Thursday, 28 April 2011

Mandate second cars to be electric

Here is a Big Simple Idea: what if governments around the world pass legislation that second and third cars in a household must be electric?

This is simply turning on its head what is already happening, in order to make it more effective. The policy can have a degree of flexibility built in to it - for example, second cars for demonstrable long distance driving needs can be plug-in hybrids or range extended cars, otherwise they should be pure electric.

Here in the UK, as a third of households have two or more cars, this would go a long way to addressing pollution, climate change and energy security. As second cars are used almost exclusively for local driving (the most polluting and inefficient kind), this would be particularly effective.

As well as directing consumer purchase behaviour, such a move would also send a strong signal to auto manufacturers and investors. I know that we shy away from such directives, but this makes sense.

It is a policy that can be managed centrally, through government vehicle registration, and locally, through council street parking permits. Too big brother? Or too good to ignore? What's not to like?

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Pay Per Mile: the best EV business model

Make it easy for customers.
I'm assuming we agree that the future of motoring is electric and the real challenge is how quickly we get there.

New research today from JD Power repeats the message that for most consumers, cost (and by cost they mean purchase price) matters more than the environment. Nothing new there then.

 According to JD Power, there will be 159 plug-in models to choose from in the US market by 2016. That's a lot of choice, but it won't matter how much choice there is if consumers are still unconvinced.

Two conclusions:

1. Governments and manufacturers need to present a compelling case for electric cars to the public. The case for EVs must be built around a sense of urgency in order a) to secure  energy and therefore economic security and b) to mitigate climate change. This needs to be we-will-fly-to-the-moon inspirational leadership, the type that can keep leaders in power for years, whilst supercharging the EV, renewable energy and smart grid industries and re-employing western economies.

2. New Pay and Use leasing models and companies are urgently required that overcome the higher purchase price of EVs. Pay a deposit and then pay per mile, sign up for long enough and pay no deposit, that kind of thing. Take away the concern over battery ownership and enable easy upgrade to the latest,  models. 50 years ago in the UK there were hugely successful companies (like Rediffusion) that did this when televisions first came to market and each year offered significant performance improvements. Build in rewards for early adopters and benefits for loyal customers. Shai Agassi at Better Place may yet have the last laugh in spite of rather than because of the auto industry. Keep an eye on Israel and watch the rivers of cash start to roll his way.

This stuff isn't rocket science and I understand that manufacturers are wary about taking the risk on batteries. But therein lies a billion dollar opportunity.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The BusinessGreen Twitter Top 100

I love it when someone makes things easy. released their Twitter Top 100 today. A list of 100 people and organisations tweeting on everything green. So now, from a single source (Twitter), you can have a real time newsfeed and viewfeed of the latest in transport, energy, climate and politics, just by following those on the list.

Volt owner profile and first impressions

Rob Peterson, General Motors marketing manager for the Chevrolet Volt and EV Technologies, was speaking at the 2011 Electric Drive Transportation Association annual conference in the US.

The word cloud shown here represents first customer reactions to the Volt. Even though I am no fan of plug-in hybrids, it is interesting to note that the main feeling about the Volt is that it is fun to drive. The importance of this is not that it comes as a surprise to anyone within the EV community, but that it shows the viral nature of EV penetration. 

In other words, a neighbour, friend or colleague buys an EV and tells you that it's great fun to drive, the technology works, costs almost nothing to run, does about 1,000 miles between visits to the petrol station (plug-in hybrids use both electricity and liquid fuel) etc etc. You are intrigued, ask for a drive or visit a dealer for a formal test drive, and are similarly impressed and convinced. This is storytelling and conversational marketing at work and how EVs will spread. It's about the emotional experience, not the rational justification.

More interesting stuff. As reported by Autoblog green, Peterson describes the largest customer segment as being former Prius owners:

"These people fit the early adopter profile, but they also stand out as exceptional community influencers. they are leaders in their communities in various ways, and they want to get out there and demonstrate the Volt and electric drive to everyone they can reach."

