Are friends electric?
I never thought I’d ever have another wow moment with a car. I’ve no plans to buy a Porsche, although I like fast, so was surprised when an electric rental gave me a buzz. It's a brand new Hyundai Kona and sits right up there with first flooring my VW Corrado Storm BC, before children, and a very sensible, second-hand Mercedes Kompressor. The joy of being able to finally afford a real car with a bit of refinement, years after starting our business.
Our friends electric
Gary Numan was my first thought when thinking of a title this week. Cars was his most successful single, discovered in my first year at Newcastle University. And that only made sense because of Our Friends Electric as a subtitle. It would have fitted neatly, although incorrect. I'd no idea he'd been asking us a question all this time.
Serves me right
I've been researching electric cars for a while now. Nothing too intensive, a mild distraction from the ad bait served while wasting time whiling away my retirement. Serves me right, literally.
Electric is here
Without getting too distracted by the technology, choice and performance are improving fast. Tesla, who set the standard early is being caught by traditional manufacturers who've woken up to the opportunities of antsy governments, climate change rhetoric and fossil fuels being, well fossil, at least to power most family runarounds. Why would you want to put thick, oily diesel into anything, especially when the resultant sound is more like a tractor, especially on a cold winter's morning?
Hybrids have been around for over 20 years now. Truly ugly cars with no redeeming features apart from a greener battery doing some of the heavy lifting around town. Initially they were green credentials for celebrities who added it to their car pool sacrificing looks and performance for a while. Far more lucrative I presume, came with the rise of Uber and their gig economy drivers all opting for a tax efficient solution.
A hybrid’s reason for being, apart from the fact that you have to start somewhere, was price, it was vaguely related to what had gone before. A fully electric alternative, apart from having a pathetically limited range also shipped with a fat premium.
That is fast becoming a thing of the past. You know change is upon us when Ford are heavily advertising an electric Mustang and Volkswagen their ID.3, an electric car from concept to availability on UK roads.
How to own a car is changing too. Volvo have been trying to sell me an easy in and out solution for a while. The benefits are obvious. Short term, longer if you prefer, cash friendly and no lumpy deposits. The wait for an electric Volvo was too long and I wasn’t tempted by new, old tech, so to speak.
With battery technology moving quickly and all these v1s likely to be antiques in a few years, their offer makes sense apart from the queue. Why bother investing now? In fact why bother buying ever again?
All inclusive electric car subscription
Which is why I was intrigued to discover Onto. An all inclusive fee for an electric car says their web site’s blurb. I recently took delivery of my Hyundai. This is one of their mid-range offers. You can pay over double for a Tesla or an Audi E-Tron. A 28 day contract includes up to 1,000 miles in the price of £589. There was also a £49.50 delivery charge to bring it to my door. No other option available.
As you expect with any hire car, you’re covered for breakdown, insurance and there’s usually a discussion about returning the vehicle full. With the Hyundai (and all Onto hires), I was given Shell, bp pulse and Instavolt corporate cards for charging the battery. With petrol costing 15.8 pence per mile these days, that’s £158 towards my monthly fee and I stop being stiffed by BP - others apply.
Will it be as simple to fuel up? Mine has a real range of 245 miles which means 4 or 5 fill-ups over the month. But it doesn’t really work like that, apart from the fast motorway points where the aim is more akin to electric fuel. The delivery man said the biggest issue is charging point availability which I’ll be better able to judge when I’ve down some longer journeys.
There are plenty of apps which help you plan ahead with convenient charging points identified, including other driver’s comments in some cases. Locally, there are charge points hooked up to lamp posts but I can see us getting a home charger fitted for even more convenience, enticed by cheap overnight electricity and a £9 fill-up. Who’d have thought Economy 7 or whatever they call it now would have such a resurgence.
I like the service
I like Onto. They’ve paid attention to customer needs and removed most of the hassle of hiring a car. It was quick and easy to sign-up. I waited 6-weeks for my car despite requesting an immediate delivery date, a sign of their popularity and the growing demand for electric. Now I have the car, I can keep it for longer. All contracts are 28 days and they’ll send a reminder soon about renewal.
One of the best features about Onto are its customers. There is a great online community with some attentive contributors, happy to help out the newbies. It feels like we’re on a bit of an adventure together. Onto also interact regularly, asking for opinion on new models as well as listening closely judging by their responses. The £1,000 excess on the insurance is a well discussed topic. Perennial renters have taken out separate car hire insurance to mitigate the excess. I’m not sure how long I’m staying but it made sense to join them, given the low cost and potential downside.
What’s it like?
I’m grateful they’ve stopped the practice of not providing a key. Until recently, all drivers relied on the Onto app for keyless entry. It’s really simple and quite cool to use your phone, until you have no battery left and no charger or heaven forbid you lose it. A key is handy insurance.
Start the car and it’s silent apart from some nondescript chimes to assure you that it’s alive. The immediacy is what people talk about when you move and they’re right. I also like the fact that it tries to recover energy when slowing. Aside from the electric bit, nothing new to report yet. I’m interested in the cockpit redesigns which are surely going to follow as the industry moves away from the fossil fuel legacy.
I wonder what Apple’s first car will be like, for instance? Will I treat it as a friend rather than a boring, unintelligent runaround?