Two years ago I spent £95,080 on a brand new Tesla to avoid paying London’s £11.50 daily congestion charge. Should you do the same?
In the context of politicians telling us how to behave, I don’t give a stuff about the environment. Some of you will bridle at my apparent irresponsibility. Notably, those millennials who take a pious view on the environment. You may want to save the world, yet if you’re happy to avoid public transport in favour of Uber, eat your ready-made sandwiches or sushi out of a plastic pack and drink your lattes, flat whites and mochachocachinos from plastic-lined cups, you need to think again.
Consider the logic of your position the next time you tap a smartphone to order a delivery of clothes made on the other end of the planet and dispatched by a van — only to end up sending them back, on a van.
A tax system is there to raise revenue. One has to question a system that purports to change behaviour yet merely becomes a tool by which to punish those who listened to government advice a decade previously, buying cars that subsequently turned out to be heavy polluters.
Will the ultra low emission zone (ULEZ), the new emissions scheme in London which came into effect this week, achieve its aims? Just like the congestion charge, it’s another tax that encourages us to destroy perfectly usable vehicles, yet brings in new ones that deliver greater pollution in manufacture while destroying high streets, jobs and commerce.
Meanwhile, we clog streets with traffic and other forms of motorised transport to ferry us and our stuff about. We continue to pile excess rubbish and disposable products into landfill. Plastics are virtually everywhere and energy use is out of control.
I grew up in the 1970s. Newspapers, tins, wine and milk bottles were all recycled. Deliveries were made by an electric milk float. A takeaway signified the end of a school holiday and a ready-made sandwich a rail journey. I do walk a lot. And yes, if you live in a city, you’d like to see the air quality improved. As bus after empty bus passes me by, spewing out fumes, perhaps this would have been a good place for our politicians to start? The technology is already here to do something truly radical. Why not use it?
If you think these concerns don’t apply to you because you don’t live in London, this is a technicality. What happens in the capital is sure to be coming soon to a city near you. All big cities are looking at how the ULEZ works and are ready to pounce on yet another cash cow that you couldn’t possibly argue against. Because if you pay the money, the polar bears won’t die.
There are two elements to car ownership economics. First you have to buy the car. If it’s new, be prepared for massive depreciation in the first few years. Unless you keep the car forever, three or four years will probably serve you best. An electric car is a useful tax offset, especially if you’re a sole trader.
Second are the running costs. Ten thousand miles in the kind of vehicle I’d expect to drive will cost at least £2,000 a year in fuel. My electricity bill for the Tesla is £350. A parking permit in Kensington & Chelsea for a high-emitting vehicle will set you back £228. For an electric car, that’s £84.That’s a collective saving of £1,794, before accounting for £11.50 every day you pop into the congestion zone. And that’s assuming that you have not got a diesel car (if you listened to Gordon Brown) in which case you’ll have to pay the lovely new ULEZ daily charge of £12.50 as well.
Then there’s parking. In the London borough of Westminster, as a fully electric car owner, you just pay the minimum charge and that gives you four hours. That’s usually about 18p.
I walk my dog locally, and there are plenty of people who have hoofed out Tesla money (or more) on a high-end vehicle. Why wouldn’t I buy a Range Rover plug-in hybrid? After all, despite the changes from 8 April 2019, you’d meet the Euro 6 standard of no more than 75g/km carbon dioxide and receive the congestion charge discount. But read the small print on the Transport for London website and, by 2021, unless your car is 100 per cent electric there’ll be no discount at all.
I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about owning a Tesla. I originally purchased one in 2014 and this is my second. The performance is truly epic. The 90D will go from 0 to 60mph in 3.5 seconds. I didn’t fancy paying another £15,000 for the 100D and its “ludicrous” mode that will take a second off the acceleration time. I can happily outrun anything on our roads should I feel the need.
I have never “run out of juice”. Use the satnav, and if you are low on charge you’ll receive a notification and be directed to a (free) recharging point. These superchargers are fast. The force field of electricity when you pull up next to one is practically palpable. Plug in and by the time you’ve investigated the facilities, bought yourself a sandwich cocooned in plastic wrapping and a plastic bottle of drink, you are ready to get back to your journey.
The cabin is a lovely place to be, with a panoramic roof that lets in a huge amount of light and a massive 18-inch iPad-like central console. When there’s a software upgrade, your whole dashboard changes. It’s like receiving a new car. The satnav has live traffic data, the voice-controlled audio works fairly well and the autopilot is seriously spooky. Eight cameras monitor your surroundings, it steers for you, controls the speed and will even change lanes. We are living in the future.
It isn’t all great. For the money spent, the materials used are a bit plasticky — more lounge than living room. The US never mastered the art of luxury. Between the first and second generation, they allowed the internal design to become cluttered. Adding in more bins and storage space removed some of the extraordinary advantages of a flat floor. In the newer models the bonnet, which used to be a lovely second boot, is reduced to the size of a picnic basket. And should you crash it, it turns out to be expensive to repair.
That said, on any measure the Tesla is a premium driving experience. Other options are beginning to become available, but it isn’t a compromise or an embarrassment (like a Nissan Leaf or the hideous Toyota Prius) when compared with the traditionally fuelled luxury car market. The depreciation of premium vehicles is fairly similar, so I’ll vote to cut the running charges and reduce my tax bill. After all, if I want to be a petrol head, I’ve still got the Aston and the Bentley.
James Max is a property expert and radio presenter. The views expressed are personal. Twitter: @thejamesmax. If you have a problem for James, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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