Wednesday, 27 July 2011

EV companies: prepare for the Early Adopters

The Innovators have placed their orders and are patiently waiting for their Nissan Leafs, Chevy Volts and to a lesser extent, Mitsubishi imievs, Citroen C-Zeros and Peugeot ions.

For EV manufacturers, global demand is likely to exceed supply, at least for the Leaf and the Volt, for the next year or two. This is because production capacity is low and the vehicles are only available in a few states and countries currently. Selling to the first stage customer segment has not been difficult - these Enthusiasts, who number in the thousands, have been waiting for a long time for this generation of electric vehicles. It is important to remember that we are just at the beginning of the EV revolution - the UK EV registrations figures to date for 2011 certainly show that: 338 Leafs, 105 imievs, 77 ions, 60 smart EDs and 19 C-Zeros.

The next phase - commencing probably sometime around 2014 and lasting until 2020 - will see the entry into the market of the Early Adopters. I estimate that they will represent EV sales in the region of from 2% to 5% of total car sales (and as high as 15% in some western European cities). This is a segment of customers that are extremely interested in EVs but who are waiting before they part with their cash for the product to be receive good reviews and the price to come down somewhat. For this group of Succeeders, it's all about controlling the future, achievement, recognition and status. It is this segment that will determine how quickly EVs become mainstream vehicles because they are the critical customer segment that precede the Early Mainstreamers.

EV manufacturers will have to prepare their customer value propositions much more carefully for this customer segment, who are knowledgeable, critical and demanding. This about making the big case for electric cars, as well as making the individual case for each model.

This is when the marketing teams are really going to earn their salaries. If I were in their shoes, I would be speaking to governments today to prepare a much more convincing programme of education and awareness, one that demonstrates real commitment to EVs as the future of mobility.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

UK's 'first electric highway' announced

A few days after UK charging infrastructure company Chargemaster announced it will provide 4,000 charging points across 100 towns and cities in the UK by the end of 2012, UK green electricity supplier Ecotricity have announced Britain's 'first electric highway'.

In a deal reported in today's Sunday Times, Ecotricity have linked up with motorway service station chain Welcome Break. Under the terms of the deal, Ecotricity will provide fast and normal charging stations at 14 Welcome Break service stations, linking London in the south with Exeter in the west and Edinburgh in the north. 

It is understood that the electricity will be free if drivers use an Ecotrcity swipe card, although no details are available yet on how to obtain one.

The network will be extended to 27 sites within the next 18 months.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

The myth of EV charging infrastructure

There is a preoccupation at the moment with charging infrastructure in the UK that I find unhealthy for the EV market.

The charging companies and some others within the EV community insist that a widespread charging network is a prerequisite for the EV market to take off. Some claim that motorists will not buy EVs until they have a charging safety net, to ensure that they can switch from ICE to EV without having to adjust their driving behaviour. And to ensure that it will be possible to cross the UK in their EV (or at least drive fast on motorways). At least one charging company has published research to 'prove' their point.

The UK government used to agree with the people in the first camp, but have shifted their position. They now claim that a 'charging point on every corner' is unnecessary from a driver requirement and therefore would be a waste of government funds. Like the proponents of EV infrastructure,  they too have a vested interest of course, in the government's case that they are desperately trying to cut government expenditure in today's tough economic climate.

Let's look at some facts:

1. On a daily basis, most people drive between 20 and 60 miles. This includes the work commute, school run, shopping and local leisure.

2. 97% of all UK car journeys are less than 100 miles.

3. EV drivers charge at home, at night, when it is cheapest and most convenient to do so.

So, today, with current EV product, most people, most of the time, will have no problem at all in finding EVs to meet their daily needs.

The reason the EV market is not taking off quickly here in the UK is not however a lack of vehicle supply, or a lack of charging infrastructure. It is due to the high ticket price of the current generation of EVs - around £30,000 plus before incentives, £25,000 after incentives. This price is too expensive for most motorists given the limited range and in comparison to their conventional car equivalent.

There is another reason -  the case for EVs as an appropriate vehicle for daily usage has just not been made by government and manufacturers alike, so few private motorists are able or willing to take a risk with so much cash.

As a result, the market is now skewed to fleets, as large companies dip a toe in the EV waters in pursuit of their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) goals.

This situation has been exasperated by EV manufacturers launching mid range saloons rather than smaller hatchbacks, which would have made a simple and obvious case for EVs with limited range as being appropriate as 'second' cars for families, with the 'primary' car being used at weekends and for occasional long journeys.