He goes on to say: 

"There are groups out there that want to see this not succeed. They will go to great lengths to achieve this."

This is pretty much exactly my own experience here in the UK from 2004 to the present day. Ahh, the politics of the vested interest...

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Why London needs electric cars

This photo is of the famous St Paul's cathedral in London. 

It was taken yesterday. 

Under EU and UK air quality legislation, daily mean concentrations of PM10 cannot exceed 50 mg/m3 on more than 35 days in a calendar year. 

It already has. 

That's right, the whole of the 2011 'allowance' for poor air quality (an allowance that is already 200% that recommended by the World Health Organisation) has been exceeded before the end of April.

It's caused by vehicles, particularly diesel vehicles. The majority of vehicles in London are diesel vehicles. Enough said, now let's use the congestion charge to fix this by increasing the disincentive to pollute from £8 to £25 per day; and in 3 years, ban all vehicles > 99g CO2 / km; or implement a vehicle registration lottery like Beijing (see post below this one).

Friday, 22 April 2011

Beijing - mind boggling

Yes, they are cars!
Sometime in the next Five Year Plan, the population of Beijing will reach 25 million people, which is more than three times the size of London.

If you want to buy a new car, then it had better be electric. If not, then you must enter the licence plate lottery. That's right, in order to address the rising city pollution and congestion, you must enter a lottery to win the right to register your car, currently with a 1:23 chance of doing so.

Unless you buy an electric car that is.

If you drive electric then you automatically get to register your car. Neat huh?

Beijing has a target of 100,000 electric vehicles on its roads by the end of 2015. Given that in 2010 720,000 vehicles were registered and in 2011 only 240,000 licence plates will be issued, I would guess that they might just hit that target earlier. Probably as soon as Chinese car manufacturers can make 100,000 EVs.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Top 10 global car initiatives

This straight from Shawn Lesser & Ben Taube via Reuters:

In the race to save the environment, one of the most important things is reducing greenhouse gas emissions to lessen the global carbon footprint. One of the biggest ways to achieve this is to look for alternative options when it comes to transportation. Cars are required to get from one place to another, so the question is how to make them more environmentally friendly? Over the last few years, numerous research and development teams have worked side-by-side with car companies to develop electric vehicles to reduce carbon footprints. Now numerous countries around the world are setting up electric car initiatives to make them more accessible and widely available for use by the general public.

1) Germany's Electric Car Initiative. The German government, in 2010, made a major push to increase electric mobility. The German Chancellor met with a number of officials within the government, science industry, and the energy and automobile energy to learn how to streamline current electric mobility efforts in the country. Because Germany was the first to build cars in the twentieth century, they feel the importance to be the leading nation in the electric car initiative. The government is funding $700 million into electric mobility test initiatives, including plans for the development of a charging station infrastructure. Daimler, one of the top automotive companies in Germany is not only creating hybrid cars, but also hydrogen fuel cells.

2) Washington D.C. Sponsored Electric Vehicle Initiative. At the 2010 Clean Energy Ministerial held in Washington D.C., the ministers continued to affirm their previously made commitment to deploying the Electric Vehicles Initiative, a forum for international cooperation on the development and the deployment of electric vehicles and increasing their commercial uptake. Countries participating agree to create pilot city programs for the promotion of electric vehicle demonstrations and dissemination of information regarding vehicle technology development and electric vehicle deployment targets.

3) United States - China Electric Vehicles Initiative. In 2009, the Chinese and American governments agreed at the Electric Vehicles Forum to increase and work upon the shared interest in amplifying the use of electric vehicles to eventually eliminate oil dependence as well as an overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions while, at the same time, promoting feasible economic growth. The joint Electric Vehicle Initiative includes within a joint development standard, a number of demonstration projects in a variety of cities in both the United States and China, technical road mapping, and projects to disseminate information to the general public.

