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Apathy in The Electric Vehicle Market and How to Overcome it

Apathy in The Electric Vehicle Market and How to Overcome it

Progress is impossible without change and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything – George Bernard Shaw

I have been in and around the Fleet/Leasing/Automotive industry pretty much since leaving University in the late 90s and over the years I have seen some big changes. Some of these changes have been significant and have come about through government tax changes (will be interesting to see the autumn statement today) some have been less so and have come about through changing perceptions and behaviors.

Today, however, I feel we are towards the beginning of the biggest upheaval in the fleet, finance and automotive markets since Henry Ford’s era and perhaps, in terms of general mobility, since the transition from the horse to the combustion engine around 100 years ago.

In my view, the main up swell of fundamental change is coming from the following areas:

1.      Zero emission electric powered transport

2.      Connected cars, Big Data & IoT

3.      Joined up Mobility solutions and usage vs. ownership

4.      Autonomous motoring

When I consider all of these radical paradigm changes, especially from my previous perspective when working in the leasing sector, I would have been more than just a little apprehensive if told the future looked like this…

it’s 2030 and you need to go from your home to a meeting in Town (your contact actually wants to meet – in person, they still do that!) so your diary (your virtual, digital PA) has already optimized your multi-modal travel arrangements at the lowest price point, in the quickest travel time so that the autonomous electric car arrives outside your door at 8.22 am precisely. You climb into the back and the autopilot software in the vehicle gets you underway. It drives you through the road network to the electric Tram connection that stops directly outside your appointment address and it takes just 36 minutes. The time is recorded and logged against your car sharing account. The car meanwhile, scooted off to the nearest charge point for a quick 7-minute blast of energy and is then off to its next user’s time slot. You don’t own the vehicle (that’s silly), as it has multiple users every single day and the whole process is fully automated, environmentally clean, super efficient plus always on time.

There are alternative near term future scenarios of course where you will own or lease an electric vehicle that has the range requirements that perfectly matches your regular travel needs. This vehicle is fully electric with some level of autonomy, is highly connected and is sending and receiving plenty of “big data”. You use this car in the same way as you do today. You park it on your drive at night and drive to the train station every morning as normal. The big difference being that you use this car as a mobile battery, which is powered by your house and is also used to store power for your house. The car draws energy during the night when Grid demand is low and the Grid takes power from your car during the peak times of Grid demand. Similarly, when you go to the train station, office, depot or factory, your car is plugged into a similar local network that extracts energy during peak times and charges during off-peak times. You benefit in numerous ways by getting the best parking spots, lower cost of (probably) renewable energy and you can be, quite rightly, very smug about the small part you are playing in saving the Planet.

Now I can’t be absolutely certain that either of these examples will become a reality and I don’t think anyone can but there are a raft of incredibly creative and innovative businesses and people who are all working towards making these scenarios a reality, along with a whole bunch of other incredible multi-modal transport concepts (think Mr Musk’s 700mph hyperloop train and a one way solar-powered trip to Mars). There is a ridiculously huge amount of investment going into these ideas, so it definitely seems to be where the smart money is right now.

Some of you reading this and the other blogs and articles may well scoff at this potential for change and probably can’t imagine a time when an autonomous vehicle picks you up moments after dropping your neighbour’s kids back from swimming. You may well laugh at the potential for this, but I now think differently about these concepts. It is only 5 years ago that I laughed with my old fleet colleagues at the daft notion of owning an electric vehicle! Nonsense I said! I now have one and am looking to a second as my wife now seems to own that one!

So in the words of Dylan “For the times they are a-changin”

But how quickly I ask myself….

My own area of interest is specifically the Electric and Ultra Low Emissions vehicle sector because we have a product aimed at this market and when you are fundraising you learn quite a lot about the market, you talk to a lot of people and you do your research. So what’s my quick view of this market?

1.      There are some amazing electric and hybrid vehicles out there and much more coming that have the ability to change the way we do things forever.

2.      There are some god awful vehicles out there that should never have been made (same story with the internal combustion engine though)

3.      As an EV owner, I far prefer charging at home as the public charging networks in my view are incredibly complicated, often expensive, often not working and regularly placed in very poorly thought out locations. My own local council has recently invested hundreds of thousands of hard earned council tax money into a complete boondoggle scheme, in my view, that is simply shocking (no pun). They could have done so much more with the money: it’s as if whoever designed the network had never even driven an EV.