You have to ask the question why have the manufacturers done this? The answer may be because a) they don't actually want to sell many EVs in this initial phase b) because they are more interested in creating a halo effect, similar to that achieved by Toyota with the Prius and c) because corporate test fleets are a lower PR risk than sales to private motorists.

Where does that leave us?

Certainly the government has a role to play here. More than any other organisation, they need to make the case for EVs as ideal city runarounds. They need to make the public understand that 100 miles is more than adequate for most needs and that it is not necessary AT ALL to have a public charging network before purchasing an EV.

Secondly, EV manufacturers should focus on introducing city hatchbacks, lightweight, energy efficient vehicles suited for urban and second car usage. Crucially, they need to make these vehicles affordable, either by innovative leasing (separating the battery from the vehicle, like Renault are proposing) and/or by pricing more competitively (again, Renault are leading the way). Government can encourage and facilitate this by introducing a taxation and incentive system which priorities these low cost city cars.

The EV market is stalling currently. Too many potential EV purchasers are adopting a 'wait and see' stance as a result of the confusion and questions over current product and the 'lack' of public charging. They are waiting for the charging infrastructure and waiting for battery range to increase - when neither are required.

In the medium to long term, it will be convenient to have charging stations in many places outside the home - most notably at work and on motorways. There are commercial opportunities for top-up charging at hotels, sporting and entertainment venues, supermarkets, in car parks and at roadside parking bays, the latter so that people who live in apartments can have access to EVs. As many have judged, now is indeed the time to be entering the market as we are at the start of a land-grab for the charging industry.

But let us not confuse what is necessary and what is desirable for the market to take off.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Nissan Leaf US EV customer profile data

According to autobloggreen, Nissan in the US have released selected customer profile data, based on the 4,000 + owners so far.

No surprises, but interesting to see that the profile and usage is broadly similar to the early adopters of G-Wiz in London back in 2004 - 2006 - even though the Leaf costs three times more than the G-Wiz and is a much more sophisticated vehicle:

The Leaf is their primary vehicle for day to day use. Although they own other cars, most commonly the Prius (19%), their electric car is the one they choose to use on a daily basis.

Owners are college educated with a household income of US$140,000.

95% of Leafs purchased are the high spec Leaf SL.

Leaf owners drive less than 60 miles per day.

60% of sales are in California, predominantly LA and SF.

Half of the initial deposits (52%) translated into sales (presumably due to speculators hoping that demand would exceed supply).

Chery start production of £14,000 Riich EV

China - Chery have commenced production of their M1 EV, the Riich. A 3 door hatchback, the Riich has a range of 74 to 100 miles, a top speed of 74 mph and a 0 - 30 mph in 7 seconds, from its 40kW electric motor and lithium-ion phosphate battery pack.

Recharge time is 6 - 8 hours using the standard Chienese domestic 220V power supply. There is also a quick charge option of 80% in 30 minutes.

Prices start at a competitive £14,200 and there are subsidies available in China depending on location.

There is no information available regarding introduction in the EU or elsewhere.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Has UK govmt got its EV strategy wrong?

Here in the UK in the first 6 months of the year, 680 electric vehicles have been purchased under the government's Plugged In Grant scheme. This represents £3.4m (8%) of the £43m fund.

The sales trend is worrying, with just 215 vehicles purchased in the second quarter compared to 465 in the first quarter. Maybe it is a supply issue, but I am not sure that this accounts for all of the decline. Of the 215 EVs purchased, only a quarter were bought by private motorists.

The £43m fund runs until March 2012, when it will be reviewed. The fund was reduced from its original amount and there were fears that it would be insufficient. There shouldn't have been. It is obvious that the purchase price of the EVs that qualify  - at around £30,000 before the 25% up to £5,000 incentive - is simply too high. All the research has always indicated that people will not pay a premium for EVs, and certainly not pay a 25% premium, as is the case here.

Renault may be about to address this with the launch of the Fluence Z.E., similar to the Leaf, but priced at an ecouraging £17,850 after the £5,000 incentive.

The question is, why launch with mid range saloons rather than less expensive, lighter and therefore higher performing hatchbacks, more suited to limited range, second car, city driving? Perhaps Carlos Ghosn, who runs Renault-Nissan, is seeking the (Toyota) Prius halo effect on the brand, before stepping foot into the volume segment. The UK government are effectively underwriting some image building for Nissan and Renault, at the expense of market building - a clever move by Ghosn.

