British drivers who choose electric cars or plug-in hybrid models to save money while doing their bit to help the UK combat climate change have been hit with shocking news, after the main provider of motorway charging points for electric cars announced it will introduce a £5 fee for a 20-minute rapid charge.
The decision was taken by Ecotricity, a Gloucestershire-based company that until recently was the sole provider of charging points for electric cars at Britain’s motorway service stations.
Until now, anyone driving an electric car or plug-in hybrid could top up the vehicle’s battery for free at nearly 300 points around the UK. It helped to make long distance trips practical, kept motoring costs to a minimum, and ultimately proved an attractive package for a meaningful number of drivers.
In 2015, sales of these so-called green cars more than doubled, rising to 45,326, from 20,522 in 2014, says the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
This should be good news. Electric cars and plug-in hybrid models are viewed by the government as a key way to help lower the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. It wants nearly 10% of all new cars sold to be electrically powered by 2020.
However, Ecotricity says that demand for its ‘charging pumps’ trebled last year, prompting a rethink in how the company maintains and grows the network. From Monday (11 July) drivers will have to pay a £5 fee to plug in to one of its points, and must download an app for their smartphone to use the charging pumps.
Ecotricity added that customers who subscribe to its domestic energy supply will still be allowed to charge for free.
Drivers confused over whether to buy diesel, petrol or PHEV
For drivers who were left reeling by the VW Dieselgate emissions scandal, and are considering ditching diesel in favour of cleaner electric or hybrid cars, the situation is likely to be confusing, at best.
And the set back comes after the Government slashed the grants available to any buyer of a plug-in electric car. In March, it imposed stricter targets for cars to be eligible, meaning that the most popular plug-in hybrid on sale, the Mitsubishi Outlander, qualified for just £2500 off its price, rather than £5000.
Owners of electric and plug-in hybrid cars alike have expressed their disappointment at the move to charge £5 for a 20-minute battery boost. Some fear it means it would be cheaper to run a diesel or petrol car if you regularly travel long distances.
Sarah Wheeldon, who owns a Mitsubishi Outland PHEV, said on Twitter that she was “hugely disappointed in the charges @ecotricity are introducing. £5/20 miles for my Outlander is more expensive than petrol. Bad move.”
Lance Bradley, the managing director of Mitsubishi (UK) that makes the Outlander, the UK’s best selling plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV), said it was disappointing and that he could not understand why the cost of a 20 minute top-up should be so expensive.
Ecotricity said it believes that “by 2030 every new car should be electric (pure or hybrid), and that by 2040 they should be the only cars on the road.” To date, it says that its network of motorway chargers have provided £2.5m of free travel.
Competitors have previously accused Ecotricity of having a stranglehold of the UK’s motorway electric car charging network. Tesla, the Californian maker of electric cars, took Ecotricity to court in an attempt to end its exclusive rights with motorway service operators to install rapid chargers. An out-of-court settlement was reported to have been reached, allowing Tesla to install its own charge points.