16:36 17 January 2013
Only a few years ago, the only electric vehicles on the road were slow-moving milk floats. Electric passenger cars were certainly things of the future.
And the future was due to start sometime around the year 2000, when we'd all wear silver suits, ride on hoverboards and holiday on the moon.
Some 13 years into that future and we still can't chill out on the moon or buy a hoverboard, and silver suits are a rarity outside hip districts of London, but at least there is a growing number of electric vehicles on the road to suit all types of motorist, from the family-sized Nissan Leaf to Lotus' sports hybrid, the Evora.
However, these eco-friendly electric models account for less than 1% of the 32million vehicles currently clogging up Britain's roads and, if the findings of a recent study by KMPG are anything to go by, this figure could be set to dwindle even further.
KPMG's annual Global Automotive Executive Survey found that consumers were not as keen on electric vehicles as they once were, largely due to a combination of vehicle cost, short battery range and the perceived difficulty in recharging.
And this fall in demand has led to has led to a fall in production, as some manufacturers move towards fuel cell technology while others look at ways to make their traditional engines more fuel efficient.
But what if there were a massive shift towards electric vehicles? Would we all be better off financially and would there be noticeable environmental benefits? Let's don our silver suits and take a step into a world where the electric car is king...
Are electric cars more environmentally friendly?
They emit around 50% fewer emissions than their fossil-fuelled counterparts, so it's universally accepted that electric cars are more environmentally friendly.
In recognition of this, and to try and persuade more people to go electric, the government has introduced a number of incentives for electric car owners, such as exemption from road tax and congestion charges.
However, while the cars themselves may be cleaner, if the electricity used in their manufacture is not produced cleanly, then electric cars may actually cause more harm to the environment than petrol or diesel-powered cars.
A study by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology concluded that greenhouse gas emissions rose considerably if coal was burned to produce the electricity - so the damage might already have been done before the cars have even left the production line!
On the other hand, switching to electric vehicles would save millions of gallons of petrol and diesel - 295,050,000,028 gallons every year, to be precise - which would be of definite benefit to the environment and could lessen the need for fracking to find fossil fuels.
Are electric cars cheaper to run?
While there's some debate on the environmental impact of electric cars, there's no question that they are cheaper to run than combustion engine vehicles. Aside from the obvious savings on road tax and congestion charges, if you own an electric vehicle you can often get cheaper car insurance to the tune of around 5%.
And remember that you can get a government grant towards the cost of buying a new electric car - this is worth 25% off the cost of the car up to £5,000.
When it comes to fuel, the costs aren't as straightforward as they first seem. When fuel costs are taken at face value, our number crunching showed that the average cost of running a petrol car is £1.42 per mile, compared to the £0.14 per mile it costs to power an electric car.
But the calculations get a little more complicated when you factor in things such as the type of battery, its capacity and age, and you'll also have to make sure you're on a suitable energy tariff http if you're charging it from home. If you're in an area that has council-installed charging posts, though, you should be able to charge your car for free.
There are currently around 200 locations across the UK and Ireland where an electric car can be charged, all of which are highlighted on the interactive map below, or you can visit http://www.ev-network.org.uk/ for more information.
However, if we take average consumption figures and calculate the amount you would save on fuel costs, insurance and road tax, then running an electric car instead of a petrol or diesel model could save you close to £1,000 per year.
However, this saving doesn't seem so great when you consider the higher purchase price of electric vehicles. For instance, the Vauxhall Ampera costs £30,000, even after the government's £5,000 grant, which is twice as much as an entry-level Ford Focus.
And then there's the depreciation. Not only will you lose money as the car gets older, as you would with any car, but batteries only have a certain shelf-life and usually come with a 10-year or mileage limit warranty.
So the closer your odometer gets to the 100,000-mile mark, the harder it may be to shift your car as there's a good chance that the battery will need replacing in the not-too-distant future.
What about fuel duty?
There's an odd contradiction at work when it comes to the government and electric vehicles. Although there are official incentives for people to go electric, there would be a massive hole in the government's balance sheet if we were all to start driving electric cars.
The loss in fuel duty would amount to not far short of £20billion (£19,571,463,841.78), while cheaper car insurance would see a tax shortfall of £37,478,445.62. The loss of road tax would leave a £5bn (£4,861,220,980) black hole.
And although the government could claw back almost £420million (£418,499,283.81) in tax on the extra electricity used, this would still leave a deficit of £25billion (£24,181,663,983.60) - bang goes the NHS, then!
Transport for London would also count the cost if we all drove electric cars. It's estimated that the London congestion charge generates around £130million a year - but if we all went electric then they wouldn't make a penny (unless, of course, they just changed the rules).
Positive or negative?
All of which seems to leave things in the balance: on the one hand, we each stand to save on running costs, but this would be far outweighed by the taxes that would be imposed to make up the shortfall.
And while the cars themselves are better for the environment, the more intensive manufacturing methods and materials involved means any benefit could be offset by the added pollutants thrown into the atmosphere at the production stage.
If we're realistic, however, it's doubtful that there'll ever be a time when all vehicles are electric. What seems most likely is that they will be just one of a number of alternatively-powered vehicles and will co-exist alongside hybrids, hydrogen fuel cells, natural gas.
And maybe even hoverboards.
Follow Les on Twitter @LesRobertsMSM
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