If there’s one cost that motorists are more sensitive to than any other it is that of fuel. So sensitive in fact that forecourt prices are displayed to a tenth of a penny, as if such coinage actually existed to allow people to pay bills that ran to a fraction of a pence.
In part this hyper-awareness has helped keep the petrol and diesel market remarkably competitive. The difference in price between one service station and another is rarely more than a few pence per litre. Even at the extremes there is unlikely to be more than a 30-40% price differential between the keenest supermarket and the most expensive motorway service area or far-flung forecourt in the remotest corner of the country.
Yet this is not the case with electricity. Work the RAC Foundation is carrying out suggests that the cost of recharging your battery-powered car can swing wildly with prices highly dependent on where and when you plug-in, what speed you recharge at and who is operating the facility and providing the power.
The good news is that overnight charging at domestic rates at home can cost as little as a few pence per kilowatt hour. However, contrast that with the dizzying news that you could pay as much as ten times that if you decide to ‘fill up’ at certain ultra-rapid chargepoints on the motorway network.
It is also worth remembering that these prices do not yet include any equivalent form of fuel duty, the Chancellor’s method of extracting 57.95p from every litre of petrol and diesel sold no matter what the underlying cost of the product. Retailers couldn’t give fossil fuel away even if they wanted to because the Treasury would require its fuel duty revenue (oh, plus income from the VAT levied on top of the duty).
All of this matters because it is the cheap per-mile running cost of an EV that is a key selling point. Forget that the purchase price of an EV is usually higher, even with the benefit of a government grant of up to £3,500, than similar petrol or diesel models, just think of the negligible fuel bills. Or so goes the narrative. But it is clear this is not quite the full story.
The Prime Minister has recently announced that he foresees 2035 as being the date at which new petrol and diesel car sales will be banned – and his transport secretary thinks it will be three years sooner still – but for pure EVs to have significantly more than a 1.5% share of the UK’s new car market (which they did in 2019) then some fuel pricing simplicity is necessary as is a significant reduction in the list price of the vehicles. At the moment there is no guarantee of either.