The extent to which Government decisions on taxation can influence consumers can sometimes be surprising.

More than ten years ago when we were all being encouraged to buy diesel cars, the reduction in VRT for some models led to a surge in diesel ownership.

Of course it took some time before we realised the emissions which were promised by some of the car companies were far from the reality. Since then some of us have been wondering if we should ever have turned from petrol to diesel and more of us are thinking, 'is it time to go electric?'

The news this week that many of the cars that families have become accustomed to are about to get more expensive may perhaps focus minds some more.

SUVs are selling like never before. The ever popular Volkswagen Passat has been taken over by the Tiguan. The Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage and even bigger models are ten a penny on the roads.

Somehow many people have turned away from the estate car to the SUV. The motor companies love that; they are more expensive, and more profitable. So, keeping us in our diesel SUVs is good for the industry's bottom line.

They say it gives them revenue to invest in and develop cleaner cars, expanding the choice of electric cars.

The sceptics say the industry has been slow to push electric and is instead clinging on to the more profitable range of cars to which we have become accustomed.

Electric cars

No wonder then that the big brands are worked up by recommendations from the Government's Tax Strategy Group, which will lead to an increase in the price of some of the most popular family car models.

The increases for bigger luxury gas guzzlers are eye watering, up to €10,000 in some cases.

Perhaps then it is time as consumers we re-evaluate our choices. Do you need a diesel SUV, or would a smaller petrol car work for you? Is it time to reduce your reliability on the car? Should you finally take the plunge and go electric?

It's not just a financial consideration but an environmental consideration too. A third of the greenhouse gases emitted in Ireland are from transport. From planes to cars, trains to buses, that is a big number. The choices we make as consumers can have a huge impact on our emissions.

Since 2005 I have driven diesel cars. Travelling all over the country as a journalist it made sense, the fuel economy is good and often long journeys with an imperative to be there on time are frequent. This month for the first time, I drove electric.

As part of a report I'm working on I decided to take one for a test drive over four days. It took one day to adapt, on the third day I was won. Unfortunately, on the fourth day it went back to the garage!

Yes, it is different. You adapt your driving style to regenerate power at every opportunity. Slowing down coming to a junction, rather than breaking. Charging where and when you get the chance, just in case!

But the range anxiety that I had feared was not a factor. The range of electric cars on the road is constantly growing. The latest model is the Volkswagen ID.3. Think of it as a spacious futuristic looking Golf. In real terms the range when almost fully charged is around 400kms. Most small petrol cars might give a range of 600-700 kms. Your average mid to large diesel should do around 1,000kms to a tank.

At a fast charge point, the ID.3 will recharge to around 80% within half an hour. Time for a coffee and a sandwich and then you're good for another 400kms (assuming you are not charging from empty).

Electric cars

Over an average weekend driving around Dublin, and down to Kildare, I topped the charge up around three times, never fully and never for more than half an hour.

The cost of that was practically zero. I charged at two free charging points and once at a fast charge station. For the first time, as someone who drives a lot, electric may be an option.

There are issues though. The charging network is way behind schedule. The main motorway routes are relatively well serviced, but capacity can be an issue. If charging points are out of use, or in use, your journey gets significantly slower. But it should not be a barrier to making the change.

The real issue comes to cost. If you’re driving a 151 car and fancy a change, what are the options?

If you go for a new electric car, grants will take €10,000 off the list price. There is assistance to install a charging point at your home. Overnight your fuel costs reduce significantly and the cost of servicing is less than half that of an ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) car.

But electric remains expensive. The ID.3 which is the newest available model and has decent range and a very high standard of build, with good handling and appealing looks, starts at €34,000 - that's including the grants, a VRT rebate of €5,000 and a SEAI grant of €5,000.

But, there are a growing number of second-hand electric cars available too. Some for as little as €5,000, but the newer the model the better the range. 

If you're thinking about a change, then look at the length of your average car journey. Examine your fuel bills, your servicing costs. The road tax you pay, the VRT bill for a new diesel versus an electric. If you make a cold economic decision, most drivers could easily go electric. But the change has been slow, there are real issues facing people making the move.

Ireland's targets for EV sales are so abysmally behind it is hard to fathom. The Green Party leader said in recent days that EV sales would increase, because, he said, "they are simply better cars".

Eamon Ryan

Eamon Ryan did so as he launched the Climate Action Bill, achieving some of the measures set out in the new legislation will require a huge shift in mindset, including for motorists.

But, change when it comes to the type of cars we drive is very slow. The industry holds the key. At present there are a limited range of electric cars available. It seems until there is no choice, diesel and petrol cars will be the main sellers. Perhaps the Tax Strategy Group sees the glacial growth in EV numbers as an issue when it comes to achieving GHG (Green House Gas) emission reduction targets. 

Nothing moves consumers like savings. Other countries have implemented incentives like free or reduced parking charges, free tolls and other incentives beyond the VRT rebate and SEAI grant. 

If we feel the savings on our monthly motoring spend, we will change the way we do things.

A final thought, electric car drivers are now part of a somewhat elite club. On the few occasions I was charging the car, fellow EV drivers came over for a chat, wanted to know about the newest EV on the market, How was it to drive? What’s the real-life range? How much did it cost? Would I be staying with EV?

It was a fascinating insight into a world of enthusiasts of sorts, who have taken a change in behaviour more seriously than most, they have invested in a new way of motoring.

Kudos too to the two gentlemen who were standing admiring the shiny new wheels at Dún Laoghaire pier as I returned from a walk, "It’s a beauty, the way to go" remarked one. "Over 40 grand without the grant?" scoffed the other.

Well, at least we're starting to make the change.