Hello and welcome back to The Fast Charge, a British EV newsletter.
Sorry that last Friday I could not deliver an edition, this was due to a cataclysmic network failure on my part. However, it has made me rethink how I manage this newsletter. After 60 editions of The Fast Charge, I’ve decided that going forward it will not be twice-weekly. Instead, I’ll produce one email per week which will likely go out on a Sunday.
By moving to one edition per week, I should be able to create a much juicer edition that includes more original stories and also interviews. I hope that sounds good to you and I’m very thankful to everyone who has supported this newsletter so far!
Elsewhere today… chargepoint growth is slowing, a fab story on urban mining, the Prime Minister’s climate spokesperson is moronic, and I’ve written about how we should show hydrogen some love.
As ever, do drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any feedback, questions or comments.
In the news…
GREEN TEAM: The EV YouTube channel Fully Charged announced yesterday that it had won the rights to name the stadium of Forest Green Rovers - the league two football team owned by Dale Vince (owner of Ecotricity). The stadium will now be called The Fully Charged New Lawn. Since June the club has been looking to award the naming rights for its stadium to an organisation working on environmental issues. After 100 groups put themselves forward Fully Charged won. On the news, Dale Vince said: “Together we can spread the word about electric vehicles, clean energy and green football.” Robert Llewlyn, the founder of Fully Charged, said: "It's a real privilege, for what began as a humble YouTube channel, to be associated with a pioneering organisation like Forest Green Rovers.” For those who are not aware, FGR is recognised as the world’s greenest football club. Only vegan food is served to visitors and the kit, such as the lawnmower, is all-electric amongst many other clean innovations. Read more.
AWKWARD ALLEGRA: I can’t believe I’m actually writing these words, but the Prime Minister’s climate spokesperson, Allegra Stratton, has said that she’d rather keep her diesel than get an EV over range concerns. It’s an honest concern. BUT, to have it said by someone who is meant to be helping promote this industry is just appalling PR. Especially as some of the facts she’s used for her conclusions are incorrect. For example, she told Times Radio that she needed her current car to visit relatives “200, 250 miles away”. This is despite many EVs existing that can more than handle this range - I’ve done 200 miles easy in the Zoe. She also claimed that recharging stops are lengthy, this is despite many often taking just 20 minutes. Honestly, what a bedwetter. I did find it amusing that the government’s Office of Zero Emission Vehicles tweeted within an hour of this story with a post starting “worried about EVs for long journeys?” Was it a subtweet? Read more.
NEW STATS: Speaking of OZEV, the latest EV charging point statistics for July (covering the last quarter - April, May, June) have been released this morning by DfT. You can find them here. The total number of devices has increased by 7% since March to 24,374. There are now some 4,551 rapid chargers, an increase of 292 (also 7%). This is down from the previous quarter where growth was 10% across the board. This does seem quite worrying given the increasing speed of EV sales over the past few months. We cannot get to a point where we have a charging drought!
TRUE COST: There was another clanger in the media yesterday in the form of a survey by Which? - picked up by The Times - which suggested it takes 10 years for an EV to pay for itself. Essentially, what they’ve done is looked at the entry-point price for a new EV and compared it to a new petrol model price. While it is true there is (currently) a price difference, we should remember some things outside this doom-mongering. Firstly, the vast majority of people will not buy a new EV - much like how few people buy new petrol vehicles. Secondly, the cost savings don’t seem to take into account the rising petrol costs. Lastly, who the hell buys a car outright anymore? Read more.
BATTERY RECYCLING: Over lunch yesterday I read the FT’s recent ‘big read’ into how we can reuse batteries for our EVs. I thought it would bore me to death but it’s one of the best ones I’ve read. In it, the FT hone in on Redwood Materials, the start-up created by the guy who persuaded Elon to back EVs many moons ago, JB Straubel. It’s now a billion-dollar business that is taking scrap products (like old e-scooters and mobiles), stripping them down to valuable materials and passing them back into EV production. The process is called ‘urban mining’. It’s very niche at the moment but could be quite lucrative as for every 300 smartphones you collect, there is enough cobalt for an EV battery - which is very valuable and often environmentally damaging to get out the ground. I appreciate not everyone has an FT subscription but this piece really was interesting, so if you are keen to read it, drop me an email and I’ll send you a gift link - essentially a free read. Read it on the FT.
CHARGER ALERT: If you own a Wallbox or ProjectEV chargepoint at home, you might want to do some updates. It seems a security analyst has found holes in their software making it possible for crooks to use them without your permission (or stop you from using it at all). I’m not exactly sure what kind of thief is driving around in an EV and hacking into software in order to nick a few kWhs without you noticing…. But, just in case, do your updates! Not least to protect the rest of your home cyber network. Read more on the BBC.
UK FACTORY: News from the weekend that Rivian, the EV start-up which is backed by Amazon and Ford, is planning a UK factory, possibly in Bristol. While many people have been sharing images of Rivian’s pick-up truck, it’s probably most likely Rivian plans to build its EV commercial vans in the UK - given our nation is the capital of small vans. Apparently, talks are ongoing with the government but there are also competitor offers from Germany and the Netherlands. Read more on Sky.