Good for the automotive brands, not so good for the uptake of EVs.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

UK to have 4,000 new 'Polar' EV charging stations by end 2012

EV infrastructure company Chargemaster, has announced it will provide 4,000 charging points across 100 towns and cities in the UK by the end of 2012.
So far Britain has about 1,000 charging points through the Government-backed scheme Plugged in Places; therefore the new programme, called Polar, will significantly increase the country's infrastructure.
It will mean cities such as Bristol receive charging points for the first time and provide the UK with one of the biggest charging networks in the world. At present, the US has about 2,000 charging points and its only private-funded locations are in Texas.
Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, speaking to the Daily Telegraph said: "This is exactly the kind of private-sector-led initiative that we need to drive the development of our national network of recharging infrastructure, and this is another great example of how UK enterprise is leading the charge."
Users of Polar will pay a monthly subscription of roughly £20 and then 90p to charge their car with up to 100 miles of power.
Chargemaster is led by David Martell, who floated the traffic detection business Trafficmaster. Mr Martell owns more than 60pc of the company.
Chargemaster believes the Polar network will cost £10m to roll out and says it has secured the funding from internal sources. It aims to generate revenues and profits from the fees paid to use the service.
The company will place the charging points at supermarkets, hotels and car parks after agreeing partnership deals with retailers such as Asda, J Sainsbury and Waitrose.
Mr Martell said: "We believe this is very important because it will put the UK on the map as a hotspot for electric vehicle infrastructure. It will have a huge influence on car makers when they are choosing where to launch an electric car."

The Chargemaster stations are in addition to the 1,000 existing stations and the Zero Carbon World initiative to install a further 1,000 32 amp stations by the same date, plus the existing government funded commitments via other suppliers. Combined, this could put the UK back in to a leadership position globally for EV infrastructure.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

France to get motorway EV charging network

The Independent newspaper reports that French motorists are to get a comprehensive electric vehicle charging network along the country's highway network.

French automaker Renault announced a partnership with VINCI Autoroutes, the firm which operates nearly half of the privately-run French motorways, July 13, promising to deploy electric vehicle infrastructure across the network.
The project, set to begin work later this year, will see quick-charging points installed in some motorway service plazas, so that drivers can rapidly charge cars that are running out of juice.
At first, the program will focus on sections of the network most regularly used for commuting, the partners said, including routes such as Paris to Orleans and Tours, Paris to Chartres and Le Mans, and Arles to Montpellier in the South.
In carpool parking lots, reserved for shared vehicles, VINCI is also set to set aside space for five electric vehicles in each lot, with electric charging stations made available for zero-emissions carsharing - a total of 738 electric carpooling spaces will be installed by 2013, the partners announced.
Renault, which plans to launch its all-electric range "ZE" (zero emissions) later this year, is one of the names leading the charge in the electrification of European motoring, already partnering with Better Place to install a charging network in Denmark.
This latest move will give it a high-visibility presence on the French motorway network, although it still faces competition - most notably from VW and Daimler, which are forging ahead with partnerships in Germany - in the European EV charging space.
Close to 2 million public charging points will be available in Europe by 2017, according to Frost & Sullivan.

Friday, 15 July 2011

EV range anxiety not such an issue in the real world

The Charging Point reports the results of the UK's biggest ever EV trial.

The results of the 12-month trial of electric vehicles have been released and the findings are revealing - and confirm what I have been saying based on my own experience with 1,000 G-Wiz customers in London.

The conclusion: “they [electric cars] are more than capable of meeting the needs of drivers that require efficient urban transportation”.

The study is called CABLED, which is short for Coventry and Birmingham Low Emissions Demonstrators. CABLED is one of a number of government strategies to increase the number of low carbon cars on UK roads. The data collected will also help to determine how infrastructure and Smart Grid technology should develop.
The study, the largest of eight trials taking part, monitored the use of 25 Mitsubishi imievs and 20 Smart fortwo cars over a total of 147,000 miles.
The study found that over three quarters of daily journeys took less than 20 minutes, with just two percent of them using more than 50% of the battery charge. So in the vast majority of cases, drivers had more than enough juice for a return trip.
That’s a pretty strong argument against ‘range anxiety’, a point that was supported by a trend that showed journeys getting longer over time. Simply put, as drivers began to have more confidence in the car’s actual range potential they began to use more of it.
The other interesting thing is that drivers didn’t recharge at a specific point of depletion, but rather, just plugged in if they got to a place with a handy socket. In fact, the average driver plugged in with between 81 and 87 percent of charge remaining. And with such a relatively low level of use – the cars were on the road about 40 minutes a day on average – there was clearly lots of charging opportunity.
The other revealing finding indicates that most drivers finished their daily journeys with over 40% charge still remaining. And the average user only needed to recharge every 2-3 days – they tended to charge at home overnight or at their place of work over 85% of the time.
The average charge time was between 2-3 hours (usually equivalent to half charge) with an energy transfer of 6kWh costing around 60-80p depending upon tariff (equivalent to one load in a washer dryer). Peaks for charging were observed from 7-9am and from 6-7pm, likely because people charged at work in the morning and home in the evening. Another peak occurred after 11pm when participants used timers to take advantage of off-peak energy tariffs.
Brian Price from Aston University, which was responsible for analysing the data, commented: “Through satellite tracking and on-board telemetry, we have been able to monitor real-world usage of the latest ultra-low carbon vehicles technologies on an unprecedented scale.
“Public charging points provided as part of the trial are proving popular, but less necessary than originally thought, as users gain confidence in the range capability of the vehicles. The trial has shown that the current generation of low carbon vehicles are as capable as conventional diesel and petrol engines for performance and ease of use, whilst having significantly lower emissions and operating costs.”
Charging stations are being built and we will see them proliferate rapidly in many countries. Meanwhile, let's get over this chicken and egg debate in the media about the need for charging stations everywhere before the EV market can take off. It's dead, it's buried, let's move on.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Portugal to have first nationwide EV charging network?

