Money Matters Team

Going for green

By Money Matters Team 28/08/2012

Should you switch to an energy-efficient car? Mark Rowe considers the options...

In recent years, a range of plug-in pure electric, hybrid electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles have come onto the market, providing more choice to those wishing to trade in a conventional petrol or diesel car for something greener.

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Hybrid cars run on both fossil fuel and electricity and use the combustion engine or friction caused by braking to recharge the electric drive. Plug-in hybrid cars use mains electricity to recharge the battery.

In the past five years, almost 100,000 hybrid vehicles have been sold in the UK, with the market dominated by Toyota and its Prius model, and Lexus. Electric-only vehicles, meanwhile, require a plug-in point to recharge and are less popular, with just 1,107 registered in the UK by the end of 2011. The bestseller in the first quarter of 2012 was the Nissan Leaf (202 vehicles sold), followed by the Mitsubishi i-MiEV (69 sold) and the Citroën C-Zero, which sold just 11 vehicles.

So, can driving a hybrid or electric car be good for your bank balance, as well as the environment? The bad news is that alternative fuel cars come with a hefty price tag. ‘They haven’t really taken off yet,’ says Claire Evans, deputy editor of Which? Car magazine. ‘They are still fairly expensive.

The Mitsubishi i-MiEV retails at more than £30,000 and you have to be very dedicated to spend that much money on what is essentially a small car.’ On the plus side, they have lower running costs. The Riva G-Wizz electric travels at 228 miles per gallon equivalent, the VW Polo Blue Motion diesel hybrid clocks in at 83mpg and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV can cost just £376 to charge for 12,000 miles. Other perks include no road tax or congestion charge in London, plus free parking for electric-only cars in London’s Westminster. Glasgow is to introduce free parking and no car tax for pure electric vehicles, too, and a discount on car tax for hybrids very soon.

You can also apply for a government grant – 25% of the upfront cost (capped at £5,000) of a new, eligible plug-in car. On balance, though, price and depreciation generally exceed low running costs. ‘For plug-in cars, the battery depreciation wipes out any savings,’ says Dr Ben Lane, managing editor of ‘You lose less money with the plug-in hybrid, but the market for recycling old hybrid or plug-in batteries isn’t yet known.’ Only with a non-plug-in hybrid vehicle can owners expect to break even.

Other considerations include finding convenient charging points. At its most economical, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV still requires a seven-hour recharge every 93 miles – an impractical 28 hours charging time for a drive from London to Edinburgh. If the worst happens and your battery goes flat, most manufacturers provide a call-out service.

Meanwhile, charging points are becoming more common – the Source London electric vehicle network aims to have 1,300 of them by 2014. Sainsbury’s began fitting charge points in its London car parks in 2009, and aims to install them at all stores in large cities by 2020. Elsewhere, Oxford, Newcastle and Milton Keynes have established charging networks.

Whatever you drive, there are ways to be more energy efficient on the road

•The key to saving money when driving is to remember that good driving and green driving are not mutually exclusive, according to the Environmental Transport Association (ETA). In fact, the two go hand in hand as the figures show when it comes to the speed at which you drive your vehicle. Emissions are generally at their lowest between 50mph and 60mph. You can use up to 25% more fuel to drive at 70mph compared with 50mph. But vehicles emit the most pollution at speeds of below 15mph – hence the push for urban electric cars.

•The lighter the load in the car, the less fuel you use, so make sure there’s nothing in the boot or back seat that you don’t need for the trip. Leave your child’s buggy, golf clubs or camping gear at home unless you need them. Also, remove the roof rack, if you’re not using it, because it adds weight and makes the vehicle less aerodynamic.

•Check your tyres! The ETA says fuel consumption rises by 1% for every 6psi a tyre is under-inflated.

Did You Know?

The UK speed record for an electric car is 137mph, set in 2000 by Don Wales, a descendant of the Campbell family, which has a clutch of world speed records.

This post was written by Money Matters contributor Mark Rowe.

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