The lack of used cars makes searching the second-hand market difficult enough. Even more challenging, however, is the task of finding a suitable pre-owned electric car when the budget is limited. Our self-experiment shows this.
The plan: An electric car should be here. One with four doors, which offers enough space for four people and weekend shopping in normal everyday use between the supermarket and kindergarten and makes the trip to the next big city with at least 75 hp appropriately entertaining. In addition, it must not be too expensive, the maximum budget – which feels very generous – is around 25,000 euros. We also limited the mileage. It should be less than 50,000 kilometers, safety and technology also represent the current state.
In short: We are actually only looking for a classic family second car, but with an electric drive. Accordingly, we also sensibly limit our search radius to the approximate range of a Smart EQ. That's about 150 kilometers around Stuttgart and in Franconia - in our case, the proximity to home.
Renault Zoe: The first grab for the bestseller
Andreas Jüngling: The search profile sounds banal at first. However, I am amazed when the relevant online platforms present the results to me. When I finally check the "Drive type: Electric" box, only about ten of the thousands of results remain. well? So quickly expand the radius to all of Germany. But nothing changes in the result: If I only look for four-door electric vehicles, the used car range in all classes is reduced by a whopping 98.4 percent!
The initially planned Kia Soul EV or at least a later Nissan Leaf could not be found in the immediate vicinity. There were a handful of Smart, outrageously expensive VW e-Ups and a number of Renault Zoe's of various battery sizes. All right, then just the Renault - after all, the Zoe is the most represented e-mobile. It quickly becomes apparent that many of them undercut their competition by a few thousand euros. Why? Because their battery is not sold, but only rented, so it has to be paid for monthly.
At the on-site appointment at the Renault car dealership Sonnleitner in Nuremberg, saleswoman Angelika Wagner explains to me that the Zoe models with rechargeable batteries sold like hot cakes. But the models with a rental battery are now also very popular, although many customers were initially reluctant. Renault's idea was to initially offer e-mobility as cheaply as possible. Initially, many were bothered by the monthly payment of around 70 euros (at first it was less), but that has been done. Because a battery that still has at least 80 percent of its maximum capacity (SOH=State of Health) costs 4,000 to 5,000 euros (often more) if you buy it later.You can rent it for a number of years. Because a Renault battery is replaced free of charge, its SOH should fall below 60 percent. Not such a bad deal!
So the asking price of 15,490 euros makes our Zoe with the 41 kWh rental battery a good deal. Apparently a buyer who snatched the car from us within two days between calling and visiting the dealer saw it that way too. Luckily the Zoe was still ready for the photos. In real life, however, we would have missed it. You should therefore be familiar with the price range and strike quickly. Compared to conventional small cars, even with the Clio platform dispenser, a Zoe looks pretty sparse. Stool-like seats, an unprotected sill, and closing the doors sounds like crispbread falling onto the breakfast board - that's not really nice. For our pragmatic second car scenario, it is still the cheapest e-purchase.
Toyota Yaris Hybrid: part-time electric vehicles as an alternative?
However: If pragmatic, then right. From a purely mathematical point of view, the horizon should not necessarily only include the currently extremely limited supply of used e-cars - especially not when the used prices are so close to the new value but so far from the real utility value. What do I mean? Take this 2016 Toyota Yaris from the Toyota dealership in Neumarkt: Hybrid drive with a thirst for sparrows, drivable like an electric car, only without a plug, and also eternally durable. With 42,000 kilometers for 14,990 euros to have - that's reasonable. What is the catch? He too was bought from under our noses. But: The range is much larger and includes a wide variety of years of construction and price levels.
VW e-Golf: All-rounder with a socket
Johannes Köbler: Nothing against city cars - but a full-fledged e-car from the compact class would be even more interesting. An e-Golf caught my eye, priced at 26,450 euros. It has only run 12,500 kilometers and was first registered in November 2017. So it's already the facelift model with a very decent 136 hp. Its battery, which almost completely fills the center tunnel and the areas under the seats, offers 35.8 kWh of energy – enough for a range of more than 200 kilometers. But most importantly: It's a Golf VII, so it's still a real Golf - without infotainment crashes and operating botches like the current eight! This beautiful, white painted e-Golf with the gray fabric interior is at the used car dealer CarVendis in Winterbach near Stuttgart.
CarVendis is owned by Thomas Pühlhorn, a former Daimler engineer. He started the business six years ago and switched it to electric cars two years ago. Why? "They have a drive where practically nothing can break - no timing chain, no piston rings, no DSG gearbox. For me that means: no warranty and goodwill costs, no trouble."
Don't e-cars have any problem areas? "Yes, chassis components such as bearing bushes, springs and dampers suffer from the heavy weight in the long run. And the battery can be deeply discharged, with low mileage and long periods of non-use I often have a sinking feeling. I had carsharing cars and vehicles from a security and locking service that no longer had full capacity, perhaps also due to frequent fast charging. Before I buy an e-car, I first fully charge the battery and drive it empty again. This is how I can see whether the range is approximately right, and I also include this realistic value in my ads."
Which e-cars does Pühlhorn prefer to buy and sell? "In the end, I don't really care about the brand. Whether Peugeot, Renault or VW - the batteries always come from the same suppliers, and there are only minor technical differences in the engines. I'm only skeptical about cars from China and start-ups like Streetscooter because you never know how long the brand will exist. The most important criterion for me is the year of manufacture. Around 2018, many manufacturers released new models with larger batteries and CCS connectors for higher charging speeds. In comparison, the older e-cars are hardly interesting anymore, and most of them are already off the market. I've had VW plug-in hybrid cars in the yard before, but that's a very specific matter. Two drive systems just mean increased maintenance."
