Buying an electric car? Read on

NEW YORK • The allure of the electric vehicle (EV) has never been stronger. Tesla is earning record profits. Volkswagen wants to make them cheaper than petrol-powered vehicles. And surveys show that at least two-thirds of American drivers are open to buying an EV.

It can feel overwhelming and exciting to someone in the market for a car. Here is how you should think about whether an EV is right for you.

Firstly, what are you looking for? Be honest. EVs are fast, are fun to drive, require little maintenance and produce no tailpipe emissions, a major contributor to climate change. But even if you are sure you want one, there are many to choose from. That is why it is important to understand what you are looking for.

"Is it basic transportation? Or is it an expression of yourself and your personality?" said Mr Matt DeLorenzo, senior managing editor for Kelley Blue Book. "Cars are a statement about their buyers."

Take Tesla, for example. It makes powerful, modern and fast EVs. But the appeal is also tied up in what a Tesla says about its owner. Buying one means buying into a community of early adopters - and, to an extent, into the views and visions of Mr Elon Musk, the company's magnetic and brash chief executive.

As a result, many people either love or hate Tesla. Some EVs, like the Hyundai Ioniq, the Nissan Leaf or the Mini Cooper SE, are economical and ecological alternatives to a petrol-powered car. Others, like the Porsche Taycan, are statement pieces that will set you back by a lot more than a Nissan Leaf.

Secondly, consider your charging plan. Your country's charging infrastructure may be growing, but anyone looking to switch to EVs should have a charging plan.

The first step is to determine where you will typically charge the vehicle. Some people do it at home, which is easiest. But with new electric cars able to drive 320km or more on a full charge, some drivers choose to refuel as needed at work or at public charging stations.

Some city residents have been known to unfurl long cables from homes to power vehicles parked on the street. (In Singapore, that is not allowed.)

Anyone without an easy way to charge should pay extra attention to the real-world range of the vehicle and how it might change in different conditions.

Thirdly, should you buy a Tesla? As the market leader, Tesla's cars and technology have been in use longer than EVs made by other automakers. It also has an easy-to-use charging network for the exclusive use of its cars. In Singapore, it plans to roll out its own charging network.

But the landscape is changing fast, say experts. Several new EVs hit the roads early this year, including Volkswagen's ID4 and Audi's e-tron. And carmakers are expected to introduce many more soon.

Some that car enthusiasts are eagerly awaiting include the Audi Q4 e-tron sport utility vehicle (SUV), BMW's i4 sedan, Hyundai's Ioniq 5 SUV and Nissan's Ariya SUV. Several start-ups are expected to start selling cars too, including Rivian.

Next, what can you afford? EVs cost more than similar petrol-powered vehicles, but the sticker price tells you only so much. Government tax breaks, scrap value and other savings can help to offset ownership cost.

They are also cheaper to operate. A recent Consumer Reports study found that the average EV driver will spend 60 per cent less to power the vehicle and half as much on repairs and maintenance when compared with the average owner of a petrol-powered vehicle.

For those who cannot easily charge at or near their homes, experts recommend plug-in hybrids. An option like the Volvo XC40 T5 Recharge could serve as an all-electric vehicle. The Volvo has an electric-only range of around 40km, while Mercedes-Benz will roll out plug-in hybrids with a claimed electric range of 100km.

If used mostly for commutes to work and trips around town, the cars could rarely use fuel. The downside is if they are not plugged in regularly, they could be far costlier to run than petrol equivalents. Sticker prices of plug-in hybrids are also high.

Of course, petrol-powered cars have grown increasingly efficient and choosing one wisely can help reduce emissions if you are upgrading your vehicle.

Yet many people buy cars based on what they consider attractive. And if you are wowed by the features and design of an EV, you might find it hard to settle for anything else, Mr DeLorenzo said. "It's a different experience. It's not the same as owning a regular car, for sure. So there's something to be said for that."


Additional reporting by Christopher Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2021, with the headline 'Buying an electric car? Read on'. Subscribe