EV Update reports that amid some of its toughest economic and political times for many decades, Portugal’s electric transportation programme represents a burgeoning success story.  
Portugal is aiming to be the first country in the world to have a nationwide electric vehicle (EV) charging network. The network is scheduled to be operational by the beginning of next year.
The charging network, known as MOBI.E, will consist of 1,300 normal and 50 fast charging stations at shopping centres, car parks, petrol stations and hotels in 25 towns and cities around Portugal.
The open system of charging points will be compatible with all EV models, including electric motorbikes and heavy goods vehicles when they become available.
The system, which was devised and developed entirely in Portugal, is intended to be a pan-European and global platform, and the research team believes, as a result, that it can play an important role in the expansion of EV usage.
The key aspect of the MOBI.E system is that it can integrate all the currently fragmented charging networks and electric mobility services into one single system that is open and easily accessed by any user.
The Portuguese system approaches electric mobility as a series of sub-services. For example, the system has a contract with VISA to address the issue of payments and works with municipal administrations to ensure parking space availability. Customers purchase a pre-paid charging card that gives them access to all the charging points of the network.
MOBI.E also enshrines a degree of competition, as different companies are able to use the charging network, and payments are made directly to the specific company whose services are used.
Such interoperability is the reason why the system’s developers believe that it the network can expand internationally. In fact, the system works in a way similar to mobile telephony, whereby users are able to ‘roam’ from one network to another.

The race is on between Portugal and the UK, whose Zero Carbon World charity is attempting to install 50  sites by next month and 1000 in total in 12 months, all 32 amp. This is in addition to the 700 charging points already installed in London and a small number of other UK cities. Great to see this pioneering work.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Fable and Co PR consultancy launched


I am pleased to announce the launch of my new PR consultancy, together with my fellow co-founder Rossana Tich. Rossana and I have collaborated together for the past 8 years, working together as client and agency to make the G-Wiz the UK and then Europe's most famous and best selling electric vehicle. 

Now we have joined forces to launch Fable + Co, perhaps the most experienced PR consultancy available to companies in the EV field.

For further information please contact me at

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Renault Frendzy EV concept: live. work. cool

Renault EVs are hot. This is the Frendzy concept, billed as a 'multi-talented vehicle', likely to be the future direction of the Kangoo and Trafic models, but with much more panache.

On the Frendzy’s passenger side there is a conventional door, as well as a sliding side door which incorporates a 37-inch widescreen display. The large external screen can display messages or information – such as “making deliveries” or “back in five minutes” – or advertising messages, either while parked or on the move.
The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, recently launched by Research In Motion, plugs into the dashboard, and enables the concept of an office on wheels to become reality, says Renault.
The device has an important role to play as it controls the exterior screen while the vehicle is in motion, or the viewing of a film, for example. The tablet connects directly into the centre console. As soon as it is plugged in, it becomes an integral element of the vehicle. 
This is the world of work, says Renault. 

On the driver’s side there are centre-opening doors representing the world of the family, as it allows for easy entry. Come the weekend, the vehicle transforms itself into a family vehicle with a front passenger seat and, in the rear, a big bench seat. The single-piece rear seat is integrated into the floor, while the front seat folds forward in order to free up space. Children can watch a film or play games on the touch-sensitive pad which slides out from the back of the driver’s seat. They can also draw on a special slate integrated into the sliding door.

EVs certainly seem to be freeing up the Renault designers to think a lot more imaginatively, n'est ce pas?

