interest. There was a group of workmen last week and they said, ‘Oh that's very quiet, what's going on?’ So, you know, we explained it was an electric car and they had a little root around and said, ‘Ooh, interesting’.
A white van man knocked on the door yesterday because he saw we were charging the car up and started asking us questions about it. So there's lots of people out there who are interested. Our next door neighbour came out the other day and said, ‘Is it still running ok?’ I said, ‘Yep, when are you getting rid of that old technology hybrid of yours?’
When we stop on the motorway, because there’s more of a flow of people and the charge points are more obvious, they will frequently come over. There was a grandad and his grandson just couldn't believe that a car could run on electricity. He kept saying, ‘But grandad, where does the petrol go?’
It's good because everyone’s in the same boat. If you've got an issue and somebody else is maybe using the electrical point they'll give you some helpful guidance or whatever else and I’ve found that really useful – they’ll come over and talk to you.
Unless you’ve got the sort of job where you’re bouncing around all over the motorway and you need a car that’s going to do 250 or 300 miles in a single run, get an electric car.
The acceleration is a lot better than I thought it would be. If you're on the motorway, you never feel vulnerable or that you’re going too slow. You can overtake with no problem at all.
If we're on the motorway and want to overtake you just take Eco mode off and the car will automatically accelerate away and you can get past the obstacle. No problem at all. Then you put it back into Eco mode and away you go.
Last time we went to Norfolk we had to drive to Kings Lynn to charge the car up and this time there were two charging points nearby, so they are spreading out quite quickly. As long as you plan what you’re doing it's not a problem.
But one issue that remains is access to the charging network. For a lot of them, if they're not free, you have to get a mobile signal, tap in, say that you are at such and such a point and you need electricity. So long as everything goes smoothly, it works brilliantly.
But it would be so much easier if I just had a credit card that I tagged on the post itself, they took the money off and we moved on again. That system is available in France, and I understand Holland has just done it as well. Anybody with an electric car can stop anywhere with their credit card, zap it and they’re away. That would make it a lot smoother.
It's just a pain that you can drive past various charge points and unless you are a member of the club, you can't use them. That’s why I say that the important message, more than anything else, is to plan ahead.
Just do it! Unless you’ve got the sort of job where you’re bouncing around all over the motorway and you need a car that’s going to do 250 or 300 miles in a single run. Unless you’re in that position – and the majority of people aren’t – get an electric car.