Grant cuts, Oscar Wilde and e-scooters

The latest news in the world of EV

Good morning and welcome back to The Fast Charge, the electric motoring newsletter. My name is Tom Riley and I’ll be your host.

The big news from last week - while I was away gallivanting in my home - was that EV grants have been slashed by the government.

It was a surprise given we only just had the budget - where news like this should really be shared - though, one suspects it was seen as too controversial for team Rishi or, in Downing Street lingo, ‘requires its own grid slot’.

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In the news…

DRAWBRIDGE UP: The bigs news of last week was the government’s surprise announcement to cut the EV grant from £3,000 to £2,500. At the same time, they have also limited the availability of the grant to cars valued below £35,000. This means cars like the BMW i3 and the e-Niro don’t now qualify. In many ways, this is good news, as it shows the pace of EV purchases is well on track to expectations - DfT has said further reductions will come in the future. However, understandably, some people in the industry were peed off that the rug was pulled on them. The Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders called it the “wrong move at the wrong time.” Likewise, environmental campaigners are annoyed that this happened while fuel duty was frozen again in the Budget (only two weeks ago). BUT, before the decision was made, no doubt the Oxbridge Treasury officials will have told the Chancellor that chopping the grant now wouldn’t really impact the purchases of EVs - which are mostly being bought by those who are wealthier using leases - but it might incentivise manufacturers to focus on cheaper vehicles. In addition, a move like this also will wake a lot of people up to take advantage of purchases before it’s too late. Meanwhile, keeping fuel duty frozen is not only a good move politically, but it also ensures consistent revenue for HM Treasury.

DRAWBRIDGE DOWN? If anything shows this is HMT’s plan, you need only to look at how Tesla, Citroen and MG have already reacted by announcing offers and price changes on certain models. Naturally, these are just my tin-pot opinions, but I think this change is progressive, expected and welcomed by people on the street. It is mad that those who can afford it were benefitting most from the grant. Even a few years ago on Amazon’s Grand Tour, Jeremy Clarkson mocked James May - who bought an i3 and benefitted from a grant - given his wealth (from 1.54 in the clip below).

CITY KINGS: The Spanish manufacturer Seat is producing an urban car for the growing demand for small electric vehicles. There’s a lot of competition in this space already, but Seat fears not and has set its EV ambitions at making 500,000 EVs per year by 2025. The price range for the new mini-EV is due to be between 20,000 and 25,000 euros. The only picture they’ve released on the new vehicle is this sketch (below). Looks like a squashed I-Pace to me.

OSCAR WILDE: The famous writer once said: “there is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” This certainly seems to be the case with Tesla. Despite all their woes, they are consistently benchmarked against other manufacturers - something I’m sure irritates automotive PR teams. This week it’s Audi’s turn, their Chief Finance Office announced that they expect profits from its latest electric models to match those from traditional vehicles in as little as two years. It also expects a third of sales to be electric by 2025. This is a bold prediction which has been interpreted as Audi taking the fight against Tesla. Though, they best get in line behind Porche, Jaguar, Volvo, Polestar, BMW, Lexus, Ford and Mercedes (and that’s just in Europe). Read more.

UN-PLUGGED: The consumer group Which? has published a report into five issues currently facing people trying to deal with the UK’s charging network and how to solve them. The problems they’ve identified are:

  1. Accessing public chargers is really complicated - this is because each network has its own payment process, often requiring an app download. Which? suggests a universal app that can access all charging points. Perhaps like RingGo with parking.

  2. Rapid-charging plugs create confusion - Which? has called for every electric car to have a CCS socket installed by law - simplifying rapid charging

  3. Charging by time can be confusing - here Which? identify that some public providers charge users by minute usage rather than by kWh, such as Source London. This means trying to work out your spend requires a maths degree from Cambridge.

  4. Brand-specific networks restrict use - this issue is pointed strongly at Tesla who maintain their own private network of superchargers. Which? have called on Tesla to make their charging points open to others. Tesla told Which? they wouldn’t make ‘future looking statements’ - that presumably means no.

  5. Charging speeds are too confusing - here Which? has noted that the AC converters inside EVs - the bits that transfer the AC power supplied by a charging point to DC - have different kWh acceptance rates. Aka, you could be charging up at a 22kWh charging point but the car can only transfer 11kWh through your car’s converter. Which? believe these figures need to be listed clearly on cars for people to understand. This doesn’t seem like an urgent issue to me but perhaps would be helpful.

These are all extremely valid points and in The Fast Charge only last week I suggested we needed a universal charging index to help people understand it better.

The automotive community is often an incredibly smug one - we love nothing more than to slip into conversations about locking differentials - while most of the country just want to visit Homebase. With any luck, the outcome of DfT’s current consultation on charging will result in enforced simplicity changes for charging operators and manufacturers. Read the Which? report.

TRUCKS AWAY: Volkswagen’s commercial vehicle manufacturer, Traton, has this week invested 1.6 billion euros for electric vehicle R&D. The company is making a full commitment to producing a growing number of battery-operated trucks and buses by 2030. Traton’s CEO said on the changes, “It will be gradual, sustainable, and in line with the required network expansion. If there is no charging infrastructure, it will not work.” They (and their competitors) are also looking at using hydrogen fuel in the future. Read more.

SCOOTER-VILLE: Reports last week suggest the long-awaited e-scooter trials are due to begin in London this Spring. The companies rumoured to be appointed are Tier, Lime and Dott. E-scooters are immensely fun, as the capital will soon realise, and I absolutely love them and their possibilities. However, they are dangerous. I bought one last year and had to give it back after it conspired to kill me. The computer broke, causing the brakes to lock which chucked me off at 15mph. And this is what London needs to be ready for. When people get toys, there are always accidents. Especially as mayoral elections heat up, it will be interesting to see how Sadiq Khan handles the, sadly, inevitable e-scooter incidents on London roads. In other cities across the world, trials or services have been canned completely when accidents occur. The media and campaigners will predictably go crazy when something goes wrong. One hopes that operators and councils have prepared for such a backlash and will therefore take precautions, such as mandatory training for riders or proof they are not drunk before getting access to a scooter (as NYC moped company Revel have done). However, I suspect not.

By Tom Riley