The sale of low-emissions is one small bright spot in a tough time for the new car market.
New registrations have been falling month-on-month for more than a year, with alternatively fuelled vehicles such as electric cars and hybrids one of the few segments seeing growth.
And it’s been rapid growth - EVs were up 243 per cent in February while plug-in hybrid (PHEVs) were up 50 per cent. However they still account for less than six per cent of all new registrations and there remains a lot of confusion about the options available and their suitability for different drivers’ requirements.
For a detailed breakdown of the difference between different low-emissions vehicles read our guide here.
To address some of the broader questions, we’ve spoken to James Fairclough, CEO of AA Cars, about some of the things to think about when looking for a low-emissions vehicle, as well as some of the best new and used options to consider.
How much will it cost to buy a new hybrid or electric car?
For many, the upfront cost will be the biggest consideration. Thankfully, manufacturers have been investing heavily in hybrid and electric cars in recent years, meaning there are now new low-emission cars to suit many budgets which can be bought with or without car finance.
New hybrid cars typically start from £16,000 upwards and new electric cars range from £20,000 to beyond £100,000.
How much will it cost to run a low emission car?
While charging an electric car will increase your electricity bill, depending on the electricity supplier it can work out at as little as 2p per mile, making electric cars better value for money than the cost of fuelling conventional petrol or diesel engines.
The cost is dependent on your energy tariff, the location of the charging point and the size of your car's battery. Recent research has found huge differences between the cost of home charging and using faster public charging networks.
In general, electric cars require less maintenance than conventional vehicles because there are fewer moving parts, which could also help save money on repairs.
The cost of running a hybrid vehicle will depend on how often you are using and refuelling with petrol or diesel. If you have a plug-in hybrid, this will also require some at-home charging.
One common concern for electric cars, is the long-term life of the battery and the potential cost of a replacement. To allay these worries, manufacturers frequently offer long warranties - usually seven or eight years - on the batteries, sometimes longer than the warranty for the rest of the car.
Can I buy a good quality second-hand low-emission vehicle?
Yes, absolutely. Used and nearly new electric and hybrid vehicles are in high demand by car dealers, and there are many great makes and models entering the dealership forecourts every day, at significant discounts to the new price for similar vehicles. Many of the cars available are nearly new, and still within the manufacturers’ warranty period.
As with any used cars, it is sensible to look for a car with a full service history. This will mean it will have had all its software updates, and regular inspections to ensure it is in full working order. It is also a good idea to get an independent vehicle inspection for any specific car that you are keen to buy.
For those cars that fall outside the manufacturers’ warranty period, it may be a good idea to invest in a new warranty for the car. You can find these at most dealers or online.
Where will you charge an electric battery?
According to recent research, around 80 per cent of charging is done at home. The Government’s Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme (EVHS) provides grant funding of 75 per cent, up to a maximum £500, for installing smart electric vehicle charge points at home.
However, you may also need to make use of charging points away from home too, so it is worth checking where charging locations are, both near to your home and along the routes that you regularly drive.
There are now 22,500 places to charge across the country, and that number is growing every day, but local availability still varies greatly. London, for instance, has 4,000 public electric vehicle charging points, but there are still more than 100 local authorities with fewer than 10 public charging devices per 100,000 residents.
If you think you will need to regularly charge your car away from home, and there are no easy-access charging points along your regular routes, a hybrid may suit you better.
Will an EV have enough range for me?
A question to ask yourself when you start researching low-emission cars is how far you travel on a daily basis.
Electric cars have improved enormously in terms of range, but they still can’t quite compete with traditional fuels. Current maximum ranges vary from around 75 miles to 350. Research suggests 94 per cent of journeys are under 25 miles, and since many electric cars are now capable of covering at least 200 miles between charges, this is more than adequate for most journeys.
If your typical driving pattern involves a short commute to and from work every day and general driving around town, then both electric and hybrid cars are in the mix. However, if your priority is for a car that has the lowest emissions, electric is likely to be the best choice.
If you are clocking up tens of thousands of miles on long-distance journeys on an annual basis, an electric car may not have the range you are looking for.
Plug-in hybrids currently have an electric (zero-emissions) range of 15 to 40 miles, depending on battery size and driving conditions, but also boast a petrol or diesel engine, which runs in the same way as your traditional car. This might be the better option if you make regular longer journeys.
James Fairclough’s shortlist of low emission car models to consider
Tesla Model 3 (Electric)
New (most recent model): From £39,000
Used (all models included): From £39,000
If you asked anyone to name an electric car brand, Tesla would immediately leap to mind. Its Model 3 has a 348-mile range, better than any of its competitors. Although it is Tesla’s cheapest model, it still commands a higher price tag than entry-level electric cars from other manufacturers and this can put it out of reach for many drivers. The relative rarity of Teslas can also unfortunately make them difficult to find on the used market at the moment.
Nissan Leaf (Electric)
New (most recent model): From £26,345
Used car (all models included): From £5,400
The more affordable Nissan Leaf has established itself as one of the best all-electric cars in Europe. The hatchback comes with 435 litres of boot space but its standard range of 168 miles from one charge may not be enough for all drivers. Its enhanced Leaf e+ with a larger battery promising 239 miles could fit the bill, however. Bearing in mind that first generation cars had smaller batteries with significantly shorter range.
Range Rover PHEV (Hybrid)
New (most recent model): From £89,300
Used car (all models included): From £41,250
SUVs are not renowned for their environmental credentials, which makes Ranger Rover’s plug-in hybrid vehicle a great addition to the market. It pairs a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine with a 105kW electric motor and 13kWh battery pack, achieving up to 25 miles on electric power alone.
Hyundai Ioniq (Hybrid and Electric)
New (most recent model): From £22,795
Price of used car (all models included): From £11,990
The Ioniq line-up comes in three types; hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric. The hybrid’s battery is charged by the engine and during braking, whereas the plug-in hybrid can also be fully charged via a wallbox or public charger. All three models are affordable yet refined hatchbacks, great for driving the family around town and also cheaper than the likes of the popular Toyota Prius.
Kia Niro (Hybrid and Electric)
New (most recent model): From £24,855
Price of used car (all models included): From £13,950
Kia made its first entry into AA Cars’ best-selling marques list in 2019, and its compact crossover Niro range includes a self-charging hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric e-Niro which boasts 282 miles of range. It has slightly more room for passengers in the back than the Hyundai Ioniq, but this needs to be weighed up against its smaller boot space.