Former Britishvolt Director reflects on collapse
The latest news from the world of EVs
Hello and welcome back to The Fast Charge, a British EV newsletter.
Top stories in today’s edition… Britishvolt’s former Director of Communications provides reflections on his experience, a new report suggests public EV charging is being underused, and has the government’s car fleet really ‘charged ahead’.
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Former Britishvolt Director reflects on his experience
Background: Last week the EV battery maker, Britishvolt, which hoped to build a gigafactory in Northumberland, went into administration after it failed to secure new investment. As a result, up to 300 staff were made redundant – with many learning about this from the news – and all in a week when the government announced new ‘Levelling Up’ funding.
The objective: Britishvolt had planned a factory with the ability to supply enough batteries to build hundreds of thousands of cars. The UK government had been big fans from the start and promised £100m to Britishvolt but held out from providing the funds when the firm started facing issues at the end of 2022. There will now be a Parliamentary inquiry into the collapse.
The fall: One week on from Britishvolt entering administration, there have been numerous stories about the firm’s downfall – see The Guardian, The Times, and the FT’s breakdown. Many have interpreted Britishvolt’s troubles as a failure for the UK’s EV strategy. But, I believe it’s critical there are lessons to be learned from this, so long-term the EV transition remains successful.
First-hand view: To understand what we can learn from the collapse, I asked Ben Kilbey, who was until last week Director of Communications and PR at Britishvolt, and is now the founder of Communications and Business Development agency Bald Voodoo, for his reflections…
What positives do you take from the experience at Britishvolt? “Everyday was a lesson, from a group of truly exceptional professionals across the business. We built lifelong friendships and a true spirit of collaboration,” says Kilbey. “I was employee number 20 so there very early on, the speed of growth was nothing short of exceptional. Breakneck. The two years not only taught me so much about batteries, and just how complex they are, but also about myself.”
If you went back two years to when joining Britishvolt from S&P Global, is there anything you’d want the company to do differently? “I guess I go back to the speed. If it had been possible it would have been sensible to potentially take the foot off the pace, but then again it is the race to zero,” says Kilbey.
Kilbey adds that: “From a communications point of view, I think we could have been a little more nuanced in some of the delivery. We created one of the battery stories of the decade, and the aim was to bring the entire industry with us. Maybe the ambition and tenacity was met with reality. Making large scale battery cell manufacturing facilities isn’t a walk in the park and more walking and less talking is probably a better game plan until you are physically making cells.”
What piece of advice would you offer a potential new owner of the Britishvolt site? “Listen, learn, collaborate. Accept the difficulties and challenges, embrace them but be humble enough to ask for help when you need it. And make sure you keep an eye on mergers and acquisitions in the space. This is a new dawn in business, don’t be old school - be revolutionary. Competitors will quickly become partners, in my opinion.”
In conclusion… It’s frustrating that we’ve had to say goodbye to Britishvolt, although as Kilbey acknowledges, there are things the industry can learn from. Whatever happens, though, Kilbey and the Britishvolt team have done a great deal to thrust gigafactories firmly into the public conversation – which ultimately can only be good long-term. Now we’ll have to wait and see what comes next.
With thanks to Ben Kilbey for providing me with his reflections on his time at Britishvolt. To readers, if you have any vacancies, I suspect there are quite a few ex-Britishvolt staffers on the hunt for roles. I would recommend searching LinkedIn.
Public charging is underused, say operators
Background: Yesterday the transport research group New Automotive released a very comprehensive report about the state of EV charging in the UK called On the Road to 2030. Most of the insights were based on a survey and in-depth interviews with key charging industry participants.
Summary: The main headline from the report is that they suggest the UK is going to hit its 300,000 target by 2030. They also confirm that even with rising prices, it is still significantly cheaper to run an EV.
Other insights in the report that caught my eye…
There are some (or maybe more than) 50,000 workplace chargers that have been installed.
A typical public charger installation can take anywhere from 6 to 408 weeks (!!).
A lack of “political will” within some local authorities, combined with a lack of relevant technical expertise, can result in poor network growth in some areas – this mirrors some of the complaints in the recent Net Zero review.
One of the most common obstacles for operators is connecting their chargers to the grid, with the slowness of distribution network operators potentially adding 6-12 months to projects.
Chargepoint operators told New Automotive, contrary to popular belief, a lack of user demand for public charging was hampering their ability to grow. While most had seen utilisation increase over the past year, given most drivers charge at home, there’s a consensus more cars are needed. Interesting take.
