Category - Ev Chargers
Guide author photo

Paul Holdsworth, Engineer

31 Jan : Updated 26 Mar ● 7 min read

What are ultra-low emission vehicles? An in-depth look

Ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) are a popular point of discussion, especially as cities begin implementing ultra-low emission zones (ULEZs) to deter people from driving their petrol or diesel vehicles into built-up areas.

We've put together this guide to ensure you have all the information you need about ultra-low emission vehicles, including the criteria a vehicle needs to satisfy to be a ULEV and how to check if your car fits into the category.

What is an ultra-low emission vehicle?

So, let’s start by taking things right back to basics. An ultra-low emission vehicle or ULEV is any vehicle that emits less than a certain quantity of carbon dioxide per kilometre (g/km) whilst being driven. 

The Vehicle Certification Agency sets the standard for ultra-low emission vehicles in the UK. It states clearly that a vehicle must fall into one of the following three categories for it to qualify as a ULEV. 

1. Pure electric vehicles (EVs)

As the name suggests, pure or all-electric vehicles run solely on electricity. They have large batteries instead of traditional combustion engines that are recharged using a specialist EV charger, either at the driver’s home or at a public charging station. 

Vehicles like the Tesla Model 3, Polestar 2, and Honda E are all examples of pure electric vehicles.

2. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs)

Combining an electric motor and an internal combustion engine, the electric battery of a PHEV usually has a small range, making it suitable for urban journeys. The car's petrol or diesel engine is used for longer trips or when the battery has no charge.

Examples of plug-in hybrid vehicles include the Toyota Prius, Hyundai Ioniq, Ford Escape, and the Mini Countryman.

3. Extended-range electric vehicles (E-REVs)

With a range similar to EVs, E-REV vehicles feature a generator that charges the battery when it drops below a certain level. It's important to note that the generator does not power the car but recharges its battery.

E-REV cars include the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe, Volkswagen E-up!, and the Chevrolet Volt.

What are the ULEV standards?

As we mentioned earlier, the ULEV standards are enforced by the Vehicle Certification Agency. Currently, these state that to qualify as ultra-low emission, vehicles must:

  1. Use low-carbon technologies
  2. Emit less than 75 g/kmof carbon dioxide (CO2) from its exhaust

How much do ULEVs cost?

The cost of a ULEV will vary depending on the vehicle's type, make and model. For example, a hybrid or plug-in hybrid vehicle will start at around £20,000 but could cost upwards of £40,000.

Fully electric vehicles will have the largest variation in price, with models starting at around £20,000 and more premium electric vehicles, like Tesla or Jaguars, exceeding £50,000 depending on the model and optional extras you choose.


What are the pros and cons of ultra-low emission vehicles?

Ultra-low emissions vehicles are designed to emit significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions than vehicles with conventional combustion engines, but are they completely without fault? Let’s compare the pros and cons of ULEZ vehicles to see how they stack up. 

Pros of ULEZ vehicles

  1. Reduced emissions: When you own a ULEZ vehicle, you are doing your bit to reduce pollution, improve air quality and combat climate change.
  2. Higher fuel efficiency: ULEVs are usually fitted with advanced technology that maximises battery charge and efficiency.
  3. Lower operating costs: Compared to petrol and diesel cars, ULEVs are cheaper to fill up, and they have fewer moving parts, meaning they may be cheaper to maintain.
  4. Government incentives and tax benefits: The Government has introduced key incentives to make buying and charging electric vehicles more affordable.
  5. Reduced noise pollution: ULEVs are significantly quieter than cars with combustion engines, so your neighbourhood and urban areas will be more peaceful.

Cons of ULEZ vehicles

  1. Charging infrastructure: While charging infrastructure is improving in the UK, and grants are available to reduce the cost of having an EV charger installed at home, chargers are less common than traditional petrol stations.
  2. Higher initial cost: EVs often have a higher price than petrol or diesel vehicles because they feature newer technology.
  3. Charging time: Charging a ULEV typically takes longer than filling up a car with a combustion engine, which can be inconvenient, especially on longer journeys.
  4. Battery degradation: Like all things, an EV's battery will degrade (slightly) over time. This can lead to a reduced driving range and potentially paying for a replacement.
  5. Limited variety: Although more models are being released, the array of ULEV models is more limited than vehicles with petrol or diesel engines.

Are there any incentives or tax benefits to buying a ULEV?

As well as doing your bit to save the planet, there are financial incentives to buying a hybrid or electric car, too. To encourage people to transition to greener vehicles, the Government is offering the following grants:

Plug-in Car Grant (PICG)

One of the most popular grants for electric vehicles, the PICG was introduced in 2011 but has since been refined. The grant is available for the following vehicles:

  • Wheelchair accessible vehicles
  • Mopeds and motorbikes
  • Small and large vans
  • Small and large trucks
  • Taxis

Rather than the buyer applying for the grant, vehicle dealerships or manufacturers should apply and include the discount in the purchase price.

EV chargepoint grant

Although it doesn't help you cover the cost of buying a new electric vehicle, this grant will make getting an EV chargepoint for your home cheaper, taking 75% off the total cost of installation. The EV chargepoint grant replaced the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme (EVHS) in April 2022.

The application process will differ depending on whether you're a landlord, renter or homeowner.

Apply for the EV chargepoint grant

Tax benefits for ULEV users

The benefits don’t stop there, though. Alongside financial incentives to encourage people to buy a new ULEV and install a home charging point, there are further tax benefits owners can take advantage of.

1. Fuel duty

The UK Government levies fuel duty on the purchase of petrol, diesel and other fuels used in vehicles, such as LPG and biogas. In the 2022-23 and 2023-24 tax years, this duty is fixed at 52.95 pence per litre and is included in the price you see advertised at fuel stations.

Electrical energy isn’t subject to fuel duty, meaning drivers of electric vehicles can recharge without paying extra tax on top of the price per unit (kW/h).

2. Vehicle excise duty (VED)

Zero-emission vehicles valued at less than £40,000 are exempt from VED. It’s worth noting, though, that from April 2025, road tax legislation is changing, and electric vehicles will no longer be exempt from paying VED. Instead, all vehicles, regardless of fuel type, will pay a flat fee of £180 per year. Drivers of electric vehicles valued at over £40,000 will also need to pay an increased rate (known as the Expensive Car Supplement) for the first 6 years of registration.

3. Value added tax (VAT)

Electricity used to recharge EVs at home attracts only 5% VAT, compared to fuels bought in filling stations, which includes a 20% VAT charge.

How to tell if your car is ULEV

The term ULEV covers all fully electric vehicles and some hybrids. So, if you have a vehicle with a fully petrol or diesel engine, it's not a ULEV. 

If you have a hybrid vehicle, you can check the DVLA's vehicle information service to see how many grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre your car produces - if it's less than 75g, your car is a ULEV.

The DVLA's service may show 0g of CO2 on their emissions checker. This does not necessarily mean your vehicle is an ultra-low emission vehicle. It could mean the DVLA does not hold the data relating to your car.

Need a home EV charger?

Need a home EV charger?

With just a few simple questions, we'll suggest the right ev charger for you

Find a charger


Share this post