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In an update to our original assessment (here) we look at how the electric vehicle landscape has changed in the last two years.

The move to ban sales of petrol and diesel cars in the UK from 2030 piqued our interest in revisiting this topic. Moreover, there has been a great deal of change in the electric vehicle (EV) space in the last two years and some competing technologies emerging too. The updates to this analysis include the changes to carbon emissions for the UK grid, the changes in sale prices of all vehicles, the changes in battery technology used in EVs and the emergence of competing technologies such as hydrogen and synthetic fuels.

In this updated example we will look at all members of the Golf family (petrol, diesel, hybrid and a battery EV) for a relatively level playing field in terms of making a comparison. Yes, you cannot actually get your hands on an eGolf very easily as the vast majority of the supply is already going to China, but for the purposes of this example we will assume you can go and buy one in the UK.

The cost comparison is very similar to our previous analysis. However, due to advancements in combustion engines in this time and the more prevalent use of small 3- or 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol engines the petrol vehicle is not only still the most cost effective option for the first three years it has extended that to the first 5 years. Throughout the 20-year lifetime the lowest cost option is always between the EV and the petrol vehicle with the diesel and hybrid models never featuring (this may differ with higher mileages). It is interesting to see the hybrid is not in play here, especially considering this is likely to be the most popular compromise post-2030, but there are a few factors for this. It is not possible to buy a mild hybrid golf until much higher up in the specification range which leads to a substantially higher initial purchase price and with the very mild nature of the hybrid system the economy is not vastly improved and thus it is not able to redeem that initial offset in the through life running costs. An interesting addition to this study was a hydrogen model. Ok, not a Golf, but the Toyota Mirai as that is one of the only hydrogen fuel cell cars you can buy in the UK. They are not sold in large numbers (at all) – only 10-20 per year in the last two years, but they are on UK streets. Given the immaturity of the technology the initial vehicle price simply puts it out of the running in this cost comparison. Similarly, the relatively high cost of hydrogen (~£15/kg which would get you about 62miles of range) means it is actually diverging from the other propulsion types studied here. However, this will be an interesting area to revisit in 12-18 months’ time as the hydrogen infrastructure and planning is gathering serious pace and could present a very different picture very shortly.

Looking at lifetime emissions it is positive to see that the UK grid average CO2 emissions was on target with the predictions made in our last assessment, now sitting at ~180gCO2/kWh. Once again the battery electric vehicle is in a league of its own in terms of reduced emissions despite some slight improvements in internal combustion engines. Petrol and diesel vehicles are almost identical whilst the hybrid vehicle presents a strong middle ground. It is the batter EV that really stands out even compared to the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. This is because of the inefficiencies in producing hydrogen (~39kWh/kg) and then converting that back into electrical energy once again in the fuel cell to power the electric motors in a Mirai. This serves to highlight that production of any fuel (or a middleman to store energy) does come with an emissions penalty, but also with the benefits of rapid refuelling.

Speaking of refuelling, in the last couple of years a lot of research has gone into synthetic fuels. The idea is to produce synthetic petrol and diesel fuels compatible with internal combustion engines in a carbon neutral process. By means of an example Porsche has teamed up with Siemens, Enel, AME and ENAP to build a plant in Chile powered solely by wind turbines to produce these fuels in an emission free way. The production volume is very low, targeting jus 130,000 litres by 2022 (0.0003% of the UK’s annual fuel consumption), but with ambitions to ramp up production to over 50million litres by 2024. This will be an interesting area to watch as there are concerns over the mining of minerals for use in batteries and many car manufacturers have a vested interest in the longevity of internal combustion engines. We expect to see significant investment in this area to increase production volumes and reduce fuel costs (currently estimated at £4/l before taxes).


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