While the majority supported the need for the target, a third of respondents believed the 300,000 charger ambition was unrealistic, meanwhile, half agreed it was right or not high enough.
The contents of the report were discussed with industry stakeholders and MPs at an event in Parliament yesterday. Check out the full report here.
Has the government really charged ahead?
Bold statement: Last Thursday the government proudly published a press release boasting it was “powering forward towards decarbonising its central car fleet” and demonstrating “the government’s commitment to decarbonising its own vehicle fleet” as it has hit its target of switching a quarter (25.5%) of all its cars to battery power three months ahead of schedule.
However… While it’s brilliant for any organisation to go electric, the reality is it’s taken two years for the government to go from 21% to 25.5%. That’s the equivalent of going from about 18 electric cars to 22.
How do I know this? Well, about two years ago exactly, the Department for Transport told me via an FOI that the Government Car Service was at 21% electric – or 18 cars out of an 87 vehicle fleet. Anyway, rant over…
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The latest EV news…
GREEN VOUCHERS: The Shadow Business Secretary, Jonathan Reynolds, used a speech this week to say Labour would set up a £700m voucher scheme to help small firms go green, such as to EVs, and to lower their energy bills. The funding would come from a windfall tax on energy businesses. Read more.
ENERGY FLEX: Last night marked the first time people were paid to use electricity during peak hours. The National Grid’s Demand Flexibility Service ran successfully during 5-6pm. It will run again today from 4.30-6pm. This service was started as the recent cold weather (plus lack of wind) has put pressure on the energy supply. One of the things partakers in the scheme can be paid not to do is charge their EVs and instead wait until later. Read more.
TRIAL ENDS: The world’s biggest trial into electrified fleet management – brilliantly named Optimise Prime – has now ended. The trial has been ongoing since 2021 led by Hitachi, with UK power Networks, involving 8,000 EVs from Centrica, Uber, and Royal Mail – the latter just hit 4,000 EVs in their fleet. The full results will be shared in the coming months, but the top-line result is all the fleets managed the required range but that infrastructure needs to be built out. Read more.
UBER GREEN: Through its partnership with Hertz, Uber will make some 10,000 EVs available to London drivers – as part of a wider plan to offer 25,000 EVs across Europe. The cars will likely hit the street this month. Read more.
BIG DEAL: The lamppost charging network, ubitricity, announced plans last week to install 300 chargers in Liverpool – which will treble the current network available plus make it the third biggest in the UK after London and Coventry. Apparently, ahead of this new deal, Liverpool City Council has been receiving more than 10 requests per week for new devices. Read more.
SAVE THE DATE: A couple of important updates are due out on Wednesday. The first will be Tesla’s latest financial results for December. This comes after the firm slashed prices to conjure up new demand, and has faced a stock drop of 60% over the past year. At 9.30am on GOV.UK, the newest official quarterly charging devices stats get published by the Department for Transport. They will likely show the UK has over 37,000 chargers.
SMALL CARS: In rather unhelpful remarks, the boss of Kia yesterday told The Times that making small electric cars is not economically viable. In his explanation, he says the profit on a small EV is not worthwhile compared to producing a larger EV with a bigger battery. The boss of Citroen agrees, though provided a much more helpful view on the future of small EVs. Including the critically important and often forgotten need to improve battery efficiencies. We wanted it from our iPhones, now we need it for our cars. Read comments from Kia and Citroen.
LIVE A LITTLE: Speaking of small cars, if you are not already following it, the guys at Move Electric are doing regular blogs about ‘living with a Citroen Ami’. The website got one to buzz around London with pre-Christmas. This is the sort of content we need to persuade people to get into smaller EVs, not just mahoosive SUVs. See here.
FLYING CAB: The Chinese automotive group, Geely, is planning a large investment into the London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC), a company it owns and which makes electric black cabs. The funding will be used to expand LEVC’s offer and to turn it into an all-electric brand. Read more.
GRAND AMBITION: Staffordshire needs 3,000 public chargers, according to the local area’s new EV strategy. The county currently only has 300. I see a lot of local reports like this each week, but the 3,000 figure seems particularly high. Read more.
INNOVATE BRITAIN: Two interesting EV companies I’ve come across this past week. The first is Kerbo Charge, one of the latest start-ups solving the tricky business of trailing a cable safely from your home over a pavement. Secondly, there’s a newish rapid charging network on the block called evyve. The company has broadly flown under the radar thus far, but from acorns great oaks grow, and it’s already revealed plans to install 10,000 devices by 2030 – with an initial 350 on the way – via a partnership with rapid charger maker Tritium.
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