4) Taiwan Electric Car Initiative. 2009 saw the Taiwanese Ministry of Economic Affairs make an announcement about the beginning of an electric car industry research consortium. While the country currently provides subsidies for those purchasing electric motorcycles, the government is set to create new policies to promote the purchase of electric cars in the near future. Because of Taiwan's large electronics and information technology sectors, when mixed with the automobile industry, Taiwan could prove to be a leader in the electric car market.

5) United Kingdom Electric Car Initiative. Not to be outdone, the United Kingdom has come up with its own Electric Car Initiative. The United Kingdom-based initiative seeks to make electric cars not only more attractive but more affordable to drivers by providing incentives up to GBP 5000 toward the purchase of plug-in or electric hybrid vehicles. The government also included another GBP 20 million to go towards the creation of a network of charging stations and the establishment of "electric car cities" around the country. The cities selected will service as a focal point for low-carbon and electric car demonstration projects. Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon said "The scale of incentives we're announcing today will mean that an electric car is a real option for motorists as well as helping to make the UK a world leader in low carbon transport."

6) Israeli Electric Car initiative. In Israel, California-based Better Place, has made one of their homes, supplying lithium-ion batteries for Renault-Nissan cars. Better Place will also be providing the necessary infrastructure for electric cars, including 500,000 charging stations and 200 batter-exchange centers. For its part, the Israeli government has decreases taxes on the purchase of electric cars in an effort to encourage citizens to make the switch. Because of Israel's small size, with major urban centers a maximum of 150 kilometers apart, Israel is the perfect location for electric vehicles than countries with longer commutes.

7) Belfast Electric Vehicles Initiative. Belfast, Ireland, has come up with their own Electric Vehicles Initiative. The objectives of this plan are to look at a number of pilot studies of other electric car initiatives and see how they were carried out and the funding required. Then the initiative would organize the data to see what works and what doesn't work and how to overcome obstructions for the use of electric vehicles in Belfast.

8 ) Australia Clean Driving Initiative. Clean Driving is a Canberra Region-based initiative to assist those looking for a transportation solution that has zero emissions, those wanting an electric vehicle, and of course, those looking to assist in creating a sustainable future. Clean Driving promotes the benefits of using electric vehicles, both in the wallet and for the environment. The objective is to promote education on sustainable options for transportation.

9) London Becomes International Electric Car Capital. London is quickly earning the title of International Electric Car Capital. Because of their large carbon footprint, London is introducing 100,000 electric cars, along with 25,000 charging stations in an effort to decrease their problems with carbon emissions. Though similar initiatives are occurring all over the world, this has so far been the largest. To further increase the city's standing, a number of incentives have been provided for those who make the switch to electric vehicles. If this is implemented properly, it will address growing concerns over London's low air quality, considered to be the worst throughout the European continent.

10) Canada Electric Car Initiative. Canada will admit that they have been slow onto the electric car initiative scene. The Canadian government has not only been slow, but slightly reluctant to promote the utilization of electric cars. The province of British Columbia was the first to start introducing the use of electric car use, especially within the city of Vancouver. The Vancouver Electric Car Association has been instrumental in increasing the use of electric vehicles to reduce carbon footprints. Now the rest of the country is following and the Council is beginning to make new laws, including amending bylaws to allow for low speed electric cars on city streets without getting in trouble.

(There are many initiatives missing from this list of course but it's a useful update).

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Tesla vs Top Gear - where is the line between entertainment and misrepresentation?

Clarkson and the G-Wiz
As followers of electric vehicles will be aware, Tesla is suing Top Gear for libel and malicious falsehood. Top Gear allegedly claimed the Tesla Roadster has a range of just 55 miles in a track race against a Lotus Elise, instead of the 211 miles published by Tesla. The programme also allegedly claimed that the brakes had failed on one of the Roadster loan cars.

The show first aired in the UK in 2008 but has been repeated worldwide and is available to view on the internet at youtube and via other social media.

