Last month, I went looking for an electric car.
My only real requirement was a range of at least 350 ‘real’ kilometres per charge. To my dismay, I found almost nothing available for under €50,000 — a price level I can’t justify nor afford.
Even the electric cars at around that price — Kia’s new EV6, Hyundai’s Ioniq 5, VW’s ID.4 or Skoda’s Enyaq iV, to name a few — aren’t guaranteed to do this basic range. As umpteen real-world reviews point out, anything from a motorway trip to driving in January can decimate most electric cars’ claimed ranges by up to a third.
For those coming to this fresh, I’d recommend Skoda.ie’s helpful online range calculator.
For its top-range Enyaq iV 80 (from €45,000), this online calculator displays a range of 514km. But that, Skoda’s calculator says, is for a summer day in the city with one person in ‘eco’ driving mode. Change those settings to two people on a highway in winter in ‘normal’ driving mode, and Skoda says the range is halved to 268km.
That’s 268km from a €45,000 car. You can forget your family’s plans to go to Kerry, Donegal, West Cork or Mayo. Or, if you’re adventurous, you’ll have to hope that whatever small handful of public chargers are available on those routes are free and fully working — and that you’re not saddled with a ‘slow’ charger which can take hours to give you enough juice to get you back on the road.
Many people selling or marketing electric cars point out most people rarely do trips of over 300km, and if they do it shouldn’t be too much to ask them to plan it logistically a bit more and allow for more time to get there.
In an era when we’re facing a climate crisis partially due to reliance on cars, this is patently reasonable.
But it is also reasonable to point out lots of people want to be able to move a family more than 200km or 300km on occasion — to visit relatives, for staycations, for ‘away’ sports events and the like.
While it’s perfectly sensible to argue these trips can sometimes still happen with some planning around public recharging steps, sometimes they simply cannot.
If I drive from Dublin to Belmullet in Co Mayo — around 330km one way — I have very few options to recharge anywhere west of the Shannon. And if I do actually make it, there are just a couple of charging points locally to serve an area of hundreds of square kilometres and thousands of people.
To make things worse, those chargers are ‘slow’ ones (22kw), meaning it takes four to six hours to recharge most current electric cars.
Who would risk that trip?
Belmullet’s situation is replicated in many parts of the country.
We don’t have anything like an adequate charging infrastructure to sustain a country that still needs private vehicles for its population to move, due to a scarcity of public transportation options.
This is not to blame fuel station owners, the ESB, or electric car manufacturers (although it’s notable that even the world’s richest billionaire, Elon Musk, has barely bothered to put any Tesla superchargers into Ireland, years after Tesla cars were put on sale here). It’s simply stating a fact: there are very, very few public electric charging points available.
It remains a fair point to say this lack of recharging availability around Ireland shouldn’t kill all drivers’ plans to get an electric car.
If you have a home charger (which means you don’t live in an apartment or a terraced city street house) there’s no reason an electric car shouldn’t be your everyday car for the vast majority of your trips.
And if you do need to travel farther afield on occasion, perhaps you can simply rent a diesel car (if you can find one).
But even here, range isn’t the only barrier with your city runaround.
As last week’s Oireachtas Committee on electric cars heard, there is still a ridiculous gap in affordability between the most affordable fossil fuel cars versus electric ones: between a €15,000 Dacia (with a range to get almost anywhere in Ireland and back) versus a €28,000 Renault Zoe, Peugeot 208, Kia Niro or Nissan Leaf (all with ranges limited to well under 300km).
This grates when I hear some of the exchanges on this topic. There is often a blind spot about acknowledging the elephant in the room. How many Irish people can really afford a €28,000 Ford Fiesta sized car? Let alone a €40,000 or €50,000 family car?
I know there is an alternative view to all of this, that we should stop relying on cars as much in the first place, whether they are electric or not. This was aired fairly well in last week’s Oireachtas Committee debate.
So maybe we should simply buy fewer cars, or at least keep the ones we have for longer. If our motivation is to be greener, then it’s probably better not to be driving a private vehicle at all.
With all this in mind, I’ve postponed my car search for this year. I don’t want to buy another diesel car, I want to buy an electric car. Hybrids seem like a cop-out when, on long journeys, you’re mostly using petrol anyway.
But despite the improvement in electric car sales, there’s still a swathe of people for whom they don’t yet make travel sense.