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“Hubs, hubs, and more hubs": Has BP finally got its pulse back?
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… I speak to BP about their plans for charging hubs, their network upgrades, and how despite the 2030 pushback, it’s full steam ahead.
Elsewhere… Arrival is letting a quarter of its staff go, InstaVolt quietly raises its prices, and a new ultra-rapid network launches.
As ever, if you have any thoughts or comments, please do get in touch. My contact details are here or simply reply to this email.
After years of flatlining, has BP got its pulse back?
Background: The oil giant BP isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. In its most recent quarterly filings, the company earned £1.8 billion in profit. It’s a beast. And that’s why it often gets stick for its green efforts, which many believe could be far better. One area where they’ve historically been criticised has been its operation of bp pulse – one of the UK’s longest-running and largest EV networks, with thousands of rapid chargers.
In recent years… bp pulse has been constantly called out as everyone’s least favourite charging network – even by leaders of other networks in private. And you only need to type ‘bp pulse’ on any forum to find streams of negative posts.
However… Two years after I asked “has BP lost its pulse”, I’m now daring to believe the network has found its rhythm. In the past year, what has been a static ageing network is being revitalised with £1 billion of investment. Each week seems to bring another new site getting launched or upgraded. Drivers are noticing too, with a growing stream of positive reviews being shared on forums. One of their biggest unveilings recently was at the NEC in Birmingham, which was opened by the Chancellor and is presently the largest EV hub in Europe.
How has BP got itself pumping? To find out what bp pulse is doing, I spoke to Dan Mclaren, who is the network’s ‘EV man’ to learn more.
Firstly, I’m keen to know how bp pulse reacted to the news of the 2030 ban being pushed back to 2035 – especially given the network had hosted a supportive Chancellor only two weeks earlier. Dan responds defiantly: “From our perspective, honestly, within the business, nothing changes. Still foot to the floor, we're still rolling out hubs and charging as quickly as we can. There has been zero sort of ‘do we need to think about strategy?’ No, the strategy stays the same. We crack on and we get on with it. It's almost been like a nothingness really, to a degree. We've just continued as normal.”
It's great to hear, despite the government’s wobble, that bp pulse remain committed. But what does that mean in reality for them? What is the actual strategy in play? “Hubs, hubs, and more hubs,” says Dan. “Just to show how quickly we're moving. In the first half of this year, we've done three times the amount of installs as the second half of last year. So, it's just snowballing and we're not stopping. We showed that commitment last year. It was a billion-pound investment just within the UK business. And as I say, it's firing forward on that.”
Dan explains that a hub is a site with six or more charging bays. The devices they are installing are the top-of-the-range 300kW ones – which Dan tells me is moving to 400kW next year – and goes on to reel off an endless list of new locations including recent ones in Tamworth, Birmingham, and Kettering, with many others on the way. Outside my chat with Dan, a quick search reveals further new hubs coming in Hull and South Mimms.
One of the ongoing challenges networks are facing is that of getting chargers connected to the grid. Given this pace, how is bp pulse overcoming the hurdle? “Power is a premium. Obviously, we have ways we can look around that. On our forecourts, for example, you have the battery-integrated chargers there. That combats power to a degree. Moving forward as the adoption grows, integrated chargers aren't going to be the future necessarily, because there's more people using them, but for the time being it helps us get infrastructure out there while we wait for grid connections.” Dan adds that: “[Petrol] forecourts were never designed for EV charging… but for the time being, they're a perfect location for EV charging. So every forecourt that we own and operate in the UK, we have looked at from an EV charging standpoint.”
Now, while these new hubs are all fine and dandy, there are still thousands of bp pulse chargers that are notoriously unreliable. What is the network doing to fix those, especially given the recent charge point regulations? “We've got a huge upgrade team at the moment going around and doing that for anything we own and operate. And anything we don't own and operate that the vendor or the host has no intention to renew a contract, I think we are then decommissioning and taking off the network because you're right, there's chargers out there that have our name on it and rightly so, customers would say ‘it's got BP on it’, but for our frustration is we're physically not allowed to go and sort it.” Dan adds in response to this question that, in August, they were at 98% reliability of every charger. I obviously have no way to validate this, but apparently, that’s across their full 8,500-device network.