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Leaf vs Volt: Leaf 'kimarite' ('winning technique')

After 6 months of head to head sales and heavyweight marketing campaigns in the US, the all-electric Nissan Leaf is outselling the range extended Chevrolet Volt by more than 40%.

With a total sold of 3875 units between January and June 2011, the Leaf is 1130 units clear of the Chevrolet Volt on 2745.

No doubt price has something to do with these numbers, as the 2011 Leaf is nearly $7,000 less expensive at $23,900 vs $31,300 after incentives. I would also like to think that the US public can see that if they want to drive a clean car, then it makes more sense to drive pure electric than any form of hybrid. GM's swipes at the Leaf in their marketing campaigns may also have backfired and rightly so. GM should be market building, not competitive selling.

I am looking forward to the launch of the Volt and it's sibling the Ampera in Europe to see the same face-off with the Leaf and which vehicle European motorists choose. I suspect that the range exetenders will have limited success over here.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Time for a new EV strategy

T-27 'Urban M1'
The UK government has been accused of undermining their green agenda with a U-turn on charging points for electric vehicles. This is based on the coalition's agreement which called for 'a national recharging network for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles'. The reason given for the change in policy was fresh research which showed that EV drivers would prefer to charge at home. This is quite correct, most EV owners will charge at home at night, for reasons of convenience and lower cost. And over time, we will see the growth of privately funded charging stations in business, public and supermarket car parks, facilitated by the newly announced changes in the planning process and approvals.

The reality of course is that in these tough economic times, every government department is looking for ways to cut costs and improve efficiency. Leaving the future funding of EV charging infrastructure to the private sector is probably the right decision, otherwise we would have been left with a lot of unused charging stations that would have been cited as reasons why electric cars will not work. The market will drive infrastructure growth, we just need to accept that we do not need a huge network of public charging stations before we buy EVs and not allow ourselves to get stuck in a chicken-and-egg situation.

So far so good.

However, is it now time for a rethink of government policy? Climate change, energy security, city pollution and job creation can all be addressed in good part by an aggressive but very different EV programme. 

Here is what I would do:

1. Create a new category of electric vehicle, the 'Urban M1' : the number of deaths from driving is declining rapidly as safety standards in cars improves. What we call 'cars' are actually a category called 'M1' and what we call micro-cars, or heavy quadricycles, are a category called 'L7e'. The G-Wiz is a quadricycle and although it is limited by weight it cannot be built to the same safety standards as an M1 car, it nonetheless has an excellent safety record. This is because its speed is limited by a power output ceiling, and because it is both designed and used as a car for urban and low speed (non-motorway) driving.

I suggest  that the L7e category is changed to Urban M1 (a phrase first coined by Professor Gordon Murray, the designer of the Mclaren F1 and recently the T-27 electric car prototype) and that the weight allowance is increased from 450 kg without batteries, to 650 kg without batteries. This category would enable a minimum of 4* NCAP safety levels and crucially, safe electric cars could be made for around £12,000 at today's costs (and so much cheaper in a few years time as battery costs tumble), rather than the £23,000 to £32,000 that the excellent Renault Fluence ZE and Nissan Leaf cost. As the biggest barrier to EV adoption is price (not infrastructure, as some still claim), this will change the focus for manufacturers from building big, heavy, expensive electric cars (good for profits) to small, lightweight, inexpensive electric cars (good for drivers and the environment) .

2. Mandate that all second and third family cars are electric: the simplest, cheapest, most effective way to ensure that we meet our climate change targets and reduce energy security fears is to ensure that the second car market is focused on electric cars, preferably, but not exclusively, 'Urban M1' electric cars. The shorter range of electric cars are ideally suited to second car journey profiles of course, so there would be minimum hardship if any with such a policy. This could also create a lot of new jobs as the EV industry would be given a permanent boost and be the perfect platform for near universal EV adoption within a decade or two.

3. Spend government EV incentive cash on EV education: the government were seduced into  providing incentives by the auto manufacturers, when what is really needed is for the OEMs and government to get together and undertake a thorough communication programme that explains why we need electric vehicles. In the same way that Kennedy inspired a nation of Americans to support the moon programme,  David Cameron could build an industry and a movement in the UK, one that addressed climate change and energy security whilst creating jobs and a huge feelgood factor, placing the UK at the forefront of the new global transport economy and inspiring other nations to follow suit.

Signals and consistent, clear support for EVs will do more than stop-start incentives and 'U-turns'. A bit of clever thinking like this would be much cheaper too for the government, surely the most compelling reason why it should happen.