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30 September 2011 Electric vehiclesven if you're not a fan of a certain BBC motoring programme, it can't have escaped your notice that electric cars are a hot topic for debate. They're in the news, on the covers of magazines, much-discussed via social media - and on the roads in increasing numbers as well. Going electric will not suit every business user or company, and the variety of electric vehicles (EVs) available is still quite limited, but the choice has increased well beyond the likes of the G-Wiz, expensive one-off aftermarket conver­sions and the milk float. Mainstream manufacturers are now offering practical and attractive EVs which could make electrically-driven mileage a viable proposition.EPOWER UP"An electric vehicle can reinforce a company's green credentials" John Handcock, CitroënCould you electrify your business motoring? Farah Alkalisi reports£5,000Government subsidy towards the cost of a new electric vehicle2pTypical fuel cost of an electric car (per mile)£1,000Potential maximum cost of installing a charging pointFinancial factorsThe Government is encouraging both private motorists and business users to buy electric vehicles, and the Depart­ment for Transport's Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) continues to offer grants of up to £5,000 per car in a scheme which will run until the end of March 2012. Electric cars are currently exempt from annual road tax and benefit-in-kind (for the next five years), and qualify for a 100% first-year writing down allowance. London-based businesses or users travelling into central London will perhaps benefit the most, however: EVs are exempt from the £10-a-day congestion charge, giving a potential saving of around £2,500 a year (cars must be registered with Transport for London, costing £10 a year). With fuel costs ever-increasing, energy prices as low as 2p per mile have to be worth considering. A full charge (giving 90-100 miles in a typical EV) can cost less than £1 or, at worst, up to approximately £3.50, depending on the electricity tariff used: charging overnight on a cheap off-peak tariff is the best option. Peugeot calculates a saving of more than £1,765 for a 10,000-mile year in the Ion, compared to a car returning 30mpg. Although electric cars remain expensive to buy, and residual values remain an uncertainty, manufacturers are aiming to ease concerns by offering comprehensive all-in lease deals which cover servicing and all routine maintenance, as well as meas­ures to reassure customers over battery life. "Our leasing solution is a creative way of our assuming the responsibility for the vehicle and its future value, and tackling anxiety over an emerging technology", says Citroën spokesman John Handcock, of the £415-a-month lease plan for the C-Zero. "It's a fixed amount of money and all you have to do is charge it and insure it."Renault has taken the step of leasing the batteries of the forthcoming Kangoo Van Z.E. and Fluence Z.E. saloon separately, with all repair, replacement or maintenance covered as part of the deal. While manufacturers recommend that you recharge using an approved, dedicated power point - and not an extension lead from a domestic socket - the £250-£1,000 cost of installing your own facility at a workplace can be regarded as a legitimate business expense and is thus tax-deductible. Some local councils will offer free charging at on-street charging points, and some local authorities are issuing reduced-rate - or even free - parking permits for EVs.Green credentialsIt makes sense for a firm or organisation with an environ­mentally-friendly outlook, or one dealing with eco prod­ucts, to practise what they preach. "Our fleet customers often have a very green-oriented mission statement", says Handcock, "and there are commercial benefits, i.e. rein­forcing their green credentials by running an EV". Peugeot's Ion customers include solar technology devel­oper G24i of Cardiff, which will use the wind turbine which generates power for its HQ to recharge its two cars. Though not every EV user will be able to fit their own solar array or harness wind power, and much domestic electricity in the UK still comes from gas or coal-fired power stations, many EV owners choose to sign up to a September 2011 31EVs available now:renewable-source supplier or to a 'green' tariff. And though sceptics have pointed out that EVs are typically more carbon-intensive in their manufacture than vehicles with conventional powertrains, recent research for the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership has found that, over their projected lifespan, EVs still win out over fossil fuels.Suitable applicationsAn electric vehicle won't suit every business user, given the limited range between recharges, but for low mileage use, EVs can be appropriate. "There are (Citroën) customers with a very specific need which fits well with EVs, such as public sector or local authority, or delivering mate­rials from one fixed point to the next, in a finite area within an urban setting," explains Handcock. EVs are also working to supplement conventional cars in larger fleets. The Nissan Leaf is being trialled by corpora­tions such as Coca Cola, British Gas and the National Grid, according to Nissan's fleet sales director Barry Beeston, as well as by local councils. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi has delivered its I-Miev to the likes of the Environment Agency, councils in Camarthenshire and North Lanarkshire - and even to Thames Valley Police. At the moment, most EV users recharge at home or at their workplace, as research trials such as the MINI E programme have found. However, Peugeot's Kevin Jones says that the biggest orders for the Ion so far have come "from areas where there's been a concentration of facilities. It depends on where the charging zone initiatives are.".As a public recharging infrastructure grows, EVs will be able to travel further afield - especially once fast-charge points are installed at service stations, in car parks and in other public areas. Such developments are well underway; all Welcome Break motorway service stations will feature chargers within 18 months, for example. It's still early days for the electrification of business motoring, but it's going to get easier, as well as more widespread.PROs:n BIK exemption, London congestion charge exemption, other financial incentivesn Charging is far cheaper per mile than refuelling with petrol or dieseln A great way to proclaim your 'green' credentialsn Zero tailpipe emissions, and even more environmental benefits if you recharge using renewable-source electricityn Convenient all-in lease deals availableCONs: n Electric vehicles are still expensive to buy, despite OLEV grantsn Limited range between rechargesn You'll need somewhere off-street to recharge, and to install a chargern Public recharging infrastructure still very patchyn Still some worries over durability, battery life and residual valuesCitroën C-ZeroRange: 93 milesCharging: Seven hours or 80% on a 30-minute quick chargePrice: N/ALease: £415 per month (ex VAT) over four years/40,000 miles, including battery pack and all servicing and routine maintenanceWarranty: Two-year manufacturer warranty/ six-year dealer warrantyEnergy costs: "As little as £1.50 for 93 miles" for electricity; typically "about 2p a mile"Mitsubishi I-MievRange: 93 milesCharging: Seven hours or 80% on a 30-minute quick chargePrice: £28,990Lease: After three months' initial payment, £399 + VAT a month over 47 months (10,000 miles a year)Warranty: Five-year battery warranty, three-year vehicle warrantyEnergy costs: Full charge from £1.05 (depending on electricity tariff); "£270 for 12,000 miles" (2.25p a mile) overallNissan LeafRange: 109 milesCharging: Eight hours using the recommended British Gas-supplied charger; 80% in 30 minutes quick-chargePrice: £30,990Lease: PCP - £399.55 a month over 36 months (£5775 deposit), including servicingWarranty: 3yr/60,000 miles, 5yr/60,000 miles for electric drivetrain componentsCosts: Full charge from £1.30; "2p per mile"Peugeot IonRange: 93 milesCharging: Around nine hours from a domestic supply; 50% in 15 min and 80% in 30 min at a quick-charge point. Price: £27,032.50 + VATLease: From £415 a month over 48 months, including servicing and batteryWarranty: two-year manufacturer warranty/six-year dealer cover (to 80,000 miles)Costs: £1.93 for 93 milesRenault Kangoo Van ZERange: 100 milesCharging: Six to eight hours for a full charge, depending on power supplyPrice: £16,990 + VATLease: Battery lease £59 per month + VAT (over four years/9,000 miles)Warranty: Three years (up to 100,000 miles); powertrain up to five years (100,000 miles)