Shaun Maidment with his i3, in which he covers up to 4,000km per month. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Shaun Maidment with his i3, in which he covers up to 4,000km per month. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

As their ranges improve and their prices become more realistic, electric vehicles (EVs) will become our mainstream form of transport one day. By 2025 it’s predicted that 11% of cars sold globally will be battery powered, while by 2040 they’re expected to surpass sales of internal-combustion engine cars.

But what’s it like to live with an electric vehicle right now? We tracked down Shaun Maidment, an EV early adopter who has driven over 188,000km on his BMW i3 since buying it new in 2016, to ask him about his ownership experience:

Q: Why did you buy an electric vehicle?

A: I was doing a lot of mileage and spending R3,000 to R4,000 on petrol every month.

I was sceptical about an EV at first, but I did the math and found that I’d save so much money on fuel, even though the i3 was quite expensive.

Q: What’s the range?

It’s the older i3 so the range is about 120km [a new i3 with double the battery capacity will soon be launched in SA]. It’s the REX (range-extended) model with the optional small petrol engine which gives an extra 150km of range, and I drove the car from Joburg to Durban by just topping up at petrol stations along the way, no problem.

The petrol engine stopped working after the warranty had expired at 100,000km and BMW quoted R17,000 to repair it, but I haven’t bothered as to be honest I don’t usually need it. I’ve driven the car for over a year now on electric power only.

Q: How long does it take to charge?

About eight hours at a normal wall plug. I either charge it overnight at home or take it to a BMW or Nissan dealership to quick-charge for free. I do a lot of mileage — 2,500 to 4,000km a month — but I don’t have a problem with range anxiety because if the battery’s running low I just pop into a dealer for a quick-charge, where I can work on my laptop and have a coffee while it’s charging. It would take about two-and-a-half hours to quick-charge to full but I can be on my way in half an hour or so with a decent range.

Range anxiety isn’t such an issue; you charge the car wherever it’s parked.

Shaun says he charges the car wherever he stops and doesn’t experience range anxiety. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Shaun says he charges the car wherever he stops and doesn’t experience range anxiety. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

Q: What does it cost to run?

A: About R34 in electricity for a full charge at home, but free at the abovementioned car dealers. I haven’t yet used Jaguar’s new GridCars network where a charge from zero to 80% will take about 72 minutes for a fee, but I’ve worked out that it will cost about R80. That’s still less than half the price it would cost for an average petrol car to drive a distance of 120km [based on a car that gets 10l/100km].

The only servicing it has needed was replacing the brake pads and brake fluid.

Q: Have you ever run out of juice?

Once very nearly, but I stopped at a hair salon and they kindly allowed me to plug the car in. It took 15 minutes to get the battery to around 8% which was enough to get me home.

Q: Are you still getting the same range as when the car was new?

Very close. There’s been very little battery degradation and it’s still at around 90% of its original capacity.

Q: Tell me more about your experience with the car.

I’m very happy with the performance, especially the pulloff and the overtakes. It’s quite exhilarating and very pleasant to drive. I also make a game of getting the best range I can out of a charge.

In terms of wear and tear the car has held up very well after more than 188,000km and it still looks more or less new. In future I’d choose leather seats instead of the cloth ones I have though, as there’s a small tear in the side of my driver’s seat.

Q: Any negatives?

Yes, though it’s quite roomy the i3’s only a four seater and I’d prefer it to have a three-seater bench at the back to make it a better family car (I have a wife and two kids and a mother-in-law). Also, it’s the only car in the country with that particular size wheel and a replacement tyre takes about a day to order. It has no spare wheel either, just a tyre inflator kit.

Q: Have you had problems with pedestrians hearing it?

Yes, I’m acutely aware of how silent it is and I’m always very careful around pedestrians. The one time I was stopped on the road and people just walked into the car!

Q: Would you recommend the car to others?

Yes, definitely.

Q: What other cars do you own?

At one point my wife and I both had i3s, but when hers was written-off in an accident she bought a Ford Ecosport because we needed a car with five seats.

Q: Why do you think more people aren’t buying EVs?

It’s people’s biases and they don’t take time to investigate the facts. Also, I don’t think the motor dealers are really selling the concept as electric vehicles are still too niche.

Q: Will your next car be an EV?

Yes, but that won’t necessarily be soon as I intend to keep my i3 until it breaks. I don’t think it has much of a resale value.