4.      For the right type of person (and usage profile) an EV is awesome and can save a lot of time, money and hassle.

5.      Electric vehicles are much faster than I thought and great to drive.

6.      Many potential buyers are put off by the purchase price and range limitation when actually it should not be a concern (the average car journey is under 10 miles and when calculating Whole Life Cost then significant costs are saved)).

7.      Most people reading this simply won’t or don’t care and have no idea what I am talking about!

It’s this last point I want to focus on… Apathy. If you really want to know what’s wrong with the EV industry and the poor sales, its apathy, nonchalance, ignorance, misinformation, call it whatever you will. For most people… they just don’t care or simply have a passing knowledge, a small veneer of understanding which has influenced their pub bar view.

I would be the last person to say that EV’s are right for everyone, as that is simply not the case (not today anyway). The range restriction and disparate charging requirements make them totally impractical for many drivers, however, at the other end of the scale there are a huge number of motorists in the UK and globally that could benefit greatly. Take my own situation for example; we lease our Nissan Leaf for roughly the same price we used to lease our Renault Meganne. The big difference, however, is the fuel cost, as we save well over £1000 a year and with maintenance cost savings included, that‘s more like £2k a year or more. (Nice all-inclusive holiday break anyone?).

There are literally hundreds of thousands of potential EV owners in the same position as me. But they don’t know so they don’t care. They simply don’t know what they don’t know!

“Science may have found the cure for most evils but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all. The apathy of human beings” – Helen Keller

A DECC attitudes tracker earlier in the year asked potential new car buyers a simple question i.e. are you considering an EV for your next purchase? The response from 69% of license holders was no, “I have not really thought about buying an electric car or van”. That’s 69% of the population who could not care less. If that 69% knew what I know, then I’m pretty sure that number would be much, much lower.

So what’s my point in all of this? Well, I suppose it’s simply that the industry is currently spending billions on newer, better, faster low/zero emission cars with more impressive and ever increasing charging infrastructure. There are government grants galore, propping this market up all over the place but the simple fact is that for many car buyers, the currently available vehicles and charging infrastructure (save for a home charger install) is perfect. We just need to help guide and better inform these buyers to simply consider the switch to electric. We should focus on the apathy and ignorance, let’s educate people on their suitability and inform them on the cost benefits. Money talks as they say so if a fully informed consumer invests in the current technology then this works on every level for all involved. It means the industry has more to invest, it means the second-hand market is more educated pushing up residual values and ultimately if we remove the apathy, then we remove the inertia and the market grows under its own steam. (Excuse the very old pun!)

So what are we doing to help?  Well, we have the perfect remedy for apathy and inertia and we call it www.CleanCar.io (hey, it used to be called CleanPEA, but that raised a few too many eyebrows). CleanCar is pretty straightforward as it involves simply sending out a GPS device to a driver to install into the 12v power socket (AKA the cigarette lighter) of their petrol or diesel vehicle and forget about it! Once in situ, it records their journeys and this GPS data is automatically analysed to say:

1)     Is someone suitable to switch to an EV or Hybrid vehicle?

2)     Which current EV/hybrid make/models are best suited to their usage?

3)     What will the whole life costs be? In other words, will they save any money?

We remove the guesswork, the apathy and make it real, factual and specific to their own transport needs.

Today, we are helping a number of UK businesses with large fleets to switch their company drivers to electric vehicles and in one recent example, we found savings of more than £100 a month per driver and a suitability rating in excess of 90% of the drivers tested. Our next steps are to make this product ready for the consumer market so we can help some of the 69% to open their eyes to the possibilities of low/zero emission motoring. We will let them know what they don’t know!

If we are successful then we will be doing our bit to help increase sales, which will consequently increase investment and move zero emission transport one step closer to the benefit of all of us.

We are currently looking for investors to help us grow and develop into new markets so if you would like to join us in this project then please feel free to drop me a message or put me in touch with anyone you know who likes to invest in CleanTech projects.

Final words – I know I have not covered all the areas such as market tipping point, early majority, Moore’s law or about crossing the chasm etc, but this is a quick blog post and not a PhD thesis! Equally, I am sure that some will agree and some will vehemently disagree. I welcome any comments good or bad!

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About the Author

Alex Baker
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him... The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself... All progress depends on the unreasonable man."

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