BYE BYE ZOE: Renault has quietly announced that it is to phase out the Renault Zoe in favour of its upcoming refreshed R5 model. The Zoe has been an incredibly popular EV and probably one many in this country (and Europe) are familiar with. Though it has its faults, like terrible aerodynamics and leaky doors, the battery range is truly epic. Probably the best small EV you can buy if you want to actually drive somewhere. The R5 is expected in 2024. Read more.
NEW UNITY: Seven leading British companies have united to form a new ‘Electric Vehicle Fleet Accelerator’. The businesses have all pledged to go fully electric by 2030 and are asking the government for £50 billion of support for commercial fleets, such as getting more subsidies to buy vehicles and install chargepoints. The seven companies are BP, BT, Direct Line Group, Royal Mail, ScottishPower, Severn Trent and Tesco, whose collective fleets number around 70,000 vehicles. Read more.
FIERY ARTICLE: The Daily Telegraph has written an utterly bizarre article about how EVs could threaten consumers because in the past some batteries have set on fire. Talk about scaremongering! It’s not like people aren’t currently driving around on top of petrol bombs, is it? No matter, their audience obviously loves EV bashing. The top comment is: “Vote Blue, Go Green and get incinerated?”. You can read it (if you really want to) in the Telegraph.
Hydrogen has a future, so let’s stop fighting
In the Sunday Times this weekend, the most famous automotive writer… in the world, Jeremy Clarkson, made an argument for using hydrogen fuel.
It was in a review of the new Toyota Mirai, the hydrogen car bought very recently by his colleague James May. Clarkson didn’t mention his experience of the Mirai in his column, in fact, I do wonder if he actually road-tested it at all; however, in any case, he managed to pump out a love letter to H2 and why we need to refocus from battery cars.
Despite hydrogen obviously being impractical, Clarkson makes a compelling argument for it. Not least because he inspires hope even while highlighting current issues with H2.
“And how will we get more hydrogen filling stations if everyone is charging down the rechargeable electric route? It’s like we are all buying laser discs because we don’t know the internet is coming.” Wrote Clarkson.
And he also wasn’t in short supply of EV criticism: “And think about what you do when the battery in your iPhone starts to weaken. You throw it away and buy another. Well, soon you’ll have to do that with a £100,000 car.”
But it was the comments underneath this column that I found most interesting. And what they illustrate is a real challenge that those in the EV industry need to come to terms with: hydrogen is not going away.
People for many years have been banging on about how hydrogen is abundant, how it can use the current oil infrastructure and fill up a car in minutes. And it has been reinforced by companies like Honda, Toyota and more recently Land Rover who also believe in an H2 world.
The only real change has been battery technology rising to become the dominant clean transport alternative.
However, what this column shows (again) is that battery electric folk can’t rest on their laurels. The H2 lobby is powerful, not because it’s backed by big companies, but because it’s something many of the public believe is possible.
Therefore, much like the ‘war’ between the currents in the late 1800s, or the endless fight between science and religion, battery backers need to be careful not to create unnecessary division. I’m not suggesting Tesla will blow up a horse with hydrogen to show how dangerous it is, but I do worry we’ll see rising propaganda on both sides – such as Toyota allegedly lobbying the US congress to slow EV reforms.
The truth is, arguing will not get us anywhere. I had this epiphany recently when I wrote an article bashing James May for buying an H2 car on Drivetribe. After he responded with his reasons for getting one, I didn’t feel right, I just felt like a slight bully.
I love to believe the future for clean transport revolves around battery-powered cars which are cheap, recyclable, and efficient, but the thing is I could be wrong. We might be driving around in gas-guzzling H2 cars.
In all likelihood, I suspect we’ll see a mixture of clean fuels being used. Maybe batteries will suit individual transport, long-haul (like ships and trains) will be hydrogen and farming might use bio-oils.
And this is why the EV community needs to foster a different approach to hydrogen. We cannot be so belligerent.
Already since Clarkson’s article was posted, Gill Nowell, spokesperson for the EV Association for England, has written a Twitter thread criticising H2 cars. And so too has Robert Llewellyn, the founder of the Fully Charged Show. On Sunday he wrote on Twitter calling Clarkson’s article a “steaming mass of fecal matter” pledging to rant about it further – presumably in a podcast on his show.
My advice would be, don’t. The EV community is, as I’ve often said, still in a small niche. And because of our hard stances, we’re regularly stereotyped as leftie one-minded compost smelling Thunberg superfans. Reinforcing this stereotype won’t win us any supporters. We need The Sun reading, meat-eating Carling drinkers. So, let’s get over ourselves and broaden the EV church.
If I were Robert and Gill, I’d invite Clarkson to a chat. Maybe May too. Or even speak to those JCB engineers making H2 diggers (referred to in Jeremy’s column). The road to 2030 is surely going to be hard enough without us putting more obstacles up.
By Tom Riley