It is refreshing to hear from Dan who acknowledges that bp pulse’s reliability has been a problem, his role has been partly helping persuade drivers to give them another shot. But what does the future look like for bp pulse? “Our focus is rapid and ultrafast. That is our focus moving forward. That's not saying we're never going to install AC charging. We do in the right places, but our main focus is [rapid].” Dan later calls out two areas specifically to me, saying that they are “always looking at how do we evolve the experience” and that they are looking to increase the network “fivefold” by 2030 – suggesting bp pulse plans to operate 42,000+ chargers within seven years.
As a final question, I ask what Dan’s favourite charging network is outside of bp pulse? “Nowadays with charge point operators, we're all using the same equipment. So whether you're using a BP or a Gridserve or Fastned, they're relatively similar. I suppose, from an individual personal opinion, I like Fastned… I think their sites are really nice. I really like their chargers, which is why I love that we install them at our hubs.”
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Arrival to lay off a quarter of all staff
Summary: The British EV start-up Arrival has in the past week told investors that “following a detailed review of its operations and its markets” the firm has taken action “to further reduce its operating costs and to optimise the deployment of its current cash resources.” Arrival revealed in an SEC filing that this move “includes the difficult decision to reduce its global workforce by up to approximately 25%.”
What does this show? Well, Arrival is not going down without a fight. Evidently, the recently appointed turnaround advisors are really getting to work trying to save it. For investors and staff, it likely means continued uncertainty, as the firm continues to wrestle with which limbs to chop off to keep the body alive.
Response: Arrival continues to stay quiet on what’s happening – the EV maker is now seriously overdue publishing its latest quarterly filing – and hasn’t been responding to any media queries.
In the interim… as I feel like I say every week, why not read my Special Report on how Arrival went from a £9.5bn valuation to the above.
Top EV news stories last week…
📈 A car park at Luton Airport was burnt down by
an electric car a diesel car. Though, it’s amazing how much across social media, despite the fire chief’s comments dispelling the involvement of an EV, people were desperate to blame them. The fire has destroyed more than 1,500 cars. Read more.
📈 InstaVolt, one of the UK’s largest rapid charging networks, raised its pricing quietly over the weekend to 85p per kWh – an increase of 13% from 75p.
🚘 As Autumn approaches, BYD, the Chinese brand that is storming our shores, is expected to soon launch its ‘Seal’ model – which is an alternative to the Model 3. Meanwhile, over in its home nation, according to EV inFocus, last week BYD revealed they’d sold a whopping 1 million this year already! Read more. Also, if you are keen on global EV business news, do give the EV inFocus newsletter a go here.
😌 A new network has been launched! Calm Charging was revealed last week which will be the latest one to offer ultra-rapid chargers to drivers. Calm will be focussed on “delivering a premium experience for EV drivers”. Over the next few years, they plan to build a huge 900 hubs across the UK. Check it out here.
Finally, you may recall that earlier this year Britishvolt, the Blyth-based gigafactory, was bought by an Australian businessman, David Collard, who owned Recharge Industries. Well, it seems after many months, Mr Collard is yet to complete the payments. But it gets worse, according to The Times, staff in the UK have gone unpaid over the past two months.
Meanwhile… Collard himself is currently being sued over unpaid rent on his New York apartment, and this month American Express filed a lawsuit chasing him over a $776,000 bill. Evidently, there has been a lack of due diligence – which seemed quite obvious to many – and so EY, the administrators, are facing some tough questions. Read more.
☹️ Breaking news this morning, the board of Volta Trucks has filed for bankruptcy. This comes after their battery supplier also went bankrupt.
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