Car clubs have long been hailed as an environmentally friendly option, reducing the number of vehicles on the road and cutting out unnecessary trips. But a new breed of car clubs is going one step further – by only renting out electric cars powered by a rechargeable battery.
Clubs, such as Zipcar, have been around since 2000, and the concept is relatively simple. Members pay an annual or monthly fee and hire cars by the hour. In return, they avoid the costs associated with buying and running a car such as tax, insurance and maintenance. You can book online or via a smartphone app, pick up and return to various street locations, and access via the app or membership card.
But nearly two decades after car clubs first arrived, all-electric ones are joining the fray. Drivers who join can hit the road safe in the knowledge they are driving emissions-free. Electric cars are also quiet, offer smooth driving, accelerate quickly and are exempt from the London congestion charge.
Comparing car club costs can be tricky with different schemes charging various one-off, annual, or monthly membership fees, plus hourly or daily charges, or per mile or per minute. Some also have a minimum monthly spend.
Londoners should check out Bluecity, which claims to be the capital’s only 100% electric car-sharing scheme. It has about 100 vehicles but plans to double this. All of its cars are automatic Bolloré Bluecars with GPS and air conditioning.
Obviously there’s no fuel to worry about – but you will have to plug the car into a Source London charge point at the end of the rental. These can be reserved up to 90 minutes in advance.
Pricing is pretty straightforward. It’s £5 a month and then 17p a minute, with a minimum journey time of 20 minutes (£3.40), so an hour would cost £10.20. Hires are intended to be short point-to-point (like a car version of Santander Cycles) so there’s not an option to hire for a day.
Zipcar is arguably the biggest car club in the UK with a wide variety of vehicles. Its “Zipcar Flex” works in a similar way to Bluecity – it is for driving from A to B with no need to return the car to its original spot. It is in the process of adding 325 Volkswagen e-Golfs to its fleet – but these are more expensive than Bluecity, at 31p a minute (capped at £14 an hour). Its petrol cars are more expensive, too, with VW Polos at 29p a minute (capped at £12 an hour).
One feature that will appeal to Londoners is Bluecity’s 10-bay station at Gatwick. It reckons members can drive there from London in an hour, so if you had four passengers, it would cost about £2.50 each. The service is likely to appeal to families who like to drive to and from the airport but wince at the cost of airport parking.
Rival E-Car, part of Europcar, offers both electric and hybrid cars and has about 145 vehicles across the UK. It is targeting people doing round trips rather than A to B. All cars must be returned and placed on charge at their original “hub”.
E-Car has two membership options: pay-as-you-go and a subscription. Pay-as-you-go costs a one-off £50 fee. Hourly charges start from £5.50 for a small hatchback (a Renault Zoe) or £6.50 for a larger hatchback (a Nissan Leaf). Daily rates are £45 and £50 respectively.
It costs £50 to join, and then £15 a month. Hourly rates are £1 cheaper than pay-as-you-go. Daily rates are £35 and £45 for small and large models respectively. All prices include unlimited mileage, insurance and charging.
E-Car’s day rates are competitive compared with Zipcar. Zipcar prices depend on the membership type and the car, but the cheapest daily rates start at £50 during the week and £60 at weekends.
However, Zipcar has one major advantage over renting electric vehicles: its cars can fill up with petrol at any service station, while electric car drivers have to make sure they have enough power to reach their destination or charging point.
And it is charging points that are the big stumbling block. Renters get “range anxiety” – the fear the battery will run flat – when embarking on longer trips. You need to plan your journey around charging points and be aware it will take longer than normal, as even a “fast” charge takes about half an hour.
However, the E-Car marketing manager, Gaurav Ahluwalia, is confident that charging isn’t a major issue. “Our fleet mostly consists of the Renault Zoe, BMW i3 and Nissan Leaf. All of these come with an average range of 70 to 90 miles per charge, which is more than sufficient for the majority of journeys on a day-to-day basis,” he says.