The sticks are getting bigger and the carrots are being thinned as the push towards electric mobility continues, with new data out today showing that charging costs for some electric vehicles are now higher than fuelling an equivalent combustion engine motorcar.

The researchers behind this analysis from the RAC are careful to point out that EV drivers who do most of their charging at home are still getting “great value” compared to the cost of petrol or diesel, which has eased somewhat in recent weeks but remains at historically elevated levels. However, the price of using publicly-accessible rapid and ultra-rapid chargers in the UK – which are relied upon by drivers taking journeys beyond the range of their electric vehicle – has increased markedly.

Along with their green credentials as a “zero-emission” form of transportation, the other major selling point when EVs first came to the UK mass market in 2010 was their low running costs. Consumers stumping up hefty premiums for new battery-powered technology were assured they could rapidly recoup their initial outlay with substantial savings from bypassing the petrol forecourt.

This premise has come under increasing scrutiny of late. While the price of fuel shot through the roof following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, so too has the cost of electricity, which is tied to wholesale gas prices.

The RAC’s analysis shows that drivers who use the rapid public charging network – typically because they need to recharge on a longer journey, or they are trying to charge up quickly because they can’t plug in at work or home – will in some instances pay more than the equivalent per-mile rate for a petrol car.

"There are hardly any new electric vehicles that the average wage earner can afford"

As the RAC’s Simon Williams points out, it is vital that the numbers stack up if there is to be a mass shift to electric motoring in the run-up to the UK government’s ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2030.

Latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that battery electric vehicles (BEVs) claimed their largest-ever share of new vehicle sales in December, accounting for 32.9% of registrations and overtaking diesels for the first time. However, there are also early signs that the EV revolution is at risk of coming unplugged as the squeeze on consumers’ incomes deters spending on big-ticket purchases.

The price of new EVs should come down as they become more widely available, but manufacturers have to date focused much of their efforts on the upper end of the market. The drive for bigger batteries to replicate the distance and performance of internal combustion engines elevates costs, leaving the entry-level market largely overlooked.

There are hardly any new BEVs available that the average wage earner can afford. Apart from some so-called “small urban vehicles” posing as cheap electric cars (these are categorized by regulators and “quadricycles” and are not required to meet car crash safety rules), there are currently just three BEVs in UK showrooms that cost less than £30,000.

HeraldScotland: Electric car charging point at Glencoe Mountain Sports, West Highland WayElectric car charging point at Glencoe Mountain Sports, West Highland Way (Image: SWNS)

There were seven electric models on sale in that price range just three months ago, according to the website Electrifying.com. The cost of some of the smallest EVs has rocketed to that of a petrol executive saloon in recent months as manufacturers have streamlined their ranges amid rampant inflation.

And then there’s those running costs. According to today’s figures from the RAC, it takes an average of 70.32p per kilowatt hour in the UK to rapid charge on a pay-as-you-go basis, up from 44.55p in May 2022 and 63.29p in September.

EV drivers are therefore paying £36 to charge a typical family-sized car with a 64kWh battery to its 80% rapid or ultra-rapid limit – enough to cover approximately 188 miles. This is more than twice the cost of charging the same car at home, where the rate of VAT applied is 5% versus 20% at public chargers.

The cost of using the fastest ultra-rapid chargers with power outputs of more than 100kW, which can charge many cars in a matter of minutes, now stands at 74.79p per kilowatt hour, up from 50.97p in May and 63.94p in September. Drivers relying on these chargers are paying £38.29 for an 80% charge, a whopping £20.42 more than those who can do so at home.

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Based on this, the RAC says drivers using rapid chargers are paying 20p per mile for their electricity, only a penny less than those using less common ultra-rapid chargers who pay 21p per mile. That compares to an equivalent rate of 17p per mile for a petrol car that achieves an economy of 40 miles to the gallon and is on a par with a diesel car with the same economy.

“It continues to be the case that those who can charge at home or at work and who don’t use the public rapid charging network very often get fantastic value – even given the relatively high domestic energy prices right now,” the RAC’s Mr Williams said.

“Sadly, the same can’t be said for people who either can’t charge at home or at work, or who regularly make longer journeys beyond the range of their cars. There’s no question they have to pay far more, and in some cases more than petrol or diesel drivers do to fill up on a mile-for-mile basis.”

That is, of course, assuming that a functional charger is available. Almost a quarter of Scotland’s public charging points were recently found to be faulty during six weeks of spot-checks by the BBC. There was further bad publicity during the festive period as huge queues backed up at Tesla Supercharger sites across the UK.

READ MORE: Politicians say electric will save planet but truth is complicated

Industry reports suggest waiting times for new electric vehicle car orders are falling, hinting that the market could be softening. And from April 2025, EVs will no longer be exempt from vehicle excise duty – another carrot lost in the campaign for a battery-powered future.

Moves such as that by Glasgow to charge drivers of the most polluting vehicles from June of this year will support the shift to greener transport, but will that be enough to sustain uptake? The journey to the sunny uplands of zero emissions motoring isn’t going to collapse, but it will be more costly than many can currently bear.