Of the more than 40 electric cars that Pühlhorn sold in the first half of 2022, only a few went to German customers. "It's usually difficult with them because they're often poorly informed. They know little about charging or maintenance costs, and they may have picked up something on the internet when it comes to sustainability. Basically, they expect me to explain why they should buy an electric car. If I had German customers who would really deal with the topic, I would support them in every respect. If they wanted, I would let them have the car for a few days so they could really get to know it. And if you had to, I would also get you an electrician for the garage."
Most of the customers that Pühlhorn welcomes in Winterbach have come a long way. They come mainly from electro-loving Scandinavia and Eastern Europe; Just as we were talking, two Ukrainians were driving away from the yard on a trailer with a Peugeot e-2008.In Ukraine, customs duties and import sales tax on used cars were suspended from April to the end of June.This triggered an import boom that has continued despite the reintroduction of the taxes is not quite over yet.
On average, an e-car is in his yard for less than two weeks, reports Pühlhorn. A quick deal, but also a good one? Well, yes."I mainly buy cars from leasing fleets, but they're getting harder and harder to get. At VW, for example, the authorized dealers are getting ahead of me. All of Europe is keen on the heavily subsidized cars from Germany. The purchase prices have been rising for months, so mine are staying Margins low. And those new cars that are not being built today because of the lack of semiconductors will not be available on the used market for years to come. That will drive up prices further and accelerate the death of independent dealers even more."
Would you like an example of the price development? Thomas Pühlhorn points to a gray Opel Ampera-e: First registered in June 2019, it only has 8,600 kilometers on the clock. A hefty 204 hp output, 50 kW charging capacity, a range of up to 350 kilometers, space for five including luggage and the generous Ultimate equipment - the compact van with the lightning bolt is an interesting electric car. But it is expensive: 32,900 euros are on its price tag. "That's almost 8,000 euros more than a comparable car from summer 2021," says Pühlhorn. "I've already sold four or five Ampera-e. I always get them from the same company, they're wrapped in foil and therefore well protected."
The Ampera-e is a big outsider even in the small market of used electric cars. Technically it is based on a Chevrolet mini-van called Bolt, and with this US migration background it slipped into the phase in 2018 in which Opel teamed up with PSA and Stellantis respectively. Only about 1,500 copies were sold in Germany. "One problem with the Ampera-e is the supply of spare parts, which is gradually becoming difficult," says Pühlhorn. "Some components have become almost twice as expensive, a replacement key, for example, now costs 450 euros instead of 250 euros. And some parts can no longer be found in Europe."
Smart EQ Forfour: As cheap as it gets
Uli Holzwarth: Buyers of a Smart EQ Forfour don't have to deal with such spare part problems. Although its production ended at the end of 2021, the technically almost identical Renault Twingo E-Tech will continue to be built.
Therefore, such an electric Smart Forfour will continue to be recommended as an efficient city runabout for up to four people. Especially with the 22 kW on-board charger, which fully charges the small 17.6 kWh battery in one and a quarter hours. The electric Forfour from the Ludwigsburg Mercedes and Smart dealer Hoffmann has this extra, which is subject to a surcharge, and has only run 9,347 kilometers. This is matched by the well-kept, new overall impression and the comparatively acceptable price.
"I currently see the price limit for an electric car at 20,000 euros," says used car consultant Andreas Vogt. "That will only change when the leasing returns of the electric Mercedes introduced from 2018/19 come onto the used market."At the Ludwigsburg location, the electric share in used cars is currently around 40 percent. If you add up all AHG sales outlets, it's only 15 percent. "However, the trend is inevitably upwards, the subsidies and all the discussions about the end are already making sure of that the combustion engine", the 63-year-old sales professional is certain.
In his opinion, those interested in an electric Smart are more open to a second-hand Smart-EQ today: "90 percent of the people know what they want. The high fuel costs have ensured that such an electric city runabout, despite the comparatively short range, is an alternative worth considering, provided it suits your personal driving profile. An electric Smart is usually bought as a second car."
And which factors then play the most important role for prospective buyers? "These are the capacity of the battery, which we can read out in the workshop, and of course its warranty period, the eight years." The latter seems convincing, because "we don't have a used electric car in our yard for longer than three or four weeks". It goes without saying that this copy was also sold shortly after our visit.
This electric Smart also confirms the current situation with used e-mobiles: prospective buyers have to decide quickly and strike quickly. Because the offer at prices up to 25,000 euros is currently still far too scarce, and the cars are very expensive.
So expensive that in many cases a new car with a subsidy of 9,000 euros can be the better choice, if available. After all, a used small electric car currently costs as much as a second-hand mid-range sedan recently.
Also important: Anyone interested should realistically assess their driving profile and charging options. And he should only buy a used e-car if it fully meets his own needs and expectations. And these demands should not be too high at the moment, as we had to learn in our self-experiment.
If the analysis leads to the conclusion that you need more space, loading space and comfort, then nothing below 25,000 euros is worth wanting. Then it's worth waiting. It was only a few years ago that manufacturers introduced second-generation electric cars with longer ranges and higher charging capacities. And they are only now gradually appearing on the used car market as leasing returns. However, at prices that will be significantly higher than the framework we have set.
So: As long as the used market for e-cars is still manageable, the search has a big catch - unfortunately.