Tesla said it became aware of the staging of the scene when its UK director of sales and marketing saw two scripts before the car had even been driven. One of the scripts concluded with virtually the same pay-off line used by Clarkson. ‘It’s just a shame that in the real world it absolutely doesn’t work,’ it read.

 In response, a Top Gear spokeswoman said: "We can confirm that we have received notification that Tesla have issued proceedings against the BBC. The BBC stands by the programme and will be vigorously defending this claim"

It will be interesting to see what is deemed reasonable in law by a show that claims it is just entertainment, when it looks a lot to me like a specialist and expert automotive programme with a high degree of technical knowhow and influence. The Clarkson brand in particular has apparently been meticulously planned and executed, allowing Mr Clarkson to achieve an unparalleled level of fame and fortune as an automotive journalist, which includes his own brand DVDs, books, specialist car reviews in The Sunday Times and more general opinion piece in the Sun newspaper. Sometimes such power can lead to errors of judgement of course.

As the former managing director of GoinGreen, the company behind the G-Wiz electric vehicle so often mocked by Clarkson and Top Gear, I was always loathe to challenge the programme or Mr Clarkson. Much as I would enjoy going one to one with Mr Clarkson in a boxing ring I am wary of doing so via the media, particularly his media. For five years I have remained silent on the matter.

However, I was interested to read comments made by Mike Boxwell, the founder of the G-Wiz Owners Club, experienced EV owner and driver, author of books on electric vehicles and the chap who liaised with Top Gear and Clarkson's production crew to provide G-Wiz for the programme's stunts and Clarkson's videos. On on March 12 2009, Mike states in reference to the now infamous race on a Clarkson 'Supercar Showdown' DVD between a G-Wiz and a table carried by men in white coats and subsequent crashing of the G-Wiz into the table: 

"That video is...erm...significantly misleading. The table was actually built from one inch thick steel veneered with wood and mounted into the ground with 3 foot long stakes.

The chassis on the G-Wiz was cut in several places in order to ensure it crumpled correctly. How do I know? I met and spoke to the person who engineered the whole exercise. Steve was actually quite impressed at how strong the G-Wiz was. 

The Clarkson video is an entertainment video, not factual."

This is sadly to miss the point. The BBC i-player lists tOP gear under 'factual', not 'entertainment'. Top Gear and Mr Clarkson's own brand DVDs may be entertaining, but they are entertainment disguised as expert opinion and therefore to allegedly cut the chassis of the G-Wiz before crashing it, is in my book at the very least misleading and perhaps something more serious altogether.

Following the crash, Clarkson made reference to acid leaking from the batteries, something that would have been highly unlikely unless the chassis had been tampered with. There are commercial consequences of such 'entertainment' and had I been aware of this alleged tampering at the time (I found Mike's comments on the internet last week while researching for a book I am writing about the G-Wiz), then I may have taken a similar view to the one Tesla is taking now. For all I know retailer GoinGreen, or manufacturer Mahindra Reva, (part of the US$7 billion Mahindra & Mahindra and no longer independent startup Reva Electric Car Company by the way) may have an opinion on this as well.

Following  the portrayal of the G-Wiz and comments made by Mr Clarkson and the Top Gear show and magazine and in Clarkson's videos, G-Wiz sales declined from their rising trend, impacting upon the company's investors and staff and customers. Given that it takes a lot of bravery, money and effort to make a company successful in the first place, it is a great shame that this is the case.

The G-Wiz is what it is - a first generation low speed, lightweight electric quadricycle designed for city commuting and as such it had until Mr Clarkson and the Top Gear franchise's intervention a rapidly growing following and a history of more than one hundred million miles of safe customer usage in more than 20 countries. Today there are still more G-Wiz on the UK's roads than any other brand of EV. The G-Wiz still provides the best value clean commuting on four wheels and I hear that enquiries for the new lithium ion version are on the increase. The Renault Twizzy EV, due to be launched next year is also a quadricycle and I am confident that it will follow the electron trail blazed by the G-Wiz. 

