If there’s one thing every motoring journalist dreads, it’s a request from a family member, friend or casual acquaintance for specific car buying advice. If things go wrong, you can be on the hook for a long time.
For years, I negotiated this particular minefield by telling people to get a Skoda Octavia. How could anyone possibly have a bad experience with a car full of Volkswagen bits that cost less than the VW Golf on which it was based, but was much roomier inside? This apparently bomb-proof safety-first recommendation only really came unstuck when I eventually decided to follow my own advice and ended up owning what must surely have been the only unreliable Skoda Octavia ever to leave Mladá Boleslav. Even then, given the potential for a duff car buying recommendation to sour relations with friends or family, I was almost glad that I ended up being the one who drew the short straw, rather than one of my advice-seekers.
The other day, the traditional awkward question presented itself, with a new twist, when an old friend decided to pick my brain about what electric car she should buy. An electric car recommendation carries all of the usual hazards, but adds a few new ones besides. So I was relieved that my friend had taken the time to acquaint herself with some of the main issues that arise with electric car ownership and had adjusted her sights accordingly. The first of these is the potential for what the Americans call “sticker shock” – in this case via the high initial prices of many electric cars compared with petrols and diesels. You need to do quite a lot of research in order to understand fully how the all-in cost of ownership of an electric car can often match or beat that of a smoker, once tax breaks and the far lower running costs are taken into account. The second is that it is often difficult for buyers to assess how much range they really need. The main risks here are ending up with a car that doesn’t fulfil a driver’s basic needs, or less obviously, unnecessarily spending a lot of money on extra range that is rarely needed.
My friend’s budget is about £20,000 and she thought she needed at least 120 miles of range. She had also come up with a short list that included popular choices such as the BMW i3, the Nissan Leaf and the Renault Zoe. This all narrowed things down in a way that looked very sensible to me. I probed my friend about how she would use her car, and her minimum range figure appeared sound, too.
Fortunately, I was still able to advance things by explaining how her choice might be a bit wider than she supposed. Her initial assumption was that even with a decent £20K budget, she would probably be looking at second-hand options, but I added one candidate that wasn’t on her list, but would be available at about her target price as a new car – the recently upgraded Volkswagen e-Up!
I also pointed her in the direction of my favourite type of buy, deals on pre-registered delivery miles cars, which can be slower-selling models registered by dealers in their own name to hit sales targets. These tend to be less widely available with electric power, which are mostly in short supply, but before the lockdown, pre-reg MG ZS EVs, e-Golfs and Leafs were all available at not much more than £20K. The hope is that some of these deals will reappear as the market normalises, giving my friend a few more options to choose from, if she can stretch her budget a little bit.
After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, the e-Up! seems to be edging ahead of the Leaf in her deliberations, especially after I pointed out a few pluses of the e-Up! in terms of future-proofing and long-term ownership. I think the e-Up! will hold its value well because it is a) electric b) small and c) a Volkswagen. It is also available with CCS rapid charging, the increasingly dominant European standard, or in slightly cheaper cloned form as a SEAT Mii Electric or a Skoda Citigo-e iV.
Now it’s all down to the test drives, but I think my friend will soon be joining the growing ranks of electric car drivers. And, with decades of friendship at stake, I will be keeping my fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong.