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EV minister resigns + High price pushes InstaVolt down to fifth best network
The latest news from the world of EVs
Good morning, I’m Tom Riley and welcome back to The Fast Charge, a British EV newsletter.
The top story in today’s edition… After maintaining a top spot for four years, InstaVolt falls to fifth in a driver popularity vote.
Elsewhere… The government minister for the EV portfolio resigns in the reshuffle - I’ve included two bios on those likely to replace him. Likewise, several new networks launched, and can AI tools help us educate people? I test that theory by creating ClarksonGPT.
As ever, if you have any thoughts or ideas, please do get in touch. To do so, simply reply to this email.
Why has InstaVolt dropped to the UK’s fifth best network?
Background: Last week, Zapmap published a list of the best EV charging networks in the UK, as rated by 4,000 drivers. This is an annual survey that Zapmap has been running since 2019. In the top three spots were Fastned, MFG EV Power, and Osprey respectively – congrats to all!
However… While GeniePoint came last – which led their MD to publish a statement – what really caught my attention was InstaVolt’s result. The UK’s biggest rapid charging network with some 1,300 chargers (or 13% market share) came fifth in the survey. To quote that scientist from TV show Chernobyl, the result is ‘not great, not terrible’. But, it’s a huge fall from two years ago when they were rated the best network. And, overall, it’s the first survey since 2019 where InstaVolt has been outside the top three.
Why the drop? Well, it’s a simple answer… cost. Despite the broadly solid reliable experience of InstaVolt’s network, they are one of the most expensive charging networks in the UK – prices are 85p per kWh, which is more than petrol. This point came up in the survey responses.
Up and up: In the time since they were voted no.1 two years ago, InstaVolt has made seven price increases, by my count. In November 2021 it was a mere 40p per kWh – meaning a huge 112.5% to today’s price.
Why so high? This rise has occurred, InstaVolt has said repeatedly, due to the pressure on wholesale energy costs, due to the war in Ukraine and the resultant inflation. However, while that excuse worked last year, as prices have come down everywhere else in energy markets in 2023, InstaVolt’s logic seems less sound. They may have realised this too, or at least that might explain why, after providing six previous price updates publicly, the most recent one in October to 85p was made silently.
Frustrated drivers: It's starting to grate on drivers too. A rather popular post in the UK’s 20k strong EV Facebook forum in October cried of their new pricing: “I’m about ready to delete their app”. Elsewhere, you need only search their @ name on X/Twitter to find endless posts of price-related complaints. In another post, one driver compares InstaVolt’s £0.85p pricing against Tesla’s £0.33p… as the chargers are in the same location.
Response? I reached out to InstaVolt about having a chat but, alas, I have not heard back. They seem happy to be in their own lane, and remain the biggest network not to have joined others in initiatives like ChargeUK.
Next steps: Prices for charging remain an important area for would-be EV owners, yet some networks continue to offer very high prices – despite the energy crisis easing. In InstaVolt’s case, they have regularly called for the VAT on public chargers (20%) to be made equal to home electric (5%), as they will be able to lower costs that way. However, there are other routes all networks should be exploring too – and the government should be nudging them to do so – such as the greater use of off-peak tariffs.
Reshuffle news: EV minister resigns and two new DfT appointments
Summary: After a dramatic reshuffle yesterday that saw David Cameron rejoin the government, we also saw Jesse Norman, Transport Decarbonisation Minister, resign from his post at the Department for Transport. That means, in under four years, we’re going on to our fifth minister – not exactly helpful for businesses or the public.
Background: While minister, Jesse has been responsible for pushing through the ZEV mandate and working with those in the industry. From those I’ve spoken to previously, I’m told he was always keenly interested in what businesses had to say, and firm with officials when issues arose. Why go? The reason given in his letter is that Jesse will be spending more time within his constituency and campaigning on the River Wye.
Who? As of this morning, two new MPs have been appointed as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Junior Ministers) in DfT. They are Anthony Browne MP and Guy Opperman MP. It’s not clear yet who will lead the decarbonisation brief, but here’s a quick bio on both…
About Anthony… He’s been MP for South Cambridgeshire since 2019, and in Parliament has taken an active interest in green issues - he has been Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Environment (a role he’ll now have to give up). During his early career, Anthony was the Environment Editor of The Observer. On EVs, Anthony is a big advocate and was an early Tory voice suggesting the phase-out of ICE vehicles before Boris’ 2020 ban announcement. He has spoken and written about climate issues extensively, and you can see a collation of his views on environmental policies (like the recent pushback to 2035, which he supported) on his website here.
About Guy… He’s a supremely well-respected ministerial operator, having spent a number of years in DWP. Guy was previously Minister of State for Employment. Prior to October 2022, he was the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Pensions and Financial Inclusion from 2017 to 2022. On EVs, Guy has said very little, but he has backed previous government legislation and initiatives in his constituency of Hexham in Northumberland. Given his recent employment role, Guy may be very alert to the opportunities in the green economy. Earlier this year he visited Nissan.
Ps. This is niche non-EV Westminster drivel… But in 2012, Jesse Norman led a huge Tory rebellion against David Cameron’s Lords Reform Bill – leading to Jesse being shouted out by the then Prime Minister in Parliament. The bill collapsed. Ironically, had Cameron’s reforms gone through, Sunak may have been unable to appoint Cameron as Foreign Secretary via the Lords. Swings and roundabouts!
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Top EV stories last week…
🔌 Last Thursday, we saw the official launch of Zapgo, a new network created to build 4,000 rapid chargers using £26m of funding. See here. And, today, Australian network JOLT, which is backed by BlackRock, has launched in the UK aiming to build 5,000 on-street chargers. Read more.
⚡ EG Group, the petrol station operator and owner of Asda, has put in a big order to buy Tesla’s ultra-rapid chargers – following BP who made a similar announcement in October – which will see its network grow to 20,000. Read more.
📊 Last week, I highlighted the latest SMMT new car registrations. However, looking back at them again this week, one thing really sticks out: the number of new plug-in hybrids was a huge 60% higher in October this year than 2022. Likewise, year-to-date, 113,000 of them have been registered in the UK. They are often overlooked, but many of these drivers may have to also use the public network.
👍 Speaking of SMMT, they have also revealed recently that the number of second-hand fully electric transactions was up 99% in Q3 of this year. See more.
💲 Fastned is selling used public EV chargers. The network published a post advertising both 50kW and 175kW ABB chargers for sale, and are looking for parties who are ready to purchase a minimum of 10 chargers per transaction. See tweet.
🚗 The Tesla Cybertruck has been getting a lot of hype, but some people have been surprised at the vehicle contract which includes the agreement that owners are unable to sell them until one year has passed (or you could face action). Read more.
According to sales data reviewed by HSBC, carmakers are having to offer deals on EV models in order to sell vehicles that previously had months-long waiting lists. Read more (paywall).
The Sunday Times wrote a long piece about tyre emissions, suggesting that due to the weight of EVs, they are having their tyres replaced more regularly - and spewing particles into people’s faces in the process. Here’s the rub… all cars have got much bigger, SUVs are the default for many, and while EVs are heavy, so are many ICE cars.
🏆 One start-up that did get featured in the ST story was ENSO, a British tyre maker developing a more sustainable tyre that emits fewer particles. Really cool, and it was recently an Earthshot Prize finalist.
🎁 British Gas is offering buyers of its home charger a year’s worth of free charging (8,000 miles). Learn more.
🔋 Polestar hosted its very own ‘day’ in Los Angeles last week. There they revealed an array of new cars, including the Polestar 5 - due in 2025 to be a rival to the Taycan - which will be able to add 100 miles in five minutes using innovative battery tech. Read more.
🤷♂️ Finally, this week the company behind ChatGPT has released a way to train your own AI (or GPTs). I think AI can be a real game changer in the EV space, and it’s not really an area I always hear about. Certainly, for education purposes, it could be brillant. As an example, I’ve made ‘ClarksonGPT’ – which is an AI tasked with providing British consumers positive EV help or advice, but in the style of Jeremy Clarkson - who we all know is a big fan of EVs. If you have ChatGPT, I think you can use it here. If not, you will need to wait. Responses are quite amusing.
Bonus… This is a bit of a moan that I’ve made to many people recently, but why is it so hard nowadays to test a car with dealers? I have had numerous infuriating experiences of late – such as yesterday when Citroen just forgot my appointment, but then couldn’t rebook because the right person wasn’t there. Bonkers! Why can’t it be as easy as Tesla… book and do checks online, turn up, get taken to a car, drive without a sales rep, boom!
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