Whatever your personal view of the G-Wiz, for one third of the price of electric cars now coming to market, the G-Wiz has since 2004 demonstrated the viability of electric vehicles to millions of Londoners and visitors on a daily basis.

Monday, 11 April 2011

EVs: 1000 reasons why: No. 4

Don't take this for granted.
Next up in my occasional series of reasons why EVs are important:

No. 4: Freedom.

Freedom to drive where you want, when you want. To work, to a business meeting, to take the kids to school, to the supermarket and to visit friends. A freedom most of us are able to take for granted today but which may be lost unless we accelerate the move to the Electron Economy and to a transport system powered by electricity.

Range anxiety? How about a social network of free to use at-home charging points, a commercial network of fast charge and battery swap stations, and batteries that simply offer a range sufficient to remove the worry (about 300 miles, since you ask). All increasingly charged using electricity from renewable sources.

A bit like climate change deniers, those that deny the future of transport will be electric are a dwindling bunch of non-believers and spread betters. It's coming anyway. What's more fun: embracing and enjoying the future as a leader of change, or standing in the way of it with your cynical face on, delaying the change and making the transition more difficult and expensive for yourself?

Don't take my word for it, speak to someone you know who drives an electric car.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

ConnEVted cars: the future coming soon

The connected car is on its way and accelerating rapidly towards us. Infotainment is never going to be the same again but it goes much further than this one dimension.

By the end of this year there will be a reported 45 million embedded and hybrid connected car systems, a bigger number than any of us would have thought. But by 2016 this number will have grown to 210 million or more than one quarter of all cars on the global road.

GM's Onstar, BMW's Connected Drive, Ford's Sync, Toyota's Entune, Pandora Internet via smartphone integration for Pioneer and Kenwood,  REVA's REVive, the forthcoming cloud-based fruits from Microsoft and Toyota, insurance companies, vehicle tracking companies, road user charging companies, predictive maintenance, in-car wi-fi, mesh networking  - the list is growing and the permutations are many.

One thing is for sure. The 'third space' that is the you in your car will become increasingly and seamlessly connected as you move between home and work.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Shortlisted for Leader of the Year at the 2011 Business Green Awards

Today is a good day, I have been shortlisted for the inaugural Business Green Leaders Awards 2011. 450 entries, 10 categories and I am in the final 8 for Leader Of The Year. More info here.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Official: it's cheaper to drive an electric car in London

Under the headline 'Frugal electric cars cruise past gas-guzzlers', the Sunday Times reported that the UK's soaring petrol prices have made it cheaper for the first time to drive an electric car than a conventional petrol or diesel car.

The figures assume that the electric car costs £10,000 more to purchase, petrol at 113.13p per litre and includes road tax, parking and congestion charges and 10,000 miles driving per year over a four year period.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

The practical range of electric vehicles

How far can you drive? have been test driving electric vehicles and speaking to owners and have come up with the following guide for the range you can expect to achieve:

2011 Nissan Leaf:                 75 to 100 miles
2011 Mitsubishi imiev:           65 miles
2011 Tesla Roadster:            125+ miles
2012 Ford Focus:                   80 to 10 miles
2012 Coda Sedan (US only): 130 miles (claimed)
2012 smart Electric Drive:      65 miles

Deduct 30% when the outside temperature is below freezing, deduct a further 15% when using the heater, and deduct a further 10% if not driving in Eco mode. Of course if you can find (and your car accepts) Level 3 Fast Charging, then 10 to 30 minutes is enough to solve all your range issues. Also worth noting: the 2012 Toyota iQ electric will offer a range of 65 miles. Perhaps manufacturers are waking up to the fact that such a range is more than adequate for city usage (and has a potentially big impact in price reduction).

EV owners, how does this fit with your own experience?